Emily Westbrooks with her husband and two adopted children
If you’re considering undertaking adoption to start or grow your family, a failed match is probably one of your biggest fears. A match is said to have failed when the birth parents change their mind and decide to parent themselves. It was one of my biggest fears and emblematic of how little control you really have over an adoptive situation until it’s finalized.
In a single year, I went through several failed matches while waiting to adopt our second child. Each was heartbreaking. But I survived and am now a hundred times stronger because of the lessons my family learned along the way.
The first time we had a failed match, an expectant mom chose our family to adopt her baby boy a month before his due date. But once he was born, she decided to keep the baby.
I remember the moment I got the phone call. Thankfully, my daughter was napping in her bed as I sat on mine and cried.
In my head, I knew that keeping a mother and her son together was a good thing — after all, that’s what’s supposed to happen — but my heart was broken over the baby I had envisioned joining our family. I wondered what he looked like and how big he was when he was born. I wondered what they named him, and I crumpled while unpacking the hospital bag filled with newborn clothes that we’d prepared.
My husband and I felt bruised after this failed match but we reminded ourselves that we had been able to give a mom in crisis an option, and even though she chose not to use that option, having a choice might have given her a measure of peace. We reminded ourselves that it was a good thing that this baby was in the arms of his mom.
Our second failed match came after we fostered a baby we thought we could adopt, only to have a judge rule against the recommendations of Child Protective Services (CPS), guardians ad litem and lawyers. We were crushed again but took solace in the fact that we helped give the baby's extended family support to take care of the child.
Our final failed match involved a pregnant mom who was incarcerated and planning to choose adoption. We got the call on New Year’s Eve that she had changed her mind.
Why did we keep going?
After so many back-to-back disappointments, you might wonder why — or how — we kept going. Faith was an important component. For my family, that meant both having faith that God had a bit more of a plan than we could figure out and that the universe had a particular child out there for us.
We also found peace in knowing that we had helped people.
Positive thinking is also important. We knew that when we finally met our child, we wanted to say that we knew that they were coming. We didn’t want fear to rob us of the sweet daydreams of holding him or meeting her in the hospital.
The final call
One July day, we got the call that a birth mom had chosen us to parent her baby boy, due in a month.
Perhaps not surprisingly, we were wary. Still, we reminded ourselves that being excited for his arrival was okay and that no matter what the outcome, we’d keep putting one foot in front of the other. Once again, we unfolded the newborn clothes and packed a hospital bag.
The baby arrived two weeks early, and I held my breath as we traveled 4,000 miles to meet him. Forty-eight hours later, the paperwork was signed and finally, here he was: the much-awaited, much-anticipated, much-hoped-for new member of our family.
So parents, if you’re worried about having a failed match, that’s okay. It might be one of the most difficult things you’ve ever faced. It was for me.
But you’re stronger and braver than you think you are. You’ll get through the sadness and, I hope, reach the point of feeling grateful for your role in the life of an expectant mother in an unthinkable position. Give yourself the gift of hope.