when you choose to send a child back . . .

A mom (we’ll call her Natalie) contacted me a few months back. This almost-adoptive mom and I had never spoken before.

When I answered the phone, she was sobbing. It took a few moments to understand who was calling and why. This mom was at her wit’s end. She said, “Rachel, I don’t know you and it is completely unlike me to reach out for help, especially to someone I don’t know, so I must be pretty desperate.”

I sat silent for a few seconds and then simply said, “Tell me.”

Natalie talked. I listened.

It’s a familiar story. One I’ve heard dozens of times before. A mom, desperate for a child or more children, reaches out to adopt a child. A “feeling” pulls her toward it. She feels good about it. A win-win, right?


Natalie was set up to fail from the beginning. She had no training. None. She was unprepared for the realities of parenting an older child. She was completely ill-equipped for the inevitable adjustment period–overwhelmed by the day-to-day routine of helping a wounded child.

We can blame the system. We can blame the two states that failed to prepare her, to train her, to take the time and effort required to help Natalie and her husband understand that the child will not see them as saviors. That he won’t be grateful . . . not at first anyway. That just because they are “family” doesn’t mean they will instantly fall head-over-heels in love with each other. That bonding isn’t a given. Bonding is never a given.

Things got so bad that Natalie ended up sending the child back to his original state. By the time she reached out for help, her mind was really already made up. She had lost the heart to try. To give it another go. The thought of repairing the family, helping heal their almost son, was just too daunting.

Who lost here? Everyone.

Natalie lost. Big time. She lost the chance to add to her family. To parent an incredible little boy.

Her biological son lost. He lost a brother. He lost the chance to share and to give and to love in a way that only a sibling can.

Her extended family, friends that were like family, teachers and leaders, etc. They all lost too.

And of course, the most important person here, the little boy–who was promised a family, a home, a life–he lost the most. He lost everything. A third time. He lost his original family, his foster family, and Natalie’s family. Each uprooted experience for this little guy piles on the loss, the mistrust, the anxiety, the trauma.

Everyone lost!

If you know someone who is thinking of adopting, please, send them my way. This particular situation was potentially avoidable. If Natalie had been trained. If she had been informed by real adoptive parents, by those of us who know what she was walking into, things could’ve been different for her. Armed with resources and community behind her, she would’ve at least had a fighting chance.

We will continue to train and inform and support so that every adoptive parent has the resources they need to eventually win.

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