This Failed Life

failed adoption
Kathryn Russell
Kathryn Russell

LMSW, Director of Absolute Love Adoptions

failed adoption

This Failed Life: Feelings Of Failure In Adoption & Misuse Of The Term "Failed Adoption"

In season 2, episode 2 of the Absolute Love Podcast, our guest Becca (adoptive mother) says “My body was failing me just like my relationships were, that’s how I felt”.


That was a hard thing to hear such an incredible woman say, that she felt like a failure. But what I know is that Becca’s sentiments reflect a very common expression in the adoption community of “failure” in one way or another. “Failure” seems to be a dark presence lurking in the background of so many adoption stories from all members of the constellation.


For birth mothers, failure is often expressed as a failure to be the mom their child deserves.


For adoptive parents, failure comes from infertility. Many express feelings of failure to do what “women’s bodys are designed to do”, failure to conceive or failure to carry a pregnancy to term. Some even express failure at providing children for a husband or partner.


Adoptees express “failure” at not being the child their birth parents wanted, and even failure to measure up to the standards their adoptive parents have for them. 


Woah. Talk about carrying a heavy load!


How can so many people be SO BAD at all of the things?!? Is it perhaps more likely that people are not failing at all, and rather the expectations are failing us because it is unreasonable to expect control or responsibility in a place where it never existed in the first place.


Failure is “the omission of expected or required action” so it implies that we didn’t act in a time where we needed to. The expectations we as a culture have created for mothers, bodies and children are entirely unreasonable and that is the only failure in the room.


Consider this: What is “expected” of a mother? What does a mother do or not do? Can a mother be related to you, but not mother you? Is it acceptable for a mother to choose adoption over active parenting and that be an act of good parenting?


What is expected of our bodies? Can a body be wonderful, and powerful but not do everything well? Can we be capable in our areas of strength and comfortable in our areas of weakness? Can I be smart but not athletic and still be worthwhile? Can I be fast but not strong and still be worthy? Can I nurture children but not grow them from my womb and still be a real mother?


What is expected of us as individuals? Can I be who I am as a person, born from one and raised by another, and still be whoever I define “me” to be? Can I be who I want and not who my parents need? 


If the answers to all of the questions above are “YES” or some other variation of “that’s possible”, then it follows that none of us are failing at anything. 


What’s most bothersome about the application of “failure” in adoption is in the very commonly used language of a “failed adoption” to explain what happens when an expectant mother chooses a family, proceeds with an adoption plan and then asserts her right to parent in the end. Perhaps even places the baby and then revokes consent during her rightful period of revocation allowed by law. 


We call this a failed adoption. Yes, seriously.



We all agree that adoption should never be done casually, and that placing a child and adopting a child are entered into willfully and thoughtfully. We also all agree that no mother “considering” adoption in fact chooses adoption until the ink is dry. So it would follow that any hopeful family awaiting her decision for that pregnancy is just waiting, until they’re either placed or they move along. 


So when adoption doesn’t happen, how can that possibly be an adoption “fail”? There was no “omission for required action” by anyone. What is perhaps most accurate is that a mother asserted her right to parent and as such placement did not occur. Nothing failed, it just didn’t end in adoption the way perhaps was anticipated. 


If we want to continue to educate about non-directive counseling for moms, and support of choice throughout pregnancy, then we simply can’t continue calling the decision to parent a failure. Maybe match dissolution is a better term? 


And while we’re at this discussion,, let’s reassess the use of “failure” as an assignment of meaning for anything fertility, identity or adoption related. We’re better than that.


So for all you “failures” out there, we see you and we think you are wonderful. 


May you move away from unreasonable expectations, and embrace your wonder.

To learn more about the full range of perspectives from adoptees, read their stories here

For more perspectives from Birth Mothers, read their stories here

Episodes of The Absolute Love Podcast

You might also enjoy

Contact Us

Serving All of Pennsylvania

Tell Us

Leave this field blank

Copyright © 2021