We called him Evan*. But that’s not his name.
We were chosen by an expectant mother in November to adopt her baby. Hesitantly hopeful, knowing that at any time it’s her right to decide to parent, we spent the next few months getting to know her and her family. We love them all and are thankful to know them.
He was born in February and we cared for him in our home for the first 6 weeks of his life and grew to love him deeply. We found out on a Monday, a day after he turned 6 weeks, that his mom had decided to parent him and not place him for adoption. We fully acknowledge her right to make this decision, of course. But our social worker said to us that it would feel like a death in the family. And yes, she was right. Holding those two realities up at the same time feels impossible. Our hearts physically ache missing little Evan. Missing him being in my arms. Squeaking and nuzzling in as I held him close. Feeling his fuzzy little head and kissing his big cheeks. Sweet baby, oh how I miss you.
Our social worker said to us that it would feel like a death in the family. And yes, she was right.
But I know you are safe and sound in your mother’s arms tonight. I know she loves you fervently. You grew inside of her for 9 months. You belong together. I have no right to claim you as my own, although I hoped you would be. The longer you stayed, the more I could picture you staying forever. My heart hurts as I’ve lost a loved one, but you are alive and well.
As a family waiting to adopt a baby through domestic infant adoption, we have to decide if we are willing to care for a baby during the period that there is still the possibility of the biological family choosing to parent. Some wait until that period is over to care for the baby. In some states that time period is short, and in some states, it is long.
We’ve always said that we would care for a baby before that risk period is over. A friend once said to me, “Are you willing to be this baby’s family even if it’s just for a short time?” Yes. Yes, we are willing. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be pain at the reality of a sweet little baby we love leaving our arms to return to his mother.
When we first got the call from our social worker that the plan had changed, I had given him a bath and I was in the middle of changing his diaper. My first reaction was to not even know what to do… I felt like jumping back from the changing table at the realization that “you’re not my baby.” I obviously had to finish changing his diaper and pick him up and feed him and also care for our 4.5-year-old too. I was in shock and filled with grief.
My first reaction was to not even know what to do… I felt like jumping back from the changing table at the realization that “you’re not my baby.”
That was a Monday afternoon. We had little Evan until Wednesday afternoon. During those 48 hours, the grief left me feeling faint and nauseous. He was still here and had no idea what was going on. Even though my head knew during those first 6 weeks that we were still waiting on his mother to make her decision, my heart wanted so badly for him to stay. The grief feels confusing and complicated and exhausting. I know there will be happy, joyful days up ahead. But I just can’t feel them right now.
And I just feel exhausted thinking of starting over from scratch again… being a waiting family again. Plus, in adoption, being the adoptive parents, you feel some guilt. Our joy is because of their grief. I’ve always felt such a heaviness thinking of all birth mothers and the difficult grief that they carry having placed a child for adoption. But now I feel like I’ve felt more of what that actually feels like. It’s a bit difficult to see the beauty in adoption right now because the grief seems so big. Even in the beauty, all adoptions come from grief and brokenness.
Our joy is because of their grief. I’ve always felt such a heaviness thinking of all birth mothers and the difficult grief that they carry having placed a child for adoption.
I know God hasn’t wasted this time. We love this sweet baby and his family. Even though things didn’t turn out as we expected or hoped, I’m thankful that our lives have intertwined over our love for their sweet boy.
But we’ll always have an Evan-shaped hole in our hearts and in our family.
We’ve been so helped by everyone who has been loving us during this time. We’ve felt so cared for and held up by their prayers and their meals and their tears joining ours.
When we left Evan at our adoption agency to be picked up by his mom, we prayed over him. Here is what my husband wrote about our last moments with Evan in our arms:
And so today, when we left Evan at the adoption agency to be picked up by his birth mother, it felt, in a very real sense, like we were entrusting him into the care of our God. Like a dedication of sorts. A very grief-stricken, surreal, dear-Lord-why-did-this-happen dedication, but a dedication, nonetheless.
It was for that reason that I placed my hand on Evan’s head and spoke these words over him before we said goodbye:
“Evan, we love you and care about the outcome of your faith. And so, we dedicate you to God, surrendering all worldly claims upon your life, in the hope that you will belong wholly to Jesus, forever.”
We love you, precious boy.
*The name has been changed due to confidentiality.
The term for what happened in the story above is a “disruption.” A disruption is when a child who has been living with a prospective adoptive family is reclaimed and returns to the birth family. In Minnesota, it is possible for an adoptive couple to have a foster-to-adopt placement in which the baby goes home with them from the hospital and they are acting as foster parents until the placement is secure. The birth mother still has legal rights during this time so it is considered a “legal-risk” placement.