I Was Almost a Mother: When a Matched Adoption Falls Through

Almost, but not quite.

This is the nursery that we built. These are the freshly painted walls, the star light on the wall. These are the twin cribs, no bumpers, organic sheets, organic mattresses, one borrowed, one purchased. The adoption agency said that if the adoption fell through, it would hurt less that way. That way, the story goes, you can “just” return the borrowed one to your co-worker and keep the other one for “another baby.” Insert image of myself carrying the empty, borrowed-but-unused-crib into my office and depositing it with stunned co-worker (mother of three under three, got pregnant on her honeymoon). “No, no,” I’d say, “I’m fine.” After all, the story goes, “There’s a plan for me,” and “I’ll be a mother one day.”

That’s the thing, I’ve found, about the Motherhood Story or the Journey to Motherhood or whatever epic title you’d like to lend it. It’s an unspoken club that you never wanted to join, those of us for whom (not) becoming a mother has more to do with ovulation strips and timed intercourse and parenting seminars and home study interviews, finger prints and finger pricks, and with writing checks than with honeymoons. “Just get really drunk!” they say casually because, I know, I know, they’re not sure what else to say.

The story we all learned is far easier to spout off. I lived for more than two and a half decades (you’re all noticing my age now and wondering if that’s why we haven’t conceived. I don’t blame you, I’d have done it, too, before) believing, truly believing, what I learned in sex ed: all it takes it one sperm and BAM! You’ll get pregnant. The “watch out!” was both implicit and spoken. If that were the case, then my nursery would be full of friends oohhing and ahhing over the stars on the changing pad and the little outfits I sewed from well-loved shirts representing the places we’ve visited and the sports teams my husband loves. (Yes, we’ve “taken advantage” knowing that “once the babies come, you won’t be going anywhere!”) Instead, these are the twin Bumbos with trays, and these are the preemie hats and socks, and this is the empty nursery where no one visits and no one coos.

“Write your own story,” they say, and I do. I write letters in my head that start with things like “Dear Sperm Count” or “Dear Ovaries” and end with the words “Fuck you.” Or I find anyone else who has ever suffered a loss and tell them the things I want people to be telling me: You’ve suffered an enormous loss. You never held them, but those babies were yours. You must be so sad. You must be so angry. And those feelings make perfect sense. Can I take you out to dinner? How about watching a movie, something funny to distract you or something sad so you can cry? How many gluten-free cupcakes can I bring you after work? Do you need any help with the things in the nursery? Because I have my own stories I’d like to tell about what their lives will look like or how they would have laughed at the play mat I was making them. I’d like to show it off, still.

So no matter the story you’re telling yourself about her, if you have a friend or a neighbor or a coworker who has suffered the loss of a matched adoption, reach out. Yes, she knew it could happen, but no, she wasn’t prepared, and she’s not comforted by the stories you want to tell her, that “there’s a plan” for her. As much as you might believe it, and one day she might, too, for now it feels like the plan is for her to sit, sad, in a quiet nursery. You could help her leave there sooner, just by sitting there with her truth. She was almost a mother. Almost, but not quite.

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  • Sarah

    This is beautiful and poignant. Thank you so much for writing it.

    • StartCloseIn

      Thank YOU for reading it!

  • emilyg25

    I’m so sorry.

    The other thing I hated hearing when we were dealing with our fertility issues is, “Don’t worry, it’ll work out.” Stop. Just stop. Tell me you’re sorry, commiserate, get angry when I get angry, distract me and make me laugh. But please don’t spout empty platitudes that negate my pain.

    • StartCloseIn

      YES!!!! I can get so angry about that, too. I especially love the request to distract me. I often need that. Thanks for commenting!

      And the nursery image isn’t mine, but it is adorable!

  • We aren’t quite there yet, but adoption is most likely the route we’ll be attempting when we try to become parents. Already we are so afraid of all the things that can go wrong, in all the different ways couples can have children.

    I’m so sorry that you’ve had to go through this, and I hope you have people around who will let you be sad and angry, and whatever else you need to be to process.

    • StartCloseIn

      Oh, I’m so happy for you that you would adopt! We can’t wait to become parents, and the process has been as bright and happy as it has sad.

  • lady brett

    i have very little idea what loss feels like, so all i can say is that i’m terribly sorry. but i am beginning to get a real understanding of how painful uncertainty can be, which has surprised me today by making your story make actual (gut-level) sense to me (by which i mean, when the content itself is something i suspect i will never have an emotional understanding of).

    • rys

      I really appreciate this distinction. I, too, lack the connection with the specific emotional content but feel a deep emotional connection with the feelings of uncertainty and grief. Platitudes are like little cuts, but sitting with someone, bringing food, creating space to think and talk and wallow and cry are oh so important in the grieving process.

      • StartCloseIn

        Absolutely! I hope you never have the specific experience, but pain is pain, and we can all relate to that.

  • Kayakgirl73

    Infertility is terrible. I’ve been thought the Fertility treatment ringer. Very tough. I don’t have personal experience with adoption but I have some friends that have been though the failed adoption ringer and it was terribly hard on them. Many hugs for you and your husband. Reaching out helps. I found a of comfort by reading and posting on sites with others going though my issues. It’s ok to be sad and angry, don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

    • StartCloseIn

      That should be a greeting card! It’s ok to be sad and angry. Indeed.

  • Naomi

    There is a beautiful teaching in Orthodox Judaism, that whenever a loving couple come together, regardless of whether or not they are able to physically conceive, they still create a soul each time. I can’t imagine how difficult this time must be for you, but you must be so strong to face such a challenge and still be able to write so beautifully. I am sure the souls you have brought into the world (or, think of it as positive, loving energy, if you are not into religion/spirituality) will bring so much of your light and strength with them, uplifting us all. Thank you for this post. <3

    • sara g

      That is really beautiful. Thank you, I needed to hear that today!

    • This is just the most beautiful thing ever.

    • StartCloseIn

      Thank you for this image. I love it.

  • Nightravyn

    We’re about to start this whole route with adoption and I’m terrified. The kick in the teeth of early menopause was bad enough without it coming via a 7am call from the doc’s nurse, where I was told and hung up on. They never followed up on it either. I researched donor egg IVF, and we’ve finally written that off as an option. We’re quietly getting started, but still not ready to tell everyone. Mainly cos a fear of having to deal with people unsure as to how to say anything to us, since they have all flailed when they ask “so how’s the baby-making coming?” “Oh fine except for that pesky menopause thing.” We get two reactions: “oh that sucks so here’s how I got preggers for the 5th time yey us ohlookihavetorunnow /vanishes from my life” and “oh, well at least you guys don’t have to deal with kids now!”

    Maybe we wanted to “deal with kids”. Congrats on being pregnant, and please excuse my infertility (btw it’s not catching, just a part of life you will eventually have, mine just came sooner). I wish people would just learn that it’s a grieving process. And like all grief, everyone processes it differently. Some people are done in a week. Some never get over it. But telling me to get over it and “oh now you guys can travel!” doesn’t help me one bit.

    So yeah, help someone by simply being there. Acknowledge the loss without showing “substitutions”. Just be a good friend.

    • Lawyerette510

      “Acknowledge the loss without showing ‘substitutions’ ” is the perfect summary of how to be a good friend to someone who has suffered a loss.

      • StartCloseIn

        I couldn’t agree more! I hope people reading this learn just that.

    • laddibugg

      People say some terrible things!

      • StartCloseIn

        Yes! I could have filled up a second post with things that people say. I know that they mean well, but it can still smart!

    • StartCloseIn

      YES!!! Yes to the whole “deal with kids” situation. See also “you won’t get stretch marks.” And, I’m so so sorry that the nurse treated you like that.

  • Hannah B

    It also hurts whether or not the child is a baby or a little kid, and when the reason for the failure of the adoption to go through was bureaucratic nonsense that we had no standing to sue over.

    • StartCloseIn

      Yes! I think there is a lot more conversation around baby adoption, and losing a child must be heartbreaking, too.

  • StevenPortland

    Such a well written post. Having gone through 4 years of infertility problems ourselves it brought back all of those horrible memories. I remember feeling like we were at our lowest only to find, no it actually can get worse, and then even worse. It caused me to start seeing teams of “us” and “them”. People who had been hurt by infertility against those who HAD NO IDEA what it was like. So I don’t have any advice, but I do have a lot of sympathy to give. I hope things will get better in the future.

    • StartCloseIn

      Thank you for writing this. I agree, fertility is like a club that you didn’t know existed and weren’t sure you wanted to become a member of. But it is a sisterhood in its own way.

  • Erin

    Oh tears….You’re not alone in your nursery. We are sitting with you, sad with you, while oohhing and aahhing over all of the adorable and lovingly made, tiny little baby things.


    • StartCloseIn

      I read this last week, and it made me tear up. Thank you.

  • Your nursery is beautiful and it breaks my heart. I’m so, so sorry this happened to you.

    • StartCloseIn

      Thank you. Thank you for writing.

  • Amanda L

    I am so sorry. Our stories aren’t exactly the same, but our nurseries are similarly empty. If I had thought of it, I would have written that very same letter to ‘Dear Sperm Count.’

    I’d also add a letter to ‘Dear Thoughtless Friend Complaining About Pregnancy Weight’ and ‘Dear Friend Who Could Only Think to Compare Her Foot Pain to Childbirth’.

    Then I’d like to take the letter-writer out for a drink or five. Giant hugs to you, Anon!

    • Kara E

      Is it ok to say “I’d rather go through labor than have migraines?” Seriously though, I think there’s a lot of stuff people say that unintentionally hurts their friends. Hopefully my friends mention things to me when it does…

      • Amanda L

        I think in a general group setting, it’s fine to say that. If it’s just you and your friend, who has been on a well-documented infertility journey for the better part of two years, you should probably do your best to find some other horrible thing to substitute in there.

        I didn’t say anything to my friend. Why? Because it seems like whining, and I’m hoping she just doesn’t realize what she did. If it was a recurring thing, I would definitely say something. The tricky thing is that these comments usually come out of nowhere. I knew to steel myself for a tough day on Mother’s Day. I know when I see a text from my pregnant friend that it could be pregnancy related. But a random text from a friend about her tattoo? I had no idea that would contain pregnancy-related stuff, so it caught me out of nowhere. I’m not mad at her, but it was one of those small wounds that is deep and takes time to heal.

        BTW – I think migraines are THE WORST and feel really bad for anyone who has to deal with them regularly.

        • Anon

          My close friend has been TTC for about 1.5 years. I’m pregnant, and got pregnant with shocking ease ( I expected it to be difficult for me for various reasons). I feel awful about this situation. It absolutely breaks my heart, and I am quite afraid of talking too much about — well, anything.

          That is the problem. I have been quite sick during this pregnancy and my life has been overwhelmed by it. I am full of worries about things going wrong, and so scared of having a miscarriage. these are things I would share withBeing pregnant for the first time has changed everything about my life, from what I can do and eat to how I think about my job and hobbies. Even when I talk about other things, the lens I am looking through is inevitably that of being pregnant, and I worry about how obvious that is. At the same time, I feel awkward trying to avoid anything that could in any way relate to being pregnant, like she will somehow be tricked into forgetting that I am pregnant and she is not.

          I am commenting not with any answers but because the way friends who are pregnant and those struggling with infertility interact is so important to me. I know that friendships often really fall apart in these situations.

          My deepest

          • Anon continued

            Discus wouldn’t let me finish!

            My deepest sympathy to the writer and everyone dealing with fertility issues. I know I don’t understand, and I wish I could help. If I ‘m driving you crazy with pregnancy related stuff, you can say so.

          • StartCloseIn

            I think we feel empowered to say so, most of the time. Some moments are harder than others…some moments I feel particularly vulnerable, and I don’t attend baby showers during those times. But the great thing about babies is that you having one doesn’t mean that I don’t get to! There are enough to go around :)

          • Amanda L

            Anon – you shouldn’t feel bad that you got pregnant quickly! You seem like a good friend to have put so much thought into your interactions. Have you talked to her about what she can handle and not handle? For me, I DO often want to hear about how my pregnant friends are doing, but I’m not always in the right mindset, so I’ve asked them to let ME come to THEM with questions.

            It may be that she cannot be that friend you go to with some of your complaints (valid though they may be) and worries at this time of your life. There are lots of pregnancy discussion forums and ‘moms to be’ groups out there that can hopefully fill that hole.

          • Anon

            Thank you for your thoughtful reply! I do think that maybe it would be good to be more open– just to talk with her about what and when she’s comfortable with. I try to follow her lead on things as it is, but more open communication would be helpful.
            It is good to hear about other friends navigating this emotionally tricky situation.

    • Amanda L

      One other thing I want to point out that is interesting about infertility, is that it is difficult to grieve. There is grieving the loss of yet another month of hope. The loss of another month of financial investment. But then the hope of the next month looms, and overtakes that grief. And 4-6 weeks later, the grief is back. I worry that my friends are over my grieving, even if each month it is different. Some months it is sobbing on the bathroom floor grief. Other months it is ‘well, I guess I’ll have that glass of wine now!’ grief. There is no ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ for us, so that means there is no end to the grieving (yet) either.

      • Ambaa

        So true! The cycle of grief and hope every month is so exhausting.

        • StartCloseIn

          Very true!

  • anon

    I’m so sorry. I have a friend waiting for her international adoptee (after matching)–when the country closed its doors. Heartbreaking. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

    • StartCloseIn

      You are a good friend for thinking of her. She’s lucky to have you.

  • anonymous

    This is beautiful and true. Thank you for writing and sharing.

    • StartCloseIn

      Thank you for reading.

  • This post is beautiful and sad and painful and true. Much love to you in what must be a horrible time of loss.

    • StartCloseIn

      Thank you for the kind words. I can see the light on the other side more and more now, but it did help to really grieve.

  • Andrea

    Tears. My heart is with you. We too are suffering infertility, and it is the loneliest disease in the world. Many hugs to you. Keep writing – you are very talented.

    • StartCloseIn

      It really can be. We are here with you. You are not alone.

  • Thank you for sharing this. You are a beautiful writer.

    • StartCloseIn

      Well, thank you!

  • Rachel Morris

    Thank you for your story. Thank you for sharing.

    • StartCloseIn

      Thank you for reading.

  • Meigh McPants

    Uncertainty, loss and grief are all so hard to bear, especially when your struggle is an invisible one. I’m sending you strength, Anon, and hope so much for things to turn out the way you want. Regardless of the place this journey ends up, these feelings aren’t forever, so just hang in there, and know there are people supporting you.

    • StartCloseIn

      Thank you. It’s incredible how much knowing that helps. It truly does.

  • The pain of losing a child you never knew is such a unique pain. I’ve never lost a child I’ve known, so I can’t compare. But the pain of losing what might have been is a real pain and it cuts deep. And many times it is such an invisible pain that nobody knows how to deal with it. I still ache at least weekly for the son we will never know in this life.

    • StartCloseIn

      It goes in waves, now, but you’re right, it’s always there. Sometimes I feel their weight, even though I never held them.

  • Sarah

    This sort of happened to me, too, though the disruption was our decision. You’d think that would make things more bearable, but you’d be wrong – the sadness was then accompanied by guilt, shame, and anger. The guilt and sadness ran their course in time, the shame and anger lingered for over 2 years and are the only thing that’s come close to seriously disturbing my marriage. They still sting a little when I think about it too hard. Time helped, therapy (solo) helped, honest conversations and vacations with my husband helped.

    And then in the way they do, things changed and then changed again and then there was this hopeful little (tiny!) bundle of a baby boy. In the NICU, small but strong, and so full of hope. We are finalizing his adoption in 3 weeks. I couldn’t hear it while I was sad and angry and ashamed and guilty over the two boys we couldn’t take, but there is hope in the darkness. The glimmer may be small and far away, and the waiting is always hard – everyday hard – and heavy, and the joy won’t replace the sadness that exists now, and the glimmer can be excessively difficult to see.

    I feel for you, you wrote so beautifully; I’m so, so sorry you’re sad. It’s awful and real and you deserve support in that heavy place. I’ll leave you with my only wisdom: sad is real, and it is different than hopeless. Sending you my love and strength for your journey. Solidarity, sister.

    • StartCloseIn

      I’m so sad with you about the disrupted adoption-I never thought about the additional feelings that would bring up. I’m so hopeful for you in this new hope for your upcoming adoption! Solidarity.

  • We are at the beginning stages of thinking about adoption but I am not sure that I can go through such pain. I like to think that I can be that brave, but I don’t know.

    I am so very sorry for your loss. And I am sorry for the cruelty that is infertility. It is such a hard thing that so very few understand. And I am sorry.

    • StartCloseIn

      I hope very much that you don’t have to..but the good news is, you could go through it if you needed to. We are here for you.