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Birthmothers Who Change Their Minds About Adoption

Learn what do if a birthmother changes her mind about giving up her child for adoption.

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Birthmothers Who Change Their Minds About Adoption

Probably the most intensely felt fear of adopters is that the birthmother will make an adoption plan—and then flip-flop and decide to raise the child herself.

Very few birthmothers change their minds about adoption after the baby is placed with a family. How do I know this? Because when I was researching a reference book several years ago (The Adoption Option Complete Handbook), I sent letters to hundreds of agencies and attorneys, and one of the questions I asked them was how many cases they had of an adoption falling through after placement.

Most had very few such cases. One agency said, “In 10 years, in 4 of 940 placements have children been returned to birthparents.” Another said, “Of approximately 700 placements, there have been approximately 10 such cases.”

Of the attorneys who responded to the question, I received such comments as “In over 1,000 adoptions, only 5 fall-throughs after the placement was made.” And “One out of approximately 45 cases.”

Of course, a birthmother may change her mind about adoption before placing the baby with you, such as right before or after the baby is born. This happens, and it's painful, but it's less agonizing than taking a baby home, getting attached to her, and then losing her.

Despite my research, you should ask each adoption arranger what their particular experience has been. Ask them what percent of birthmothers change their mind before the placement occurs and what percent change their mind afterward. This will help you gauge the risk that you face.

If Agency A says that 100 percent of their birthmothers go through with an adoption plan before placement, then you should probably be skeptical. Even the best arrangers have some birthmothers who change their minds. Conversely, if Agency B says only 10 percent proceed with the adoption, something is wrong—with their policy, procedures, or elsewhere. Too many women working with this agency are changing their minds. It's not your job to figure out what they're doing wrong. Move on.

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It's very important that a birthmother feel that the adoption decision is hers and that she was not forced into it by others—her parents, the birthfather, or anyone else. A study reported in a 1996 issue of Clinical Social Work Journal revealed that those birthmothers who felt pressured into adoption suffered significantly higher levels of grief than those who felt unpressured.

Women who are in their second or third trimesters are less likely to change their minds about placing their baby for adoption because a woman still in her first trimester may be going through many emotional issues, may be under a lot of pressure from the birthfather and others, and the baby may not seem entirely “real” to her yet. Later, after she feels the baby kick and move around, she'll have a better sense of the reality of the situation. If she still is considering adoption then, that is a sign of potential commitment, although it's certainly no guarantee.

It's also true that a woman usually gives signals that she's ambivalent; for example, if she has no plan for her life after the birth, she is more likely to change her mind about the adoption. A good counselor should spot those clues.

Although it's impossible to accurately predict whether any particular woman will change her mind about placing her baby for adoption, researchers have studied birthmothers who changed their minds about adoption in the past and compiled the following list:

  • The birthmother is under age 17.
  • She has no immediate or future career/life plans.
  • She lives in a big city.
  • She was brought up by a single mom.
  • She is nonreligious.
  • She lives with the birthfather.
  • Her mom disapproves of adoption.
  • She lives with her parent(s).
  • She is a high school dropout.
  • Her mother or father has no education beyond high school.
  • She (or her parents) are on welfare.
  • She has friends who are single parenting and urging her to do the same.
  • She has a very difficult delivery of her child.

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