The Complex Answer to “How Are You?” After a Miscarriage or Failed Adoption

Dawn Davenport


After a miscarriage or failed adoption, how do you answer the question "how are you?"

After a miscarriage or failed adoption, how do you answer the question “how are you?”

“How are you?”— Three simple words. Three simple words that can convey so much more.

That coincidence thing happened again. I received an email from someone who recently lost her fourth child through miscarriage last month. She said people ask how she’s doing, but she has no easy answer and what results is an uncomfortable moment for everyone. Then a couple of weeks ago I heard from one of our Creating a Family community who faced a similar awkward pause in response to someone asking how she was doing after the woman that had chosen them as the adoptive parents for her unborn daughter decided against adoption after giving birth. They had been matched for 5 months.

Miscarriage and failed adoptions are distinct sufferings—each with their own pain, grief, and loneliness. One thing they share, however, is the lack of understanding by many others. So often, after the first couple of weeks, people don’t even ask how you are doing. If they do ask, often they don’t really want the answer. They are simply asking out of common courtesy—the conversational equivalent of a perfunctory pat on the head of shallow banter.

This avoidance is a curious thing really. I think in part people avoid talking about the loss of a child through miscarriage or failed adoption because they don’t understand it. It’s easy to minimize, I mean after all, you were only ___ weeks pregnant. Or it wasn’t even your child yet. You can always try again. Even if they understand your pain and disappointment at first, after a few weeks they expect you to be moving past it, getting on with your life because after all, you were only ___ weeks pregnant. Or it wasn’t even your child yet. You can always try again. I also think people avoid the question because the answer may be too painful to hear.

I wish I had a ready, socially acceptable answer for the “How are you” question after the loss of your child through miscarriage or an adoption match that falls through. My first thought is to be thankful that the person had the courage to ask. The asking reflects some degree of understanding and recognition of your loss. That is a kindness in itself.

Often the situation demands a short, truthful answer, along the lines of:

  • Grief is a process, and I’m in the process.
  • It’s hard and some days are better than others. Thanks for asking. It means a lot.

Every once in a while, though, you need to truly tell someone how you are doing. I cried this week when I read a Facebook post by one of our Creating a Family community telling us how she really is feeling after losing her twins earlier this year at 18 weeks… painful, honest, eloquent. With her permission, I’ll share it here.

“People ask me all the time, “How are you doing?” To most people I simply tell them “I’m doing better” or even in some cases just simply keep the conversation moving. I tell them “I’m doing fine” but the truth of the matter is I really don’t know how I’m doing. I really don’t.

How are you supposed to be doing after you’ve lost your babies? After cremating your children’s bodies that barley had begun to grow. After getting ready to start picking out things for their nursery. It seems even with all the answers found in beautiful poetry and the overwhelming outpouring of thoughtful words from family & friends, and even in the very promises of God about heaven, the real answer seems to remain elusive.

How do you simply “go on” when every day you see the empty belly that once was big & round? How do you get back to normal when the only normal you’ve ever known will never be the same? How do you process all the what if’s which pour through your mind. Especially, the ones we work so hard to convince people we don’t have.

How am I doing?…I’m not doing well. I’m consumed with sadness. The awkwardness of not having my son & daughter has in many ways only increased. I can be in the middle of my day making dinner and start crying for no reason at all. Oh, there’s a reason alright, maybe a million of them. I see swings in the park and know that our babies will never swing on them. I often find myself wondering–mostly unconsciously–what our babies would have been like as they grew up. What it would have been like to hear them say “I love you Mommy”. Would they have loved music? What would their favorite ride at Disney Land have been? … I do believe in God’s flawless plan for me and my Husband. And while my trust in Him does not remove the emotions that make me human, I believe He loves me. Thank you Father for our babies. Please take care of them until I get there to help you.”

The raw and painful answer is that you are in deep pain, but with time, patience, and support you will get better.

Image credit: Rampant Gian

10/07/2012 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog, Infertility, Infertility Blog | 6 Comments

6 Responses to The Complex Answer to “How Are You?” After a Miscarriage or Failed Adoption

  1. Avatar Jennifer says:

    Thank you for posting this! I experienced a failed placement 4 weeks ago after having been matched with the birth mom for the last trimester, attending drs appointments, frequent contact, etc. She changed her mind a day or two before delivering (I don’t know the baby’s birthday, which I’m glad about). I was devastated and, for the most part, my friends and family were amazing. I received flowers and cards and lots of prayers. Just this morning, I finally found my heart ready to welcome another birth mom into my life and start praying for her. I was very honest when people asked how I was doing (and actually seemed to want an answer)…crappy, okay, sad, blah, better, angry. I have clung to my faith and God’s promises.

    As a single parent by choice, the evenings were the hardest because I didn’t have anyone at home to turn to for comfort. I had a birthday a few weeks after the fall-through and it was horrible. I had been looking forward to it b/c it was going to be different than past birthdays (having a baby, off work, etc). I sobbed more on my birthday than several other days combined but I still acknowledged the day and, surprisingly, felt better the day after my birthday because it didn’t have any expectations attached to it.

    I’m so sorry for those who received crummy comments from people who don’t know better. My heart breaks for you!

    Now I’m not-so-patiently waiting for my next match and my arms are aching to be filled.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      I’m so glad to hear that your family and friends “got it” and responded accordingly. I know that doesn’t take the pain away, but it helps you endure the pain. I hope your wait is a short one.

  2. Avatar Addie says:

    Thank you for posting this information and allowing us all to speak to it. I grieve for the mother who lost her twins, and I find strength in her unwaivering faith.

    We had a failed adoption, but I struggled with even calling it that because we were placed withour infant daughter for 3 months when the birthmother decided not to TPR. We brought her home from the hospital, we raised her and helped her to get big and strong, taught her how to smile and laugh, etc. We came to the point of just living a normal daily life – she was even going to daycare and I was back to work. The birthmother prolonged the first two TPR hearings and at the final hearing chagned her mind and said she “wanted her back.” the social workers came the very next day. Three months of being parents, then childless in a 24 hour period.

    Since then, we have been blessed with a healthy adoption of our oldest son and then a suprise miracle birth of our youngest son. All of this has happened within the last two years, and we had 3 newborns in the span of 18 months.

    Dealing with the grief of the loss of our daughter still continues to this day. When people asked “how are you” or now, “do you still hurt” the only thing I can liken it to is a cross between the death of a child and a kidnapping. I realize that sounds horrific, but I have a very difficult time conveying the loss of her. Our boys do not fill the void of her, but we also realize that God had a plan, and we were meant to have our boys and we would not have them had we kept her.

    I agree that when people ask, they truly want to know how you are. The biggest thing I wanted was validation for the grief I was feeling…like maybe I shouldn’t feel this depressed. But I eventually came to the realization that you need to go through the grief process on your own time and while others may not be able to truly understand, just know that they love. Ask for prayers, ask for thoughts, and ask for people to be ok if you need to talk about your lost children. That love can help you heal.

  3. Avatar Va says:

    I’m so glad you raised this. After my failed adoption I expected empathy but what I got instead was a no-reaction-reaction. Everyone viewed it as ‘why are you upset? It’s not like that was REALLY your child’ or worse they would just say ‘oh’ and then ask me ‘so how’s everything else?’ Finally I just stopped telling people. Loss is so much worse when no one acknowledges it.

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