failed adoption matches-how common and how much money do adoptive parents lose

Getting the call saying that an expectant mom has chosen you to be the parent of her child through adoption is the adoptive parent equivalent of a positive pregnancy test. Finally your dreams of parenthood are coming true! Sadly, a call telling you that the adoption match has failed and that the parents have decided against adoption often feels a little like a miscarriage.

Of course there are differences—in a miscarriage a baby dies, while in a failed adoption match the baby is alive and healthy. It is only the adoptive parents dreams that have died while another mom’s (the biological mom’s) dreams are coming true. Adoptive parents know (or should know) that an adoption match does not mean that the baby is theirs, but it is really hard to not begin to dream and plan and hope once you hear the word “match”.

A little known secret to those outside of adoption-world is that not all adoption matches end in adoption. The domestic infant adoption process is anything but cookie-cutter, but a typical scenario is as follows:

  1. Prospective adoptive parents apply to an adoption agency or adoption attorney to adopt.
  2. They complete a homestudy and prepare an adoptive family profile/portfolio/folder with pictures and information that they want expectant parents adoption to know about them.
  3. Expectant parents look through various adoptive family profiles and select the adoptive parents that they think they would like to raise their child. This process of identification/selection is often called an “adoption match”. Expectant parents have NOT relinquished their parental rights at this time and can only do so after the baby is born.
  4. Prospective adoptive parents and expectant parent often communicate and meet during the pregnancy. Adoptive parents often pay expectant parent expenses that are allowed by the law of the states where the mom and the prospective adoptive parents live. The type of expenses that are legal to pay varies significantly by state. Adoptive parents may also pay for counseling for the expectant parents to help them understand their options.
  5. The baby is born. Often adoptive parents are able to share some of the hospital birth experience.
  6. The expectant parents make the final decision on whether to go through with the adoption and relinquish their parental rights. Each state in the US has different laws on the minimum amount of time parents have to wait before they can make this decision. Many states often have an additional amount of time that birth parents can change their mind after relinquishing parental rights.

Another little known secret is that if the adoption match fails, adoptive parents may lose any money that they have paid.

What Do We Know About Failed Adoption Matches?

Not much is known about failed adoption matches because no one is keeping track. The only ones that know about a failed match are the individual expectant parents, adoptive parents, and adoption agency or attorney. In order to get a better picture, Creating a Family ran two surveys two years apart of our extensive audience of adoptive parents and conducted email surveys and interviews of several adoption agencies and adoption attorney.

Creating a Family Surveys of Failed Adoption Matches

We asked the following questions of adoptive parents (not every respondent answered every question):

If you had an adoption match fail:

  • Did the adoption match fail (i.e. expectant parent changed their mind) before or after birth?
  • At what trimester in the pregnancy or after the birth were you matched with the expectant parent?
  • How much money did you “lose” on the failed match?
  • Were you able to later successfully complete an adoption?
  1. Did the adoption match fail before or after birth?

Before Birth: 30

After Birth: 33

After Baby was in Adoptive Family’s Home: 4

  1. At what trimester in the pregnancy or after the birth were you matched with the expectant parent?

1st trimester: 5

2nd trimester: 19

3rd trimester: 25

After birth: 7

  1. How much money did you “lose” on the failed match?

  2. a) none: 17
    b) less that $1000: 9
    c) between $1000-$5000: 17
    d) more than $5000 (how much?): 16 (Not everyone answered with an amount, but here is a sample of those that did: $6K, $7K, $8K, $9K, $9K, $10K, $10K, $11K, $12K, $12K, $15K, $16K, $23K, $30K.)

Almost all the survey respondents had been able to adopt successfully after a failed match and a few were still in the process, but expect to be successful.

Comments from some of the survey respondents.

“We had 3 failed adoptions with same adoption attorney and feel she was part of the problem- not a scam based on definition BUT she preyed on desperation. She did not care who matched with whom or why the adoption failed. Nor did she care just how ridiculous most of the birth mom expenses were. We went on to adopt with a wonderful agency!”

“We had two failed matches in between our successful adoptions. With one of the failed we matched about 4 months prior to baby’s due date. It was an intense and draining situation. It failed about a month before baby’s arrival. I would say that situation seemed like the most serious of all of them, but ultimately it didn’t work out. Our other failed was an emotional scammer, so it doesn’t really count, but it was not pleasant.”

“We had both failed matches and successful adoptions. Failed match #1 matched 1 week prior to birth failed 7 days after birth. First adoption matched 8 weeks prior to birth. Failed match #2 matched 5 months prior to birth, failed 2 months prior to birth. Second adoption matched 3 weeks prior to birth.”

“We not only lost the possibility of a child, but also so d_mn much money (birthmother expenses and attorney fees—close to $30,000). We “knew” that the money was at risk, but we didn’t feel that we had any choice—kind of like we were being held hostage. I heard on Creating a Family radio show to only spend what you are comfortable losing, but that is hard to do once you are matched.”

Interviews with Adoption Agencies and Adoption Attorneys

We interviewed several adoption agencies and attorneys asking how common and how costly were failed adoption matches for adoptive parents. Here are some comments:

I don’t match so I see it from the Adoptive Parent (AP) side, but I rarely have APs who do not have at least one failed potential adoption once matched. Some go through 2 or more, so I would say at least 50% of adoption matches fail and the expectant mom decides to parent.  Of course, many more these days are scams too (ie. the EM never intended to place but matched to get expenses paid.  This is hard to confirm unless you find a baby registry was made at same time accepting expense money or learn of baby shower or find that they are working with multiple families.)  Preparing prospective adoptive parents for failed adoptions is crucial, and helping them understand just because an expectant mom chooses to parent that is not a scam, even if she accepts money.

I would say over the last 5 years I see more and more failed matches and more and more lost money. It used to be agencies held the risk on expectant mother expenses (it was included in agency fee), now it is prospective adoptive parents (PAPs). Prospective adoptive parents pay the agency fee plus any expenses. Also I see more agencies charging a fee every time when back in the day it was more usual to charge one fee until matched.  Agencies have shifted the financial risk.

Lost money to birth mother expenses is usually around $3,000 to $5,000, BUT because so many adoptions are across state lines now, there is usually another lawyer and/or agency who also has been hired and paid anywhere from $2,000- $8,000. So many failed adoptions run somewhere between $6,000 and $10,000. In general, it is a lot more risk to prospective adoptive parents today.


It’s very hard to say in what percentage of adoptions where the adoptive parents are matched pre-birth with an expectant mother does the expectant woman (or new mom) change her mind and not go through with the adoption. If the placement is very early on and the birth mother not firmly established in her adoption plan it is at least 50%, if not more. Of the birth mom’s that have shown a commitment to their plan it is about 25-30%, and I see more fall through when the birth mom has only received over the phone counseling (as opposed to in person) and/or never met the adoptive parents.


Approximately 7% of our birth mothers that are matched with a family ultimately choose to parent instead of an adoption plan. (This statistic does not include any women who choose to parent vs. an adoption plan before a match is made). One likely reason our percentages may be lower than others is that our firm typically matches expectant parents with perspective adoptive parents at the 8th month of pregnancy.

At our firm, our clients do not lose any money when an adoption match fails. The money that is spent on an expectant mother who chooses to parent comes from our birthmother fund that all clients contribute to once on our active list.


In general, our percentages have fluctuated from year to year, going from about 60% success up to 93% success.  By success I mean that the placement goes through as planned. So that means that in some years as many as 40% have changed their minds, while in other years only 7% changed their minds.  I’ve seen no rhyme or reason for this, but we calculate it every year. Last year we were at 73% placed, 27% disrupt. It changes all the time.

How much they lose when a match fails varies with the situation – I don’t think there is any general answer to this – I have been told that some agencies operate differently than we do in terms of fees and expenses, but our system is that they pay a portion of the agency fee when matched and that is non-refundable.  If the expectant mom changes her mind, we try to find them another placement and cut them a break on the fee, and USUALLY we are able to make that happen, but not always. So that portion of the fee plus the birth mother expenses can be anywhere from $6,000 up to $15,000, depending on when the expectant mom changes her mind.

What Causes an Adoption Match to Fail?

It’s important to realize that a failed adoption match is only perceived as a failure by the prospective adoptive parents and the adoption agency or attorney. For the mother who decides she is going to keep the baby, the decision is likely seen a success. Perhaps she has found the support she needs to be able to parent, perhaps the father of the baby has come back into the picture, or maybe she has simply decided that she going to figure out a way to make it work.

It is illegal in all states for a woman to terminate her parental right and relinquish her child for adoption before the birth. She can make plans to do so, and can even accept monetary support from prospective adoptive parents (depending on the state where she lives) prior to birth, but she still has the complete right to change her mind until after the birth and the legal time period has expired.

12 Signs that an Adoption Match May Fail

There is no one universal sign that an expectant mom will decide to parent rather than place her child. From our discussion with adoption professionals and adoptive parents we have identified the following signs that an adoption match is at risk.

  1. An on again off again relationship with the father of her child. She may make the adoption decision during an “off” period, but change her mind when they are back “on”.
  2. Birth grandmother (especially the expectant woman’s mother) is not in favor of adoption.
  3. Has not shared her adoption plans with her family or the birth father.
  4. Does not take advantage of counseling or has not had it offered. (We feel strongly that it is always in the best interest of the expectant woman and ultimately for the child and adoptive parents, for her to receive good quality unbiased counseling while making this decision.)
  5. Younger age. May not be clued in to the reality of single parenting.
  6. Is a high school dropout or has no interest in post-secondary education or training.
  7. The match is made early in the pregnancy.
  8. Not prompt in her responses to the adoption agency or adoption attorney’s request for information.
  9. Conversations with the adoption agency or adoption attorney are focused more on “What can I get” rather than “How can I find the best family for my child.”
  10. Has not made plans for getting on with her life after the adoption. If she is not making plans for going on with her life without her child after the adoption, she may not be sure she is going through with the adoption.
  11. The baby is due between Thanksgiving and the end of December. The holiday season is an emotional and family centered time of year, and thus it may be harder for her to place for adoption if the child is born during this time.
  12. Seems too sure and confident of her decision. If she sounds rehearsed or scripted, she likely is.

One Woman’s Story of How She Survived a Failed Adoption Match

D.G., a member of the Creating a Family Facebook Support Group shared the following advice on how to make it through the grief of a failed adoption match. (shared with her permission)

About 4 years ago my third match failed at the hospital. For the few days after mom decided to parent I put all my focus on helping her get what she needed and making sure she was set. Then I flew home and fell apart. I didn’t get out of bed or eat for a couple days and had it not been for my best friend dragging me back into the world, I’m not sure what would have happened to me. She carted me to a therapist kicking and screaming, but that therapist was my second saving grace. She gave me incredible advice and coping strategies.

First she told me to stop thinking about the big picture because it’s too overwhelming. If I kept focusing on “when will I ever be ok?” I was going to have a hard time. Instead she said focus on small bits of time I could control. What do I have to do in this hour – maybe it was make coffee or take a shower or get the mail… one or two things an hour to start with. Manageable tasks. After about a week I could do morning afternoon and evening, then day, eventually I could plan weeks. This was not fast. It was several months, but eventually I did start feeling normal again.

I also tried a new hobby – although learning to knit was a complete fail, it was something to do in my unoccupied time.

Start (or return) to a routine. Have a particular chore or event for each day. For me it was things like watch The Bachelor on Monday, Therapy on Tuesday, Starbucks meet-up with friend on Wednesday, clean the kitchen on Thursday, try a new crock pot recipe on Friday, wash sheets on Saturday and brunch on Sunday. It gave me a goal or something to look forward to every day.

I kept a joy calendar. Get a large desk calendar and every day write in the square something that made you happy or something you are thankful for. On really tough days go back and read some of those joy moments.

At some point you will know if you’re ready to either try again or stop trying. Until then take care of yourself.

Tips for Coping with a Failed Adoption Match

A failed adoption match is so very hard to handle. Yes, it is not an actual death of a baby, but it is a death of a dream and dying dreams leave scars. Even if we fully accept that a match does not mean that this child is ours, it still hurts when that fact is brought home.

One reason that a failed match is hard to handle is that others either do not understand the adoptive parent’s pain or do not understand how it could happen. This lack of understanding puts the adoptive parent in the position of constantly having to explain or simply hiding the fact that they were almost parents.

One of the best pieces of advice we can give is to allow yourself to feel the pain. Don’t diminish it because the baby wasn’t really yours or because you shouldn’t have gotten your hopes up, or because… This is a real loss and you have every right to be sad.

Here is some advice from those who have been in your shoes:

  • Take whatever time you need to grieve and let your people take care of you.
  • My favorite saying is: “When One Door Closes, Another One Opens”. But a friend sent me a quote that takes that one step further – funny but true –“When One Door Closes, Another One Opens; I Just Wish The Hallways Weren’t So Scary”.
  • While I am sad and disappointed for myself, this was never “my” child, and I can’t help but feel joy for her. I know what it’s like to give birth and leave empty-handed….and though there are arguments both ways as to which is an easier loss (death or adoption) it’s not a pain any mother should face.
  • Love on each other, it hurts both partners. Be there for each other whatever that means to you. Also take the time to fill yourself with what keeps your body and mind healthy. After I grieved our failed adoption, I decided keeping busy was the best thing. I took on more clients for my job which also helped offset the costs of the failed adoption.
  • Keep a gratitude journal! Many days I focused on very simple things I was thankful for, but I always tried to find something, no matter how small, that was good about the day.
  • The first match we completely got our hopes up….big time, which is why I was so completely devastated. But you know what? I wouldn’t have changed it for anything. Because for those 24 hours I was an expectant mother….with all the joys and excitement that comes with it. Don’t cheat yourself out of the joy that waiting can bring by worrying about the “what-if’s” (which I know is easier said than done).
  • We knew we’d be crushed if the match fell through, but the expectant parents would never recover if they made the wrong choice. When we really grasped that, we were free to love and not worry.
  • I went through 5 failed domestic infant adoption attempts before I finally gave up. Adopted from China in one year. YAY!
  • I tell prospective adoptive parents to please not assume a match will end in adoption, please respect the Expectant Mom and the fact that this is her child and a choice that will change many lives. It’s ok to be excited, but be prepared also. And if she does choose to parent, you are allowed to be sad and disappointed….but please don’t direct that to EM/mom. No matter how long you’ve been matched, no matter how deep and personal your conversations have been, no matter how close you’ve become….this is still her child and she is still facing the ultimate heartache.”

Have you had a failed adoption match? What advice can you share for others going through this experience?