Adoption Risks: What happens if a birth mom changes her mind?

a year ago
This article was written by a member of the SheKnows Community. It has not been edited, vetted or reviewed by our editorial staff, and any opinions expressed herein are the writer’s own.

Adoption is a complicated process with many unknowns. The various types of adoption, how the process has changed over the years, and misconceptions about the process have caused multiple rumors and myths to be perpetuated. As an Adoption Consultant, I hear a lot of questions about the basics of the process. One of the topics that causes the most fear amongst prospective adoptive parents is the rights of the expectant/birth parents to change their mind about the adoption. Here are some of the most common questions.


Can the birth mother regain custody of the baby AFTER he or she has been placed with me?


A huge fear that many of my clients have at the beginning of the process is the birth mother changing her mind. Many pre-adoptive parents have the misconception that the birth mother is most likely to change her mind AFTER the baby has been placed. In practice, if an expectant mom chooses to parent, it almost always happens BEFORE the baby is placed with the adoptive parents (see the question below.) As far as regaining custody after the placement, depending on the state from which you adopt, there are often laws that prevent this from happening. Additionally, most adoptions these days involve some level of ongoing contact with the birth mother. This provides numerous benefits for all parties. One of these benefits is that the birth mother has information on how the child is growing and thriving, thereby helping her to feel positively about the decision she made.


How often does an expectant mother change her mind DURING the adoption process?


The percentage that you hear mentioned frequently is that expectant mothers change their minds and choose to parent about 30% of the time. That number feels high to me, probably because it factors in all different methods of adopting, including high-risk situations where hopeful adoptive parents meet an expectant mother online without any expert guidance as well as people who work with disreputable sources.


That being said, expectant mothers have the right to change their minds at any point during the adoption process and sometimes they do choose to parent. When this happens, it’s almost always at the hospital after the birth. With the highly reputable agencies and attorneys with whom I work, I would say that happens somewhere in the ballpark of 10% - 15% of the time. It’s important to understand that this number represents those women who fully intended to place their baby for adoption. It’s exclusive of situations of ‘scammers’ that so many people fear, as those cases are usually easy to identify upfront. In reality, when an expectant mom chooses to parent, often she’s more surprised than anyone. Although there are certain ‘red flags’ to watch out for, if she didn’t see it coming, then there’s no way that anyone else could have. There’s always a leap of faith involved with adoption. But if you approach it through reputable sources, you can proceed with confidence that the vast majority of adoptions go through.


What happens if the potential birth mother does change her mind during the adoption process?


If your adoption match were to fall through, your agency would do whatever they could to find you another match that meets your criteria (and vice versa) as quickly as possible. However, the agency can’t just put you at the top of the list and make an adoption happen. A potential birth mother must choose you. What the agency can do is present you to more expectant moms and discuss your family with each expectant mom so that she has as much information as possible to decide if you are the right family for her.


If an expectant mother decides to parent, do I lose my investment in the adoption?


Understandably, I receive a number of financial concerns from prospective adoptive parents that they will lose every penny they have paid into the adoption.


The answer is no. Different agencies will have different policies, but the most common scenario is that the expectant mother’s pregnancy-related expenses that have already been paid out are what’s at-risk. The balance, which is the majority of the cost, is usually either rolled over to another adoption opportunity or refunded to you. Additionally, if you qualify for the tax credit, some of the lost money can often be recouped through that.


In summary, a match falling through is a real risk in adoption. But there is good news. It doesn’t happen nearly as often as people think that it does. Depending on the state from which you adopt, it may not be able to happen once you take custody of the baby. If it does happen, your agency will work to find you another good match as soon as possible. And the financial loss is often much less than anticipated. I’ve found that nothing worthwhile in life comes easily. Adoption is another example that does involve great risk but also leads to great reward.


Bio: Nicole Witt is the owner of The Adoption Consultancy (, an unbiased resource serving pre-adoptive families by providing them with the education, information and guidance they need to safely adopt a newborn, usually within three to 12 months.

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