Disappointed with Adoption – Lowlights and Lessons Learned From Our Infertility and Adoption Journey

Adoption is all about the moments.

There have been many wonderful adoption-related moments over the past two decades of adding children to our family through the miracle of adoption.

Here are just a few of the highlights:

I remember the first moment I received a random package in the mail and opened it up, only to find a framed photo of a baby along with a note.  The note stated that we had been selected by a birthmother to parent her recently born baby girl!

I remember jumping up and down and screaming: “We’ve been selected! We’ve been selected” to my cat, who was the only other living creature home at the time. I immediately called Erik (my husband) at work and together we rejoiced over the phone.  A few weeks later, we drove down to Lynchburg, Virginia and met our new baby for the very first time (see photo below)! That little baby girl turned out to be our wonderful daughter Claire, who is now a very mature, kind, smart, and resourceful eighteen-year-old young woman who is taking on-line college classes and has a bright future ahead of her.

One of the best moment of my entire life!

Then there was that moment a few years later when we had been selected by a birthmother to parent her baby boy. However, we learned that the birthfather would not relinquish his parental rights. Nine long months ticked by. But then one day, we received a phone call from our social worker letting us know that a judge had ruled against the birthfather, which was basically a small miracle of God, and that we could come get our baby at any time!  

That one phone call was yet another moment of pure joy for my husband and me. Logan is now 14 years old and is very athletic and social. He is doing great in life and in school.

Another joyful and memorable moment occurred the first time I laid eyes on Khloe, our third daughter whom we adopted from Ukraine.  At the time, we were sitting in a small, 1980’s style office in a random orphanage in Poltava, Ukraine. The orphanage director brought in this extremely tiny (like size 4T tiny) blonde-haired eight-year-old girl with a huge bow in her hair. This little girl looked up at us with wonder in her ocean blue eyes while she suppressed a huge, awkward grin.  This was the first time that anyone had ever visited her! Khloe is now 19 years old, in community college, is a great basketball player, and is doing very well in many areas of life!

These moments are probably the highlights of the last twenty years of adding children to our family. 

Sadly, there have been at least three times the number of lowlights in the area of infertility and adoption over that same period.

In this post, I want to “highlight some of the lowlights” of our adoption and infertility journey, because not everything about adoption is peaches and cream.

These difficult experiences have taught me many lessons over the years, and I will share just a portion of them with you in this post.

My hope is that I can encourage you, my Dear Reader, if you find yourself in a similar place of disappointment or difficulty, even if our circumstances are different.

Spoiler alert: this post will have a happy ending, so make sure you read all the way to the end!

Our IVF Story:

The first lowlight I’d like to highlight goes way back to the beginning (2007); back to when my husband and I were still grappling with infertility, which affects about 15% of all couples.

A few years after our adoption of Claire, Erik and I attempted two IVF procedures. At the time, these procedures were considered “cutting edge” for those who were struggling with advanced infertility. We were reluctant to even attempt an IVF procedure, but we felt like God was directly guiding and even leading our every step with many signs to keep going along the way. He even raised up a member of our family to pay for the entire first procedure!  God continually gave us full faith that this was His will and even that the IVF procedure would lead to a pregnancy.  We went out on the “faith limb” and believed that God would work through this procedure to give us a biological child, even though our fertility doctor assured us that our chances of becoming pregnant were “zero to five percent, with the emphasis on zero,” (his exact words).

In order to even attempt an IVF treatment, both of us had to undergo medical testing to make sure that there would be enough “material” to work with for the IVF procedure.  Thankfully, I had enough eggs to work with.  A biopsy from a urologist confirmed that Erik had a small number of sperm available; enough to make something happen. The clinic technicians froze that sample, and I started on some medication to make me produce many eggs. We were off to a good start!

When the “big day” of egg retrieval and fertilization arrived, the clinic technicians thawed Erik’s sperm sample to be ready for my egg retrieval.  However, upon thawing the sample, they were shocked to find that all the sperm material had completely dissolved!

The technicians looked for hours and couldn’t even find a single sperm to work with, even though there was a small number present before freezing. Remember, for fertilization to occur, you literally only need one sperm and one egg.   

I still remember the exact moment the doctor called us.  Erik and I had been waiting all afternoon and into the evening for a phone call from the clinic.  In order to pass the time, we prayed and listened to Christian music, in full faith that the procedure would work out.

When the phone finally rang, I could tell in the very first nano-second that the procedure had been a failure, just by the tone and inflection of the doctor’s voice.

We were devastated.  We were also confused. 

Why had God seemingly pushed us to do a procedure and then have it completely fail?

We were spiritually wounded and ready to give up.  We prayed again that God would guide our steps, and that if it was His will for us to do one more IVF, He would make it clear. 

To make a long story short, God made it clear that He wanted us to yet again pursue another IVF procedure. 

We met with our IVF doctor about options, and he told us that a “new doctor” who did a more advanced procedure had just moved to the Washington, D.C. area (where we lived at the time) and that we should at least agree to meet with him.  We had actually read about this procedure prior to this, but it was only being offered in New York City at the time and cost $30,000 (too expensive for us). 

We met with this new doctor, and he told us more about the advanced procedure he offered. He stated that this new IVF procedure used new technology which could locate individual live sperm (no more freezing and thawing), and that we were good candidates with about a 40 percent chance of a successful procedure. He also told us that it was much more affordable than the procedure done in New York.

Erik and I felt comfortable and even hopeful at this news and agreed to one more procedure.

The big day came and once again, the technicians could not even find one sperm to work with.  Not even one!

After the procedure, the doctor came in and said he was deeply sorry.  We could tell he had actually been crying! We thanked him for trying to help us, and then I cried all the way home in the car.

This experience was deeply disappointing and in fact, devastating.  And again, I was confused as to why God would lead us to do a procedure that He knew would not be successful.

We moved on from ever attempting to have biological children using modern medicine and decided that adoption was, once again, our best option. A year later we adopted our beautiful son Logan, and then later we adopted Khloe from Ukraine. 

To learn more about our struggles with infertility, please see the link at the end of this post.

After our adoption of Khloe, things have gotten “stuck” with our attempts to add even one more kiddo to the family. 

In addition to getting stuck and not being able to complete our family with one more child (a heart’s desire that remains for both Erik and me to this very day, after years of prayer and fasting), we find ourselves at the start of 2023 with more questions than answers, and with a slew of disappointments under our belt.

Here are just a few of the lowlights and disappointments we have experienced over the last several years:

Disappointing Hosting Experiences:

We have hosted several kids from Ukraine and Latvia with a heart to potentially adopt one or two of them, and while hosting is extremely worthwhile and is an excellent form of ministry (and really is a lot of fun), it has not led to an adoption of any of the children we have hosted. The reasons are numerous and multifactorial but include the following: our host kids were not even available for international adoption after hosting staff assured us that they were, hidden siblings we knew nothing about, undisclosed severe autism and incorrect/misleading information with one of our host kids, and caregivers being unwilling to give up the host kids’ guardianship status.

Hosting has, however, brought us to Nina, the girl we are presently trying to adopt from the country of Ukraine (which I will get to in a moment). It also brought us to Lasma, the older orphan from Latvia, whom we love like another daughter and have an ongoing and close relationship with.

I am so thankful that there has been much good that has come out of orphan hosting and I highly recommend it.  However, it has not led to an adoption of any child at this time.

Here is a great hosting moment: backpacking in the great state of Idaho a couple of years ago with our three kids and two of our host kiddos!

Failed Latvian Adoption:

After we adopted Khloe, we decided to adopt a boy from Latvia as Erik’s mom and dad are descendants from that small Baltic country. Latvia also had a solid and dependable program at that time.

In our minds, with the adoption of this one boy, our family would be completed, and we could all move on with our lives!

We finished all the paper and other physical work that went into an international adoption and sent our dossier to Latvia.  At the time, we were told we would receive a referral after six to nine months.  Many months flew by, and still no referral.  We changed our parameters to include a sibling group of two, special needs kids, older kids, etc. in order to increase our chances of any adoption at all.  Erik even obtained his Latvian citizenship as we were told that it would help our chances.

Three years ticked by, and we never received a referral! 

Then one day we received a letter from Latvia stating the following: “due to the popularity of our domestic adoption program, we do not anticipate sending you a referral of any children.”

After three years of wasted time and prime real estate ages for my other kiddos, Latvia was a closed door.

So frustrating and disappointing and yes, even devastating!

This was the photo we used for that year’s Christmas card! Great photo for sure, but sadly the sign that Logan was holding was inaccurate.

Difficult situation with a Birthmother:

Another recent difficulty occurred with one of our birthmothers.  To make a long story short, she has basically decided to have more of a closed adoption with our family after we had enjoyed an open adoption with her for many years.  She had previously accepted this child as a part of her family, but more recently, she no longer desires to be a part of his life (and he is not welcome into hers).  There is more I could say about this, but I will stop here. Suffice it to say, this situation has been extremely hard on our entire family and especially for the impacted child.

Stalled Ukrainian Adoption:

This one is still in process, so I am hoping and praying for a happy ending.  After we decided to adopt Nina (the host girl I previously mentioned), we had completed all the paperwork and physical work of our home study and dossier and sent everything to Ukraine in February of 2022.  Two days later, Russia invaded Ukraine.  Unfortunately, we learned later that Ukraine decided to not work on any adoptions, even those already cleared for international adoption or to even consider those dossiers that were sitting in-office, which included our dossier as well as the dossiers of two other women I knew personally. Ukraine has also refused to let U.S. families with connections to Ukraine orphans either sponsor, host, or allow respite housing for any Ukrainian orphans. It seems Ukraine is nervous about all of us American families just permanently keeping their orphans here and not returning them after the war (even though that would never happen).

All adoptions are still suspended one year later.  Nina is now displaced in Germany. 

Will we ever get to adopt Nina?  Will Ukraine make us redo all the paperwork and physical work of our adoption and start from scratch?  I really don’t know.  I remain moderately hopeful that someday Nina will join our family, even if she comes here as an older teen.

But either way, this situation is also hard and disappointing to say the least.

We would love to add Nina to our family! (Nina is the dark-haired girl in the center.)

Very Difficult Child: One of our children has been especially difficult to raise on several levels.  This child struggles with attachment disorder and many other delays and difficulties. I would love to report that after several years of pouring into this complicated kiddo, that much progress has been made.  Sure, progress has absolutely been made on many levels, but this child has plateaued on many more, especially in the areas of kindness, loving other people, desire to change, executive functioning, selfishness, and anger.  

Miracle Pregnancy Letdown:

Finally, for two decades I believe that God spoke to us and invited us to believe Him for a miracle pregnancy.  God spoke to us using the Bible, prophetic words from pastors during church, and many other unique and powerful methods and words.  However, to this day, I have never been pregnant once, and I am at the age and stage in life where this would be even more impossible to happen than it was before (if that’s possible!).  This deeply disappointing and confusing chapter of my story has been a long journey, and I admit I am still struggling with it. Why would God speak to me for 20 years about something amazing and then never provide it?  I don’t really know the answer, but I believe in heaven there will be a child or children waiting for me and my husband. Or there will be some sort of explanation from God as to why we have walked this difficult and head-faking road.

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The above stories are several examples of the ways that despondency, dejection, discouragement, delay, difficulty, devastation, and the mac daddy that ties it all together – deep disappointment — has reared its ugly head for my husband and me in the area of building and completing our family.

But I have learned a thing or two over the last twenty years and I can honestly say that, considering lessons learned, I am doing much better in all areas of my life, whether we ever adopt another child!

So without delay, here are four lessons I have learned about disappointment and difficulty, and what it produces, as it pertains to infertility and adoption.  Perhaps you can grab something in here for yourself.

Lesson One: The root of my disappointment is a disappointment in GOD.

At the root of all my disappointment is that I am secretly disappointed in God. Specifically, God and His ways, His timing, His methods, what He allows or ordains, and for a perceived lack of Him answering my many heartfelt prayer requests.

The remedy I have learned over the years is very simple but also very difficult: absolute (almost) blind faith and trust in God–faith and trust that God is good and is always working for my good in ways I somehow cannot see at this time.  I have faith that somehow, as I look back over the years, all the delays, disappointments, and difficulties will make more sense.  If it never seems to make sense on earth, it will eventually make sense in heaven. 

I have learned the value of praying the prayer of relinquishment, which I first learned about from Catherine Marshall (a well-known Christian author).  In her books, she states that we should always be in a continual mindset of “God, I want this, but I want Your will more.  May Your will be done,” with basically every area of life.  She states that not only is this a key to answered prayer, but it will help us to be at peace with every hardship God may allow for us.  Jesus prayed this prayer right before He died on the cross. When I pray this prayer, it is my way to be completely submitted to God’s plan for my life, whether good or bad, because I believe that God will use it for my good and for the good of my family, and that in the end, it will all make sense. 

Lesson Two: Disappointment is a tool that draws me closer to God and develops deep character within me (that I really need but don’t necessarily want).

I read a book years ago by Kay Arthur, where she claims that life’s disappointments are “God’s appointments” to make us more like Christ. I agree with this and would add that infertility and adoption have been God’s primary shaping tool in my life in the area of personal and character development, pride-slasher, introspection-builder, patience-developer, judgementalism-exposer, and sin-and-weakness-revealer, to name just a few of the positive traits that have been forged in the furnace of affliction. 

These ocean-deep character qualities are underdeveloped in most humans and require certain chiseling tools which cut very deep and are often very painful.  For some reason, God has allowed me to go very deep with my personal character development over the last twenty years.

What has been the result of all this chiseling?

I am a much different, and dare I say better, version of myself than I was twenty years ago

I can handle more hardship.  I am a better listener.  I am more empathetic and others’ oriented. I can handle stress and large amounts of pressure.  I can handle disappointment.  I don’t stay in a constant depressed state.  I am more joyful, happy, and free deep inside. I sleep well at night without constant racing thoughts.

I am a more spiritually mature Christian.

I used to run away from God in hurt and anger.  Not anymore!  I run to Him and ask Him to help me and to heal me.  I always feel better after I pray. I have more peace and calm about literally everything!

An example of this lesson applied to real life pertains to the above-mentioned very difficult child. I have learned many lessons over the years with respect to this kiddo, which include but are not limited to the following: realizing that I struggle to love difficult people consistently, that I truly need God’s greater grace to love this child in a way that they need to be loved, and to let go of secret expectations, hopes, and dreams for my relationship with this child going forward, and to leave all of that in God’s capable hands. Raising this child has been a shaping tool in my life for my personal and spiritual growth.

The bottom line is that much good has come from these last very difficult twenty years. Maybe someday I will look back on them and be very grateful.  I am not in that place yet, although I can certainly see many benefits for me personally that have come from the last two decades.

Lesson Three: Sometimes God gives you a version of what you are praying for (but not exactly what you are hoping/praying/looking for).

Sometimes God gives you a “version” of what you are praying and hoping and believing for.  An example would be that we are licensed foster parents but have not yet accepted our first placement.  Maybe we will form a tight bond with our foster kiddo, and he/she will be a wonderful addition to our family, though not a permanent one by law.

Another possible example pertains to Nina.  I have decided that even if we only get her over here on a student visa, having her live with us and go to college here, that that scenario would be a “version” of my heart’s desire to have her in our family.  After college, she might be able to live in the U.S. permanently. Bottom line? Maybe we will be able to have her in our family (of sorts) for her older teen years and beyond.

Not what I would prefer, but much better than nothing for sure!

Lesson Four: God is always doing a new thing, so expect good things from Him in the future!

A few weeks ago, God spoke to me using a pastor on YouTube about how past disappointments can lead a person to not being able to have expectant faith in the goodness of God.  As soon as he said those words, tears sprung to my eyes and I cried out, “Yes, Lord! I am afraid to have faith in your goodness in the area of children, because I am so afraid of being let down!”

I went home and decided to clump all of the old prayer requests together–the ones that have yet to be answered–and labeled them “The House of Shit and Pain.” 😊 That house included other prayer requests I had been hoping to see progress with for years, that sadly seemed to go unanswered by God. 

I then lit the whole house of unanswered prayer requests on fire in my mind. The entire thing went up in flames metamorphically.

Why?

I needed a clean slate. I wanted to start over with God.  I wanted to believe that He is truly good, and to expect good things from Him going forward.

I can honestly report that after the “house burning,” I feel much better and much more at peace. 

I am reminded of this verse found in the book of Isaiah (43:18,19):

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”

More lessons:

Here are a few more nuggets of wisdom, forged in the flames, in bullet form:

  • I am a much stronger person after enduring these trials.  As the saying goes, ‘you are only as strong as your weakest link.’  I have had decades to strengthen faults and weaknesses along my fence-line, so to speak.
  • I have learned to be content with the family I have and to treasure them. I have three beautiful kids and one awesome husband!
  • When things are hard, it draws me closer to God, which is what is best for me. 
  • God is looking for tested faith and my free choice to love, trust, and serve Him.  If things are easy and going well, there is not much testing going on.
  • Sometimes tests are used to reveal whether or not God truly is the most important thing in our life.  Other times tests just show you where the breaks are along the fence-line of your life.  Lastly, tests are also used to show you how bad-asterix you really are in a pinch, and then you can feel confident that you have actually grown as a person, which feels awesome!
  • All of the hardships over the years have forced me to experience tested faith in God.  I have been faithful to Him even when it’s hard and confusing, and I will believe in Him and trust in Him until the very end.  And someday it will all make sense!  Even if complete perspective and knowledge comes in heaven.
  • For some reason, God is primarily interested in tested faith.  It seems to do something “special” for Him.  He tends to put me in situations where I need to cling to Him with a blindfold on. 
  • I believe I will “see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13), even if it’s later and different than I would prefer.
  • Life makes sense looking backward but must be lived walking forward. This is true with all aspects of life. I have faith that someday I will have a much broader perspective, which will bring understanding to these confusing decades. For example, we look back and see that, had IVF been successful, we most likely would not have adopted either Logan or Khloe. We love them both and they belong in our family. Another example would be if our Latvian adoption had worked out, I am not sure we would have hosted all of those beautiful kiddos. We never would have met Lasma or Nina. They, too, are a part of our family now.
  • It’s ok to not give up praying about something.  Some prayer requests take decades to get answered or to find resolution.  I also keep reminding God that I am open to whatever His will is for our lives, and I continue to ask for guidance in my prayers. We continue to desire more children in our family in whatever form that looks like, and we also have the ability to adopt them (financial and otherwise).  If one of these two criteria changes, we will reevaluate.

And many more minor and major lessons have been learned over the years.

In closing, the other day I was shopping at a store and found a little wooden plaque that piqued my interest.  The plaque said:

“God makes happy endings. So if it’s not happy, then it’s not the end!”

I burst out laughing at the insanity of that little plaque.

 “That’s terrible theology!” I mumbled to myself as I remember the story of John the Baptist, whose life ended in a beheading. The Bible is filled with many other non-happy endings, and I can look at my own life for more raw material.

On impulse, I ended up buying that little plaque because I sense there is some truth in it for me.

Here is the truth that I believe is contained within that cliché-laden piece of wooden inspiration:

I believe in the goodness and kindness of God.  I believe God when He says: “I know the plans I have for you.  Plans to prosper you and not to harm you.  Plans to give you a hope and a future.” –Jeremiah 29:11

God has a plan.  I don’t know how it will all end up, but I know that one day, it will all make sense.  I hope that it will make sense on this earth, but even if it does not, all things will work themselves out in heaven, and everything will be made clear at that time.

I also know that God is in control and using all the disappointments of infertility and adoption to shape me to be more like Jesus.  This benefits me too, because the more I become like Jesus, the more I will be filled with peace, depth, and wisdom as I live out the rest of my life.

I can be filled with expectant faith in the goodness of God, but maybe let go of the specific expectations of how that might exactly look.

I can still be happy with my life by looking around and being content with what God has already given to me: my husband, my three kids, my three pets, my extended family and friends, and my beautiful home.

Lastly, even if we never adopt another child, I will be ok.  But here’s hoping for either another adoption or at least a “version” of more children in our family in the future!

In conclusion, here is some wisdom from the little wooden plaque as it pertains to our adoption situation and really, all areas of life:

God makes happy endings, so if it’s not happy, then it’s not the end.

Even if the end is in heaven!

“I remain confident in this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” –Psalm 27:13

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A note from Heather:

Thank you for reading about the difficult aspects of our infertility and adoption journey.  I am considering writing a short non-fiction book about this topic.  My desire is to help men and women who are in the throes of disappointment as it pertains to this topic, in order to encourage them and to give them hope.  Please comment or like this post if  you think this type of book would help either you, My Dear Reader, or someone you know.  I would like to see how well this post does before I commit the time and effort into this project.  If you could send me some love please, I would certainly appreciate it!  Either way, I hope this post helped you in some way.  Thank you for reading my story. Take care!

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If you would like read more about our failed Latvian adoption: From Latvia: “No, you cannot adopt.” (An update on our adoption situation)

If you would like to read about our stalled Ukrainian adoption: Russia Little Crazy, But it’s OK

This is how our infertility journey began: Infertility and Adoption – How I made peace with both

The list goes on: Orphan hosting (and hosting to adopt) – Ten Things You Need to Know; A long awaited mother’s day (Claire’s adoption story); Little Boy Lost (Logan’s adoption story); My Adoption Story (by Khloe, Age 13); and this is a good one about God’s timing: What the Star of Bethlehem Tells Me About Our Upcoming Adoption. There are more adoption-related posts on my site, so feel free to dig around. Take care! Thanks for reading!

2 thoughts on “Disappointed with Adoption – Lowlights and Lessons Learned From Our Infertility and Adoption Journey

  1. shelly

    You guys have been down a very rough road- for many years! But, you write from a place of hope and peace. I love your Catherine Marshall quote! As my word for the year is “surrender,” that hit home for me! Thx for sharing, Heather!

    Liked by 1 person

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