In 2009, American Adoptions created a groundbreaking Risk-Sharing Program. It provides financial protection to families who experience an adoption disruption (when a woman who had been considering adoption changes her mind and decides to parent). In our 30 years of adoption experience, we’ve protected countless families from the financial risk of disruption. We can protect your money. But, there’s something we can’t protect you from: Emotional risk.

The Emotional Risk of Adoption is Often the Scariest

Emotional risk is inherent in adoption. The emotional risk that accompanies a potential disruption is an unavoidable aspect of this type of family-building. There are ways to minimize it as much as possible: We assess a woman’s level of commitment to adoption, consider all potential signs that suggest she might prefer to parent her baby and much more.

But there is no way to eliminate the possibility that a woman may choose to raise her baby, or that your heart may break, maybe more than once, before you meet your child. In fact, for everyone involved, pain is as much an immutable part of the adoption process as joy.

We’ll educate you about the financial, legal and emotional risks of each individual adoption opportunity we present to you. We’ll offer every piece of information we have about any situation. Then, it’s up to you to decide if you’re willing to put your heart on the line for that particular situation.

3 Common “Risk” Factors that Waiting Families Fear

As hard as we work to reduce risks for every adoptive family, it’s impossible to completely remove risk from adoption. Disruptions do happen. We’ve all read the stories online about adoptive parents who have gone through this heartbreaking experience. However, these individual experiences are often spun as cautionary tales, warning future adoptive parents against accepting a similar adoption opportunity — when, in reality, those circumstances might have had nothing to do with the real reason for the adoption disruption.

You might be surprised to learn what does (and doesn’t) increase the likelihood of an adoption disruption. Here are three “risk factors” that waiting families fear, and the truth behind them:

1. Longer revocation periods and/or consent waiting periods. We’ve found that a bigger window of time does not increase the likelihood that a woman will change her mind about adoption. The length of a revocation period has not been found to be a consistent factor in whether or not an expectant parent decides to parent.

2. ICPC or ICWA. The same is true when additional government processes are involved, like ICPC or ICWA. In our experience, the involvement of these steps has not been found to affect whether or not a woman decides to parent her child. Tribal or state involvement does not affect a woman’s level of commitment to adoption – it’s entirely dependent on each individual woman.

3. Birth fathers. Many adoptive families fear that if the birth father is present or involved, a woman will be more likely to choose to parent. The involvement of a birth father has not been observed as consistently impacting placement. In fact, his support can often be a major source of comfort for a pregnant woman considering adoption.

There are certainly many more misconceptions and fears, like an expectant parent who is raising older children, older expectant parents and more.

But we’ve consistently observed some trends over our 30 years as to what will and won’t affect the likelihood of an adoption disruption. Does that mean these things will be true for every individual adoption situation? No. Every adoption situation is unique because the pregnant woman making the decisions is a unique person.

In fact, that’s the only thing we’ve found with any consistency that will determine whether or not an adoption will disrupt and a woman will choose to parent: The woman herself and what she feels is best for her unique situation.

But, when you’re a waiting family, it can be tempting to listen to every piece of information floating around online. We urge you to listen to the professionals when it comes to determining what is and isn’t a risk for your adoption journey ­– not hearsay from other waiting families in heightened emotional states.

Making Blanket Decisions Regarding Risk is Ill-Advised: Every Situation is Unique

Sadly, some adoptive families shy away from certain adoption situations just because they’ve heard ‘horror stories’ from other adoptive parents who experienced a disruption under roughly similar circumstances. For example, some adoptive families are fearful of adoption situations involving babies with Native American heritage, due to ultra-rare, ‘perfect storm,’ high-profile cases involving ICWA.

Shawn Kane, the director of American Adoptions, went through three disruptions before adopting his daughter. Among the adoption opportunities the Kanes were presented with, one was a set of 14-year-old expectant parents. Another was a 23-year-old expectant mother and a Native American birth father. Who would you guess was more likely to place?

The teens ultimately parented. The other set of expectant parents placed their daughter with the Kane family. They completed the ICWA process, and Shawn’s daughter is now 9 years old, healthy and happy.

“It’s easy as an adoptive parent to fall into this trap of thinking you know what the ‘typical’ birth parent is like. A lot of adoptive families would assume that the teenagers would be more likely to place, and that the Native American adoption would be less likely to go through because of ICWA. But it really comes down to the birth parent’s commitment level. Every situation is different,” Shawn cautions.

Here’s our advice to our waiting families:

  • Be wary of taking any one family’s experience as gospel, and of changing course because of one person’s advice. Each family can only speak to one experience. We can speak to thousands of families’ experiences. Look to the forest, not the tree.
  • Closing yourself off on your APQ isn’t the way to shelter yourself from risk or pain. Risk levels are different from one situation to the next, so excluding an entire racial group to reduce perceived risk is an ill-advised strategy that does more harm than good.
  • Some hopeful parents see red flags in situations that are actually a normal occurrence. Additionally, what may be a red flag in one situation is no cause for concern in another. Risk is rarely universal in adoption. Trust that your American Adoptions specialist will draw on their years of experience and do everything within their power to identify potential red flags in each individual situation.
  • We will always provide you with all the information we have in each individual adoption situation. However, it is not uncommon for a pregnant woman to provide us information when she first reaches out to us, but as she works with our staff, attorneys and even your family more details are shared and at times they can even conflict with previous details. These details may or may not have any impact on your adoption. Our staff and the attorneys involved in the adoption plan will help guide you if this happens to your family. Information changing along the way may or may not be a red flag. We understand firsthand that not having the ability to know all of the information about an adoption plan upfront can be frustrating. This is where your adoption specialist comes in. Use them to provide the proper support and education for your specific situation.
  • Walk away from online waiting family forums if they start to cause you more harm than good. As Adoptive Family Specialist Kelli put it, “Things can easily turn into a game of telephone –information becomes garbled to the point of being incorrect.”
  • Watch out for false equivalence. Be cautious of drawing false correlations between unrelated factors, just because they seem similar on the surface. And then, be even more cautious of spreading misinformation online. Any advice that doesn’t come from experts could potentially harm prospective birth and adoptive parents, or worst of all, the children at the heart of adoption.

Trust the Process [And Your Adoption Specialist]

No adoptive family is forced into accepting an adoption opportunity. We’ll advise you to move forward if we think the woman seems committed to adoption. We’ll advise you to walk away if we think there’s an unusually high risk. Are we going to be right every time? No. But we still have more experience and knowledge than non-professionals online.

One thing we’ve learned in all our experience: Nothing can predict with 100% certainty if a woman will ultimately choose adoption, when an adoptive family will be chosen, or what will happen in any individual adoption situation. Not us. Not laws. Not you. Ultimately, each woman is going to do what she thinks is best. Nobody can control that, and nobody should.

When it comes to assessing potential risk factors, we can tell you what we’ve consistently observed over the years. We can tell you what is or isn’t within normal parameters of the “average” adoption. But we can’t ever tell you that we know for sure. Nobody can.

We understand on a personal and professional level how hard it can be to accept that the only person who has true control over an adoption is the woman making the choice. This inherent uncertainty and risk in adoption is one of the reasons why this family-building path is not for everyone – it requires a lot of flexibility, patience and compassion.

But, for those who are willing to accept that risk is inevitable, and for those willing to trust that we will always do our best for you, American Adoptions will be there to guide you to the child that was meant to be in your family. As always, it’s not a matter of “if.” It’s just a matter of “when.”