How to Overcome a Failed Adoption

Adoption is a long and difficult process. Sometimes it's successful. Sometimes it isn't. In today's post, I'll introduce you to someone who overcame a failed adoption in Guatemala.

Kathy blogs at Baby Boomer Super Saver. Kathy and I, as Boomer bloggers, seem to be in the minority in the personal finance blogger community. So, it was nice to connect with a fellow Boomer.

I came across Kathy's story in one of her blog posts titled  The Money Mistake I Don't Regret. In it, Kathy tells the story of her family's experience trying to adopt an infant in another country. After reading her account, I reached out to see if she'd be interested in telling her story in my interview series.

Thankfully she agreed.

Many parents trying to adopt go to foreign countries to find a baby. It seems it's easier to get an infant in a foreign country than here at home. But it's a difficult and expensive process.

Kathy's story emphasized just how hard it can be. I'll let her fill in the details for you. She also offers advice and the lessons they learned going through this process.

If you have a story you'd like to tell about overcoming adversity, I would love to hear from you. Complete the contact form or send me an email at

With that, here's my conversation with Kathy.

Tell us a little about yourself

You could call me a “crunchy” California girl. My interests include herbalism, aromatherapy, soap making, gardening, cultured foods, cooking, and nutrition. I live on the west coast with my husband and daughter, where we enjoy camping, hiking, mushroom hunting, and visiting the beach.

We enjoy traveling, and during the past two years, we’ve been to Mexico, England, Germany, Denmark, and Greece. My husband and I recently celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary and are excited to spend even more time together, traveling the world.

Full-time travel won’t happen for at least another year or so, as I’ve been working two jobs to help us catch-up our retirement savings.

Reading is another passion. Once I discover a topic I want to explore, I dive right in and don’t come up for air before completely immersing myself. When I found the FIRE movement, I was inspired to apply the principles of value-based spending, frugality, and turbo-charged saving to catch up our retirement nest egg. This led to a new hobby, writing a personal finance blog geared for baby boomers!

Tell us about your early years and your career paths

As a baby boomer, I can refer to my early years as those spent in college! I graduated with a degree in Social Work and moved out to the wild, wild west. I’ve had a long career, working with victims of domestic violence, adults with mental illness, individuals with developmental disabilities, and frail elderly clients.

Social work has been emotionally rewarding, but the pay is low. To supplement my income, I’ve explored other ways to make money, such as fine art sales, teaching herb classes, and selling organic skin care products.

When our daughter was young, I wanted to stay home with her, so I started a Waldorf-inspired early childhood education program in our home. My childcare business was very successful until the economic crash of 2007-2008. After ten years, I closed the doors and returned to the field of social work.

Teaching and playing with young children had inspired me, however, and I decided to get a second degree, in Communication Disorders. This allowed me to become a licensed Speech-Language Pathology Assistant.

In addition to working full-time as a Social Worker, I now have a fun side hustle doing speech therapy with children who have language delays. What’s amazing about this is that I’m making double what I make as a Social Worker, for work that feels like play!

You posted an article about a money mistake you don’t regret. Tell us about that mistake?

Trying to grow our family through international adoption turned out to be a big money mistake, but I don’t regret deciding to try.

My husband and I were married nine years before our precious daughter came along. She brought joy to our lives, then and now! I loved everything about being a new mom and wanted more children.

We might have waited too long before starting our family, though. Sadly, I had several miscarriages and began to wonder if our daughter would ever have a little brother or sister.

We contemplated other ways to grow our family, including in vitro fertilization (IVF) and private adoption. Both options were expensive.

Adopting from the US foster care system wasn’t expensive, but it was unlikely that we’d get an infant. My heart was set on adopting a baby, so we decided to adopt from Guatemala, where the adoption of very young infants was common. We’d traveled to Mexico and Central America before, and had fallen in love with the culture. In addition, we spoke a little Spanish!

You called this a money mistake. Why was it a mistake?

We were not as prepared financially as we should have been. Although we made good money, we also had quite a bit of debt. Our emergency fund was non-existent.

Shortly after we started the adoption process, stories of corruption and illegal adoptions began to emerge from Guatemala. Our adoption agency notified everyone that the laws were changing and there was a chance our adoptions might not be finalized if we chose to go forward. Guess who decided to take the risk?

We were warned by other adoptive parents not to visit the baby we were matched with until the adoption was ready to be finalized, in case the adoption didn’t go through.

Yet, once we were matched with our sweet baby boy, we could not wait to see him! Several trips were made just to visit and bond with little Jonathan.

There was a sudden halt to the adoption after an administrative error was discovered. Our baby’s picture was accidentally switched with another boy’s picture in the adoption files! The Guatemalan adoption authorities flagged the two cases as potentially fraudulent.

Jonathan was quickly snatched from his loving foster home by the Guatemalan authorities and placed in an orphanage. We decided to see the case through to the end. The last thing we wanted was for Jonathan to end up forgotten about, in some orphanage. This resulted in several more expensive trips to Guatemala for family court appearances. At least our adoption agency paid the legal fees.

Luckily for Jonathan, his maternal grandparents stepped forward to raise him. We were relieved to know Jonathan would not have to stay another second in an orphanage, but our hearts were broken over losing him.

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Are you considering adopting again?

After our attempt to adopt Jonathan failed, we knew we didn’t have the money for another international adoption. At least not right away. Adoptions were no longer possible from Guatemala, although we thought the adoption process might resume once reforms were put in place. Unfortunately, Guatemala remains closed for international adoption.

At this point in our lives, I don’t think we are going to consider adoption again. Our daughter is 21 now. My husband is disabled, and I’m working two jobs to catch up our retirement savings.

How did this impact your finances over the next few years?

Before we tried to adopt a baby, my husband & I were both making good incomes. We did not have savings, though, and our credit cards were stretched beyond their limits. After having spent so much in our attempt to adopt, we found ourselves even further in debt.

This was not a good place to be when the economy crashed. My husband’s employer had long periods without work. The thriving childcare business I’d built up began to dwindle to the point that I finally closed it and went back to work as a social worker.

Driving to and from work, I discovered Dave Ramsey’s radio show, which started us on the journey to pay down debt. We made a massive amount of progress over the next few years and paid off a lot of our debt.

Unfortunately, my husband was laid off again for almost a year. Shortly after going back to work, he experienced a ruptured brain aneurysm while working out of state! He slowly got better, but he’s now permanently disabled.

At the same time, my husband was in the hospital; my employer cut my hours. Here we were again, financially stranded! We eventually had to file for bankruptcy, and we lost our home.

All the money we spent trying to adopt a baby, including numerous trips to Guatemala over two years, did not cause our bankruptcy, but it did contribute to our growing debt.

What have you learned from the experience?

This experience taught us to work through adversity. There will always be things beyond our control in life. What we can control is how we respond.

If we hadn’t realized it before, our adoption experience also taught us that we see the glass as half full rather than half empty. We are not going to dwell on the half-empty part.

We didn’t get to bring Jonathan home with us, but we treasured the time we had with him. I think we were there for him when he needed love the most.

Finally, we reached a turning point in our financial mindset and knew we had to work to eliminate debt and build savings. Our financial life is completely different now. We no longer use credit cards, we live within our means, and we are steadily catching up our retirement savings.

What advice would you give anyone considering adoption?

Adoption is a personal decision, but I’m all for following your heart. Now that I’m older and (finally) a little wiser about money, I’d suggest taking these steps before and during the adoption process:

  • Be debt-free, with a 3- to 6-month emergency fund.
  • Save up and pay cash for all adoption expenses.
  • Make the best of every situation, despite the problems.
  • A positive attitude & a grateful heart will smooth the bumps.
  • Rely on your partner and others for emotional support.

Personal adversity comes in many forms:  a failed adoption, a family crisis, a health scare, an unexpected job loss or the loss of your home . . .

Having an emergency fund and avoiding debt both go a long way toward helping you deal with stress and adversity, whether you are going through adoption or just living your life.

Emotional resilience will help you bounce back from adversity more quickly. Practice strategies to build and sustain resilience, such as having a positive attitude and faith that things will get better; having strong social supports; and maintaining good self-care by getting enough sleep, exercise, and healthy food.

Photo of Kathy, her husband, daughter and Jonathan in Guatemala at Christmas
Photo of Kathy, her husband, daughter, and Jonathan in Guatemala at Christmas











Final Thoughts

Thanks, Kathy for sharing an open and honest account of your adoption efforts. I appreciate the advice you offer for anyone considering adoption. It sounds like an expensive and laborious process.

A key takeaway for me is that parents should be prepared financially and emotionally for any adoption. It would seem especially important for international adoptions. Laws and customs in many countries are different from ours, complicating the process even more.

The best advice often comes out of our experience. Sharing your story will go a long way in helping anyone considering adoption. Y

Now it's your turn. Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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