If you’ve ever struggled to conceive, along with a slew of other way too personal questions and unsolicited recommendations, you’ve probably heard the phrase...
“If you can't get pregnant, why don’t you just adopt?”
Whenever I hear this question, I cringe a bit. Suggesting you can 'just adopt' oversimplifies something incredibly complex and reinforces a problematic 'sunshine and rainbows' view of adoption. Adoption is not a solution to infertility, and talking about it that way centers adoptive parents and minimizes the space adoptees and birth families hold in the relationship. Adoption is a complex web of joy, pain, love, trauma, connection, confusion, acceptance, hurt - the list goes on. At the same time, the pain of infertility is not something to be glossed over either. It is significant and real, and can be incredibly challenging. I know because I've been there.
Pricking yourself with the latest cocktail of meds in hopes that your body finally does what it should.
Walking into yet another friend’s baby shower truly happy for them but also feeling that pit in your stomach that won’t go away.
The endless cycle of hope and disappointment
·The self-hatred – WHY can’t I do this… what is wrong with me?
Going through infertility is hard. It was hard on me, it was hard on my relationships, it was hard on my marriage. I was so sad and I was so tired of feeling sad. If you're in that space, I see your pain and I wish your story was different. I write these words not to condemn or criticize, but with deep compassion and care. I write the words I wish I had read over a decade ago, when I was in that same space.
Ok, if you're still with me, you may be thinking... are you telling people NOT to adopt after infertility? Didn't you adopt after infertility? Isn't that contradictory?
I want to be clear; I absolutely believe individuals and couples can pursue adoption after infertility. I also believe it is vital to examine your motives, perspective, and intentions before entering into adoption. Children are not, and never should be, treated as a commodity. Yet, the unfortunate truth is that many adoption agencies are financially motivated to bring you on as a client and won't necessarily challenge your WHY. Below I share 4 key questions I encourage you to ask yourself and to truly sit with, as you determine if this is the right time to pursue adoption.
1) Have I allowed myself to grieve?
Maybe you’ve experienced a miscarriage. Allowing yourself time and space to grieve that loss is so important. Maybe the loss you’re grieving is the picture you always had of how your family would be built. Maybe you need to grieve the fact that you won’t have a biological connection to your child and won’t experience pregnancy and all the things that come along with it. Grief and loss are foundational truths of adoption. Do the work to grieve and process your loss before bringing an adopted child into the picture - it will help you be a better parent to your child.
I pushed all systems go into adoption after we decided to stop working with the fertility clinic. No one (other than my husband who truly knew how much I was struggling) challenged this. After all, we’d talked about adoption even before we had trouble conceiving – wasn’t this the next logical step?? A few months into our adoption process, I emailed our agency and told them we needed to press pause. It was an incredibly difficult email for me to write at the time, but the reality was I needed to take time to process and grieve all that we had gone through in the previous couple of years. Through counseling, I began to unpack why I was having such a hard time and I started to heal. I needed to get to a place of peace about the fact that I likely was never going to have a biological child. This grieving had to happen outside of the whirlwind of the process of becoming an adoptive parent. This often isn't a quick fix. And, of course when you're tired of waiting to be a parent, it can be tempting to want to fast forward to what you perceive to be the end. Trust me, spending time here is not only important, but, in my opinion, essential to honestly evaluating your motives and desires going into adoption.
2) Am I expecting this child to fill a void?
Adoptees deserve to enter a home that celebrates who they are individually and is committed to meeting their unique needs. It’s unfair to place the weight of our expectations on shoulders of a child who has no say in the adoption decision. Yes, becoming a parent after longing to be one can be a wonderful thing, but, it cannot be the primary goal in adoption. Adoptive parents, we can’t center ourselves in the story - the primary focus must be the health and wellbeing of the child.
Adoptees often share about feeling the pressure of the expectation that they are grateful for their adoption. This expectation is completely unfair, and leaves them with little space to be open and honest about the pain and trauma that accompanies adoption. If we expect a child to fill a void of our own sadness and make us feel happy, are we going to be able to respond with compassion and understanding when they express their grief over their adoption? How might we respond instead?
3) Am I comfortable talking about adoption?
Adopted children need to be told (in an age-appropriate way) the truth about their stories from as early as they can comprehend. Speaking from experience, people will ask when they find out you are adoptive parent, “could you not have kids of your own?” (soapbox moment – “biological children” is the preferred term here; my adopted kiddos are my own as much as a biological child would have been). Sometimes, our own uncomfortableness with sharing about infertility with others can keep us from speaking honestly about our child’s story (even to our children!).
Being comfortable talking about adoption is necessary in all adoptions but is ESPECIALLY important if you are considering transracial adoption. The grocery store checkout line, school events, sports games, park playgrounds - I've learned there are no 'safe zones' from inquiring (read: sometimes nosey) minds. Unfortunately, this means your child will also have to get comfortable early on fielding these questions. Start educating yourself now on how to have these conversations in a healthy way that protects your child's privacy and story. Educate yourselves on how you can help your child feel empowered and supported and have ownership over their own story by allowing them to share if, when, and how they want.
4) Am I able to express sincere empathy and compassion for birth parents?
Open adoption is becoming more and more prevalent and there’s a reason why – in most situations, some level of openness in adoption is best for all members of the adoption triad (birth parents, adoptees, adoptive parents). We need to be in a space where we can celebrate our child's birth family's significance and their place in our child’s story and be willing to cultivate some level of relationship with them. We need to care about how they are treated by agencies and we need to interact with them in a respectful way. Birth parents are spoken about and treated in ways that degrade and disrespect them far too often - you fail your child if you do not love their birth family well.
Nothing could prepare me for the moment when another woman placed her child in my arms. The loss in that moment hit me like a ton of bricks. My greatest joy (parenting my children) is also a moment of greatest pain for people dear to our family. This is the reality you have to sit with as an adoptive parent. You can't wrap that up with a tidy bow, and there's certainly no sunshine and rainbows there. When we understand this, it reframes our perspective on a failed match- no longer is it an outcome to avoid at all costs, even though it hurts and disappoints us, we can find solace in the perspective that choosing to parent is the opportunity for a family to stay together. This is especially hard when you adopt after infertility, because it can thrust you into that roller coaster of hope and disappointment yet again. To get to the end of the roller coaster, it is key to have a support system in place (like a counselor) to help you process all you are feeling.
There is no magical answer when the question of readiness to adopt arises. However, I believe reflecting on the above will bring you closer to an honest place where you can truly determine what is best for you and your family. And, as you wrestle through these questions, I encourage you to consider seeking support from an adoption-competent professional. A counselor who is experienced talking about adoption and infertility can be an incredible asset and really help you to do this important work. It also happens to be great practice in seeking help from experts & external resources, which you'll need to get comfy with if you plan to become an adoptive parent!
If you are local to the Charlotte, NC area, Adoption Support Alliance offers an Adoption 101 class that helps walk through some important things to consider and begins to introduce topics like grief and loss in adoption, transracial adoption and open adoptions. ASA also employs adoption-competent therapists, if professional support in a counseling setting could be helpful to you.