Choosing Adoption after InfertilityBy Allison Martin
It takes time and emotional toil to work through the issues of infertility to look at options beyond pregnancy. However, with persistence, the choice of adoption as a way of building a family transforms from a vague possibility to the reality of wonder and joy.
Making the Decision to Adopt After Struggling with Infertility
The emotional burden that accompanies infertility can sometimes seem enormous. Feelings of grief, anger, frustration, disappointment, and all the other difficult emotions associated with a severe loss place a heavy toll on those who are coping with infertility. Physical distress and emotional trauma associated with attempts to become pregnant only increase this emotional burden. Personal failure and the frustrations of being thwarted in the desire to become pregnant and have a family may seem overwhelming. Social pressure and expectations of family, friends and colleagues can compound conflicted emotions. And yet all of these issues must be addressed in order to become a good parent to your adopted child.
It is not uncommon for several years to go by as prospective parents struggle with infertility treatment and loss.
"Many single women face (the decision) about whether to go the insemination route or the adoption route. I did do both - two years of infertility, drugs, miscarriages, etc. - -- and then adopted... For me, the only advantage to my having gone through two years of hell is the fact that my daughter wasn't born until 1994 and those two years made me wait until "my" child was ready to come home." Maryann O.
For some, the struggles with loss issues related to infertility can take even longer.
"The topic of infertility is well known to me and I almost lost my sanity over it. After losing a son late term, I went into an intense depression that deepened when my husband left. That was almost 20 years ago. I fought my way out of that depression and sadness but felt an incompleteness that another marriage was not the answer to. Nor was surrogacy or artificial insemination or adoption of a child from the state agency I work for.... Now my adoption is first and foremost... Some of us have come a very long way to parent our children." Bernadette E.
Most people grow up assuming that they will be able to have children when the time comes. It can be a tremendous adjustment of one's self image if this turns out to be impossible. Issues going all the way back to childhood assumptions and experiences may have to be revisited in readjusting your self image and sense of self worth. While some people know earlier on that they will not be able to have children by birth, the transition to feeling comfortable with the thought of having a family by adoption can still require major adjustment.
Sometimes when they think back to childhood, people find that they have a had a desire to raise a child who is not biologically similar very early on. Humanitarian concerns or inheritance risks may speed the decision. Sometimes a meeting with an adoptee sets the stage for a decision or inclination for adoption. Often there is a feeling of rightness, once the decision is made to adopt or you when are united with your child.
"I really thought nothing would heal the depression from my infertility when all it took was literally minutes with my new daughter. Of course people told me this would be true, but I didn't believe them until it happened to me." Jo M.
The adoption process itself, as well as the outcome of adoption (a "real" child rather than an "imagined, idealized" child), propel prospective parents to work through the emotional aspects of infertility toward parenthood. For most people the decision to adopt is itself a process, just like dealing with infertility. At some point the prospecitve parent starts to wonder - what would it be like to raise an adopted child? As they start to investigate adoption, they find themselves once more in a process of discovery. What matters to more - similar appearance, age, health? How much risk are they willing to take? Each step along the way leads the prosepctive parent on a journey of personal exploration.
This voyage of self investigation is not always a comfortable one - considerable risk and stretch is involved. Often, the adoption process itself may be frustrating and unsteady - countries can close to adoption overnight, lack of information and delays are rampant, birth plans can fall through, rejection may come from birth parents or agencies, paperwork can intervene, and the referral or birth itself may not be what was planned. No question, but adoption stretches each individual's personal boundaries. It is a time of growth, and as such pain and fear mingles with wonder and excitement.
Luckily adoption social workers are used to the combination of ambivalence, "ignorance" and desire for facts and information that future parents express. During this period many people find themselves seeking out those who are touched by adoption. It is very reassuring to connect with someone or who has adopted or is adopted themselves.
Fears of adoption
Adoption is more widespread than one might think. Six out of every ten American has had a personal experience with adoption. Two to five percent (2-5%) of American households have adopted children. For the most part adoption works well - only 2-15% of all adoptions disrupt. (Clinical and Practice Issues in Adoption : Bridging the Gap Between Adoptees Placed As Infants and As Older Children by Victor Groza, Karen F. Rosenberg).
Fear of rejection, ostracation, more failure or loss, a child's health and emotional well being - all these worries concern prospective parents considering adoption. However, the most significant concern about adoption usually revolves around 'love'. Prospective parents wonder, "Will I love my child and will he/she love me in return?"
"When we started on the adoption journey, I questioned what type of love I would feel for my daughter. Would it be different from the love of my birth boys, would it be like loving the next door neighbor's kids - what kind of love would it be?" Sue A.
After she adopted her daughter Sue found the answer to her questions.
"Now I know what kind of love it is and I would shout it from the mountain tops to everyone if I could. It is the SAME kind of love that I experience with my boys. There is absolutely no difference!
"Yes, I do look at Paige in a different way, she had a history of a birth Mom and a caregiver, who loved her and nurtured her till we arrived. She has faced so much in such her early life, that I can only imagine. But the strong bond that I share with her and the boys is like no other kind of love." Sue A.
As an adoptive parent one concern which is often brought rather forcefully and sometimes impolitely to our attention, is that adoption may be viewed as second best. This attitude may even reflect upon our children, who may be viewed as or may feel less than wonderful, even as second rate themselves.
"Some people seem to need to rank-order these ways of having children -- to judge that one way is better than another. I've never really felt the need to do that. I just know that I simply can't imagine my life without our three children, and I am so very grateful every day that we had the incredible good fortune to be able to adopt them. If we had grown three children, they wouldn't be THESE three children, and that's just not something I can even begin to think about, much less accept." Margie H.
Several concerns related to love are specific to parents who already have children by birth. They may wonder how they will feel about their child who joins the family by adoption.
"Upon considering adoption I did wonder how I would feel about a child not born to me. Well I guess I consider her born to me anyway, anyhow. I didn't know if it was possible to feel the way that I do now but it is. She is my kid in every way possible. I know I have to tackle the issues that will arise later when she asks questions but I will do my best.
"I think someone who has had no bio kids will read this and say, "Well she's had it both ways, what does she know about the pain of not having bio kids?" Yes... this is true but what I am saying that adopting kids can be just as glorious as having bios. There I've said it! It's different but just as glorious!" Kathie G.
One of the most significant concerns for these families may be the impact of bringing an adoptive child into an established family. While this is something that parents need to address seriously, the expansion of the family can have many benefits for everyone.
"Paige was definitely meant to be a part of our family and is our daughter and sister of our children, Tyler and Dalton. I also never expected to see the bond between them with Paige. They adore her. It is so awesome to see Dalton be a "big" brother to his sister. They have the usual issues that all siblings - no matter what the age - go through and I expect to experience them at each stage of their growth - but the love they share is so wonderful to witness. So anyone who might question the idea of mixing birth and adopted children - that too is not an issue. It works wonderfully." Sue A.
Relief of adoption after infertility
As prospective parents make the decision to adopt and then move through the adoption process, their focus begins to shift away from pregnancy - emotionally and physically. They begin to let go of the idea of perpetuating their biological line. Their revised goal becomes one of having a family.
"When we first started having trouble getting pregnant we said we would do 'whatever it took' to get pregnant. At that time we had no idea it would go on for 4 years and have such an effect on us - physically and mentally... We realized we had lost sight of our goal which was to parent a child, not necessarily become pregnant. When we decided to adopt it was like a weight had been lifted off our shoulders." Cindy D.
Many people find that this letting go brings with it a great sense of relief.
"Our social worker also asked us if we had resolved our infertility issues. Although I don't know if you ever resolve anything major like that, I had finally gotten to the point where I could say, "I'll probably never get pregnant and that's OK." I remember how good it felt when I was able to actually say that out loud for the first time." Cindy D.
"After Rick and I both have had fertility-type surgery, a year of working with a specialist and 4 miscarriages, we decided to adopt.... We have had Sophia for 6 months now and I have to say, if I had known then (during the infertility thing) how great this was going to be, I don't know that we would have tried so hard to have a bio kid. Hindsight is 20/20. I just can't imagine not being with her. I couldn't imagine loving her more than I do." Jamie P.
One of the blessings of choosing adoption is that over time there is a lessening of envy and angry feelings toward others who are pregnant or have children. These feelings are a common emotional response to the loss related to infertility.
"It really is so nice to NOT envy parents anymore. I don't care if I ever got pregnant and gave birth. I am very happy for any friends or acquaintances who are pregnant -- because they now will have the joy of being parents (and, of course, there are downsides as well!). But I am very happy with my lot in life now. And I hope that those who haven't quite found comfort, will find it when their children come to them!" Ann L.
Some parents feel that their issues of loss related to infertility help them empathize with their children's losses in adoption.
"I think that infertility can be a gift in some ways, because it creates an empathy between us and our adopted children. After all, we love them with everything we are, yet occasionally we still long for that birth child. Likewise, our kids may truly love us as their parents and still yearn for contact with their birthparents. I choose to look on my infertility as a gift of empathy toward my kids. It doesn't make it 'go away' but it does help." Trish M.
For many people the joy of adoption also brings with it an unexpected healing. This may take time - even years. But while residual loss related to infertility issues may remain, most adoptive parents find that their children bring such blessings that they come to terms gladly with their situation. They grow through adoption themselves.
"Joy and relief .. is always worth emphasizing because it's so hard to believe from the other side of the motherhood divide... It's amazing how quickly the pain of infertility is healed. I had so many fears such as that I would not feel like a "real" mother (fears that friends and family sometimes seemed to encourage). Now these fears seem laughable."
"I hope you won't let anything make you sad about the way your children (or children-to-be) come into your heart and your home. The way doesn't matter. It's the children who matter. If you run into somebody in a store who doesn't understand that, feel sympathy for them; there are wonderful things they'll never know, and wonderful experiences they'll never have!" Jo M.
© Copyright 2000 Allison Martin
Allison Martin, M.P.A., is the manager of the Adopt Vietnam and the national Families with Children from Vietnam websites. Allison Martin has three well beloved children, two who joined her family by international adoption.
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