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Resolving the Loss of Fertility

By Allison Martin

What does it mean to resolve your infertility when adopting? Adoptive parents openly share their experiences and advice on resolving issues related to infertility.

One of the questions prospective parents are routinely asked during their adoption home study is whether they have "resolved" their infertility. This issue is raised because it is a widespread paradigm in the professional adoption community that infertile, prospective adoptive parents need to resolve their feelings of loss to fully accept their children. Issues related to infertility that may impact adoptive families include loss of a "dream" or idealized child, loss of physical connection of pregnancy and biological heredity, and loss of continuity of inheritance. Resolution of these issues and feelings is intended to ensure that lingering frustration, anger, sadness or other emotions don't create tension or avoidance of important issues within the adoptive family.

Confronting and moving beyond issues of loss is an important part of the life long journey of adoption for all members of the triad (adoptive parents, birth parents and children). While these feelings may sometimes resurface when evoked by certain life stages or by emotional triggers, such as a friend's pregnancy, a person's outlook and the emotional intensity of these issues usually transforms over time. If parents are able to move forward and feel comfortable with adoption, they can support their children (and each other) in surmounting their emotional feelings and issues.

If the issues related to feelings of loss due to infertility aren't resolved, parents can end up feeling removed or even resentful toward their children. They may be unable to acknowledge that their children have birth parents. Or they may be unable to accept with grace the ways in which their children are different from them in temperament or appearance or ability. Some of these reactions are perfectly normal at times. [For example, I have noticed that it is part of the bonding process for many prospective and new parents not to think much about their children's past (e.g., the existence of birth parents)]. However, as with most things, continued denial can result in an imbalance in the relationship. Children are sensitive to their parents' emotions and thoughts, even if they are unspoken.

But what does it really mean to resolve feelings of lose due to infertility? During a recent discussion on our Adoptive Parents of Vietnam (APV) mailing list, parents proposed several useful definitions.

"I don't think that resolving any loss ever means getting to a point where the loss doesn't exist or doesn't matter any more. I think that resolving loss -- including infertility -- means putting it in its proper place and being able to move on in life without being held back from going forward by that loss." Cat V.

One adoptive mom provided this insight on what it means to adoptive parents to "resolve" issues of infertility.

"From my understanding, to have "resolved" our infertility means to feel firm in our intent to build our family through other means other than birth. That we have determined that to keep trying to have a birth child is not the important thing anymore. Our purpose is not fulfilled by means of continuing to try to get pregnant, since our purpose is to have children. We have resolved to go forward into adoption whole-heartedly and without reserve..." Debbie H.

A photograph represents the emotional losses of infertility in this helpful metaphor presented by another parent.

"At the point when the loss isn't resolved -- the photograph is in front of you, it is all you see, and it blocks you from moving forward with your life. During the grieving process this is, of course, perfectly normal...Resolving that loss doesn't mean putting the picture behind you. It doesn't mean pretending like the loss never happened or that it doesn't matter. That would be denying the loss, nor resolving it."

"Resolving the loss would be more like putting the picture beside you, but off to the side. The picture is still there, you still remember it, you still grieve your loss, and it does matter. At some points in your life the picture will come more to the forefront than at others and grief will return. Yet, the picture doesn't block your way anymore... you can move forward." Cat V.

Certain events are prone to trigger emotional feelings related to infertility loss - for example, a pregnancy, birth announcement, Mother's Day, birth in the family or a close friend's pregnancy. Parents shared examples of these trigger events in the discussion.

"I think that many of us were probably asked during our home study if we had 'resolved' our infertility. Yeah, right. We accept it, but I have to wonder if it gets 'resolved'. I think it will pop up at certain moments when we least expect it, much like adoption issues for our kids." Trish M.

"Even when my first two kids were little I was always immensely jealous whenever I found out that one of my friends or coworkers were pregnant." Kathie G.

"Most of us, having been through infertility ourselves, can be very understanding of the pain that pregnancy announcements like these can bring upon others who have dealt with infertility. When my dear friend called me two months ago and gave me the news that she was now pregnant after having adopting twice, I must admit that I felt that old familiar twinge of pain from my infertility struggles. Of course, then I also experienced some feelings of envy and that old feeling of "Why me?" Kathy S.

On occasion, reflective thoughts or feelings related to infertility may emerge even for parents who are fully committed to adoption and their adoptive children. These thoughts and feelings are difficult to discuss openly because it is expected (and during the adoption process, it is actually required) that adoptive parents deny these feelings. And yet, acknowledging these feelings may be an important part of coming to terms with infertility and moving on to acceptance.

Parents presented several examples of these feelings of "lingering loss" in our recent discussions on the APV mailing list.

"I can't honestly say that I have "resolved" the issue of infertility although I do believe that I have come to terms with it as a part of who I am and as a part of this life I am living. I think I will always feel sadness that I have not been able to experience pregnancy and to give birth to a child. Infertility has made me realize just how precious life really is and what a wondrous experience it would be to participate in the miracle of life by having a child. I still periodically feel waves of sadness about the loss of that dream." Eileen G.

"Lingering feelings about infertility: is definitely a good topic, because I've rarely seen this written about. Sometimes I regret never getting to finish a pregnancy and give birth, but it's not a strong feeling. Just something it would have been interesting to have experienced..." Jo M.

"I am now 52 and starting our second adoption after hoping for a biological child in my late 40's which did not happen. We are very thankful for Marc who needed a family and who is now the baby we want to parent. But I sometimes wish I could have been the one to give birth to him." Karen C.

Despite these occasional occurrences of regret, adoptive parents are often pleased to find that they are moving forward on resolving these issues as they embrace the reality of parenting their children. Adoptive parents also grow through adoption.

"I have been so relieved to read about other people who feel the same things as me after feeling so isolated in my confusion, including the recent conversation about "resolving"  their infertility ..... I have accepted it, to a certain extent..... but to know that the social worker will question us about "resolving" it - out of my life, forgotten etc.  No way..."

"However, since starting the adoption I can cope with these issues so much better.  Adoption feels positive and as though we are working towards building our family that we have always wanted.  It is not a maybe anymore, but a when..." Paula C.

In finally resolving these issues, parents find that they can separate their own feelings and experiences from those of other people.

"We all come to terms with our own issues on how we will build our families. I have long since separated what MY situation is from what happens in other peoples lives. Although there was a period of time after my miscarriages when I simply couldn't walk past a maternity store, baby showers and walking through kids clothing/toy displays wasn't an issue for me since it just wasn't about my own situation." Jan C.

"My friend's pregnancy announcement also affords me a new blessing in that I can not experience pregnancy personally at this time, but I can now experience it through her if I can only toss aside my personal feelings of loss so that I don't miss a single moment. We all say that our goal is to not become pregnant necessarily, but rather to create a family." Kathy S.

"One year, while we were in the throes of infertility treatment, I volunteered to be the Worship Leader at my church on Mother's Day. I just felt that it was time that other kinds of families got recognized on that day, including those who didn't have children for whatever reason. Most people who easily have children, just as they always planned, forget about those who are struggling with how to build a family. Infertility is hard enough without being smacked upside the head with Mother's Day, even in church! The experience allowed me to lay to rest what wouldn't be our family plan, and go on to something that would work for us." Jan C.

For some parents, coping with the the feelings of loss related to infertility helps them to understand and emphasize with the similar feeling of loss arise for their adoptive children.

"I feel that our loss and our adopted children's losses will always be part of what makes our family. It is who we are. Often times, the underlying theme of adoption consists of quite a bit of loss when considering all who are involved. That's just the way it is and has always been. We deal with it. Our losses, as a family, will be what connects us through our worst struggles. It can create an unbelievable understanding between an adoptive parent and his/her child. I can understand to some degree the loss that my son or daughter will experience in regards to the process of adoption. I have experienced something very similar - that day that I buried the idea of having my dream child that I would never conceive." Kathy S.

The hope and future that adoption offers is an antidote to the despair and grief of past losses. It may not cure other disappointments, but it can be a vital affirmation of healing and renewal.

"After my husband and I had several years of (infertility) "stuff," including 3 miscarriages, my mother died totally unexpectedly. It was the worst loss of my life. Afterward, I told my husband: "I can't go through another loss" after Mom. We stopped the fertility treatments."

"A few months later, I found out about international adoption (there wasn't an agency in our town, and we knew nothing about it). I figured that when God closes a door, he opens a window."

"Since my mother died, I've never looked back (other than missing her terribly). Now that I have my daughter (who have become daughters), I no longer envy anyone having a bio child. I HAVE my child (now children). I would walk on hot coals for them. I would do anything for them, and I can't imagine that I would feel any differently if I had given birth. They are mine and I am theirs." Ann L.

After resolution of feelings of loss, adoption provides a way to move forward with hopeful anticipation into life.

"My second child died of prematurity in 1988. He was a boy almost 3 pounds born at 30 weeks, but this was before they really knew how to help prematurity with lung treatments and steroids. His loss was devastating to me and my husband. We would never be the same... Now we had two girls, and wanted a son. However my history of premature birth scared me...

The social worker needed our assurance that we had resolved the death of our baby, my secondary infertility, and my oldest child's disability. Each day, I think about my first son but the pain is bittersweet now, not sharp as it used to be. I am a more interesting, empathetic person than I would be without my experiences. I think that you have resolved them if you can say that you are a better person as a result of surviving them." Kim W.

"I know now that through our struggles, I have been given the two most wonderful gifts in the world. I have been granted the passion to love my unique little family. And, I can now say, that in an odd sort of way that I have also been given the blessing of infertility." Kathy S.

Although it is not always easy, resolution of feelings of loss associated with infertility allows parents to focus on the future with their family, to move forward with anticipation into a new and very different life.

© Copyright Allison Martin


Allison Martin, M.P.A., was the listowner of the Adoptive Parents of Viet Nam, when this discussion took place. She currently manages three adoption websites Comeunity:Adoption, Families with Children adopted from Vietnam and Adopt Vietnam. Allison Martin has three well beloved children, two who joined her family by international adoption.

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