Monday, January 10, 2011

That whole "just adopt" thing

Here is a pet peeve of mine: people who judge others for going through infertility treatment. And ESPECIALLY when those judgey people say or imply that those who experience challenges in getting or staying pregnant should "just adopt."

I almost feel ridiculous writing a blog post about this, because it seems SO OBVIOUS to me. And YET, from the stories that friends of mine who have struggled with infertility have told me, it is apparently NOT obvious to some people, AT ALL.

First of all, let's discuss adoption. I have no experience with adoption whatsoever. But it is an option that we find interesting, and have done some research into. And just the RESEARCH, just the mildly curious "hey I wonder what it would entail for us to do this someday" Googling, is ALREADY exhausting. ALL forms of adoption are difficult. International and domestic private adoption are incredibly expensive. Even adopting publicly in the U.S., through the foster system, while it is not as prohibitively priced as other types of adoption, is a slow, painful, sometimes emotionally devastating process.

Here are some of the things that can happen when you try to adopt:
  • You go into serious debt, and/or spend all of your savings.
  • You spend years going through bureaucracy and paperwork.
  • You think you're going to get to adopt a certain child, and then it falls through, leading to heartbreak.
  • You don't end up with a child until years and years have passed, if ever.
  • You end up with a child with special needs that require a very specific parenting skill set, one that you may or may not be equipped to handle.
  • A child comes to your home well past infancy, often with emotional or psychological issues related to past trauma or difficult early life experiences.
  • As you raise the child, you have to work with them to carefully address questions of where they came from, why they aren't there anymore, and what this means for them in the future.
  • So many, many, many other complicated situations that I cannot even begin to envision.
I'm not saying that adoption is bad, or that these obstacles are insurmountable, or that they should deter people who are interested in adopting from pursuing it. Not at all. But what I AM saying is that adopting can be a very slow, difficult, challenging, expensive thing to do, and it is NEVER so simple as telling someone to "just do it." Because it can't "just" be done. There is NO "just" about it.

So if people WANT to adopt, that's great. But if they DON'T want to adopt? There is NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT. There are all different ways to form a family, and some of them are right for some people, and others are right for other people, but EVERY FAMILY has to figure out what would work for THEM. And adoption is not right for everyone.

PLUS, and this is the part that I feel should be EVEN MORE OBVIOUS, and yet apparently IS NOT, why should people who have trouble with infertility be the ones who are told to adopt? Why is there this line in the sand? So often, I see or hear people say that they think it's selfish for a couple to pursue fertility treatments when there are already so many children out there who need a home. Which, first of all, I've already discussed why "children who need a home" does not equate to "just adopt!" So it's not as simple as, "Oh, I have a home, and they need a home, let's just put the two together, and we're done!"

But second of all, if it's selfish to pursue pregnancy when there are already kids out there who need parents, why is it only selfish for people who have to work harder for their pregnancies? Why is it not selfish for me to have gotten pregnant? Just because we happened to be lucky enough to have it occur quickly and without assistance? That has nothing to do with us, or with our ability to parent. It doesn't change the fact that we decided to create a person instead of bringing an already-existing person who needs a home into our family.

The point is, whether or not it's selfish to create people instead of adopting people is COMPLETELY UNRELATED to how much work it takes any given person to create another person. There is not some magic threshold, like, "Oh, she got pregnant right away, so that's OK then," whereas, "Oh, he had a medical issue that made it impossible for them to get pregnant without assistance, so they sought medical treatment that allowed them to become pregnant, HOW DARE THEY DO THAT INSTEAD OF ADOPT." There is NO DIFFERENCE. In both cases, the couple decided they wanted to be pregnant, and took the necessary steps to achieve that goal. And it is TOTALLY IRRELEVANT that there were MORE steps involved for one couple than the other.

And that is before we even consider that there is NOTHING WRONG with wanting to be pregnant. It is utterly indescribable to me how cool it is to be pregnant. To GROW a person. To create a person who will share my genes and Torsten's. To KNOW everything that has happened to this little person in the entire course of his existence, to know what his prenatal experience was like. To get to anticipate giving birth to him and raising him from the minute he comes into the world. To get to bond with him and have skin-to-skin contact with him from the day he is born. To not have to worry that someone else will exercise their last-minute right to take him away from me. To know that I MADE this person, that he is the product of the love that my husband and I share, that we get to experience him together. That he is part of both of us and also his own self, all at once.

So PLEASE. Let us all recognize that everyone has the right to seek the family they wish to have, in whatever form that may take, using whatever steps are necessary to get there. Adoption is a wonderful thing. So are pregnancy and childbirth. Neither one is for everyone. Everybody needs to make their own decision about what is right for their family. And "how hard it is to get pregnant" is not an acceptable factor for anyone to use when judging how others put their families together.


  1. AMEN. Oh my gravy, you say this so well. I used to think that adoption was a fairly easy, viable option - until I had a colleague adopt a baby girl from China. Oh, what they went through to bring her home. It was SO touching to see - but it really made it crystal-clear to me that it wasn't an option that was any easier than IF treatments.

    And also, like you, I LOVED being pregnant. LOVED. I would never want to deny someone that experience - there are very few instances in life when you get to partake directly in a miracle, and who am I to say that someone should just skip it? Especially when it's something they want?

    You just put things so well, sometimes.

  2. Who is saying this? Because they are ridonkulous. No one should be judging what people decide to do or not do with their bodies.

  3. I agree with you - this is a personal process and adoption is not right for every family. But it also drives me up the wall when the main reason for not adopting is wanting a "biological" child. It's like fingernails on the chalkboard to me. You know my family history with adoption and I can tell you without any doubt that just because my brother and sister are just as preciuos to my parents as I am as their "biological" child. This grates on my nerves - it hurts feelings and people need to respect ALL options, whether they choose to pursues them or not.

  4. Thank you for this. My husband and I experienced secondary infertility and I am now pregnant thanks to the wonders of medical technology (and a sperm donor). To be perfectly honest I did question my OWN intentions and think I was selfish for not adopting but I REALLY wanted to be pregnant again/breastfeed/everything you describe. Your argument about it being equally "selfish" (not that it is selfish at all really) for fertile people to conceive rather than adopt as for infertile people to conceive rather than adopt really helped me feel even better about the decision I know was right for our family. --Melissa H

  5. Amen. Neither my partner nor I (both women) want to be pregnant, but we really want to parent. Adoption seems like our best option, but man is it going to be HARD. Expensive, emotional, and time-consuming (a lot longer than 9 months!), with potential challenges regarding race, disability, religion, etc. Plus, many places only allow heterosexual married couples of a certain age and income to adopt!
    Plus, we will by necessity miss some important milestones in a child's life and be unable to control/know certain things that are important to a child's health and development.

    I still want to do it and have the most tremendous respect for all members of the adoption triad (birth family, adoptive family, child). But I completely understand why someone might not, and why some families want to have both biological and adopted children. If my partner wanted to get pregnant I would definitely encourage her to do that first and we could adopt after trying a less complicated/traumatic method of parenting.

  6. Okay, so I know I'm going against the grain here, but would like to respectfully express MY opinion.

    First of all, my husband was adopted, and am soooooo grateful to his mother for adopting him. Who knows what life he would've had otherwise.

    I know that adopting isn't for everyone and that "just adopt" isn't realistic for most. I would never tell anyone how to plan their families. (Like adoption hadn't crossed their mind?! Thanks Captain Obvious!)

    However, for me, if I hadn't been able to conceive (or can't again), I would not do fertility treatments or surrogacy, because I would feel selfish. (Hear me out, please!) I've had SEVERAL friends go through it and I have been over-the-moon happy for them. I have never and never will say this to them or treat them any different than any other friend that has gotten pregnant the old fashioned way. But I do BELIEVE, in my heart, that there is selfishness in not being physical able to conceive and spending thousands and thousands of dollars on something that may or may not work, or could result in multiple unwanted births (the idea of selectively reducing makes me ill.. another knock against it) because, yes, there are children that need homes and if the goal is to have a child, then adoption or fostering would be an ideal solution FOR ME.

    I love science and all the ways my life benefits from it, but believe that in regard to creating life, it's too much.

    I was blessed with a healthy pregnancy and baby, and I wish everyone that wants to experience it, to also have it. However, I believe it would be selfish FOR ME to think "but I want it, so I should have it"... I can't always have what I want.

    With that said, my heart breaks when couples have difficulty (or can't) conceive. I am always happy for them when they do, no matter how they did it. Because that is THEIR decision, not mine.

    We all do selfish things in our lives. And that's okay. I do selfish things all the time. I just wouldn't do fertility. We all have to make our own decisions, based on own beliefs, morals, values, knowledge and lives.

    I hope I haven't offended anyone. It wasn't my intent. I just wanted to express my opinion and say that not all people that disagree with fertility treatments are dumb, evil, hate mongering, judgmental, idiots, extremist, (insert negative words here) people. Some of us, just come from a different place and have different feelings about it all.

    I can't wait to find out the Piglet's name!

    (don't like to use my Google account and don't' have any other IDs to use)

  7. oh god, yes. would anyone tell a couple struggling to conceive to "just get pregnant"?? i feel like it's as - if not MORE - ridiculous to tell someone to "just adopt." people are stupid.

  8. Thanks, Jess, this is a wonderful post. You've pretty much touched on all the reasons why we are pursuing infertility treatment rather than pursuing adoption, at least at this point in our lives.

  9. I just want to say that I love this. That is all.

  10. I agree with you completely.

    Personally, though, I've known a few people who have undergone IVF and other infertility treatments who are also steadfast Pro-Lifers, which grinds my gears. Playing God to begin a potential life, or playing God to end a potential life is the same thing in my eyes. In that case, I feel like individuals who don't think people should interfere with the "God's plan" should interfere with their own infertility. It's completely hypocritical.

    I know you didn't talk about that at all, but it's something that's bothered me for a while.

  11. I find it interesting that you used the cost of adoption and the stress that it causes as a reason not to do it but didn't feel the need to also mention the cost and stress of fertility treatments. They too are expensive and a very stressful process. I think that having a child in general is a selfish thing to do, so yes, why not adopt the many children that need homes? There are plenty of children in the foster system in the US that need home and people to love them, not just cute cuddly little babies. As far as them having special needs etc, no one that has a biological child has a promise that they won't have special needs either so your entire rational is flawed and just plain stupid.

  12. Anonymous, could you perhaps have phrased the legitimate points you wanted to make in a polite and intelligent way, and then not totally undermined them with unpleasantness and unnecessary name-calling?

  13. (I'm also not sure Anonymous has read the post, since Jess already made most of those points.)

  14. Thank you so much for that! I have been made to feel guilty about our choices for fertility treatments a number of times. However, I don't see those people rushing out to adopt a child instead o having one naturally. I think adoption is an amazing thing. And I may still consider it in the future. But for right now, I'd like to take my shot to experience being pregnant and I don't see why I should be made to feel like I don't deserve that. I'm so grateful for people like you who understand!

  15. All decisions about having children are selfish because, of the options available to us we pick the one we most want to do. SELFISH. If there is someone out there doing the opposite of what they want to do, given the choices available to them, their actions defy logic and are frankly stupid.

    I think this applies to everything from when you have your kids(waiting to have kids until your rich is no more self indulgent than having them when you are broke), how you get them, and how many you have (even if what you want is 0). We all act in our own interests to create the lives we've imagined. We are all selfish.

  16. This post made me kind of teary. Thank you for writing this! I hear this perspective all the time from people in the infertility community, but it sometimes seems like "fertiles" just don't get it. It is so refreshing to see that you, and so many commenters here, actually get it.

    I hate when people say to "just adopt." When it comes to creating a family, you should never be so blase (sorry for no accent) about it. Building a family is serious and life-changing. If you are making a conscious decision to start a family, there is nothing "just" about it.

  17. I've looked in to adoption because I am one of those people that WANTS to adopt. While I have a biological child that I love more than anything, I feel equally drawn to adoption as I did toward pregnancy. What I found was that adoption was so complicated, it was almost like The Powers That Be are consciously trying to dissuade people from adopting. It's definitely not a "just do it" kind of thing.

    Side note: One thing that I hear about adoption that drives me crazy is how international adoption is "hot because Brad and Angelina did it." There are people out there that seriously think people are adopting from others countries because Brad and Angelina made it the cool thing to do. Yes, there might be a ton of kids in the US that need homes, but they are remarkably difficult to find and the foster system is pretty restrictive from what I've found (I'm not a churchgoer, so the state of AL thinks I'm a satanist that should never be around children).

    Like most things about parenting, there is so much more to every single story than meets the eye, few people ever really know the real, whole story. It would be best if we would all just zip it when it comes to others and their family decisions. After all, the only decision we really have to live with is our own, so it's really the only one we should be concerned with.

    (I found this through Erin, so I'm new. Congrats on your pregnancy!!!)

  18. Anon, no one (including the original post) is oblivious to the fact that non-adopted children could have special needs, and that in fact fertility treatment might increase the chances of some things. But there are certain things you can control with a birth child and not an adopted one. If I got pregnant, I wouldn't drink. There goes fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. I would be able to get genetic testing and prenatal care; not everyone can/does. My biological child would be guaranteed to share my racial background and would not have the trauma of removal from a birth family.

    No one is saying that birth children are guaranteed to be healthier than adopted ones, just that there are certain needs that adopted children have (curiousity about birth family) or are more likely to have (different heritage, uncertainty about inherited disorders) than non-adopted children.

    Is this a reason to choose adoption or not? No. Some people might actually prefer to have children who don't share their genes (for lots of reasons--a history of inherited illness could be one). But to ignore it is, to use your terms, "flawed and just plain stupid."

  19. I don't have a problem with anyone choosing to do IVF. Many of my friends have and I have been their biggest cheerleader.

    All I ask is that if you don't know anything about adoption, please don't write about it. I know you don't realize it, but this post is really offensive. Some of the things you wrote are just plain wrong. It saddens me to see adoption talked about in this way.

  20. Lisa: I would really like to hear more details about what is offensive or wrong in this post. I certainly did not intend to misstate any information or give offense to anyone, and if there are inaccuracies in the post that should be corrected, I would really like to know what they are. Everything that I posted about adoption in this blog is what I've learned through my own research, as well as experiences of friends and bloggers who have been through the process. Of course, as I said in the post, the fact that the adoption process can be challenging and painful in many ways doesn't mean that it isn't also a wonderful option for many people--just that it isn't necessarily right for everyone. Please feel free to email me (duwaxloolu at gmail) if you don't mind clarifying exactly what I said that was so problematic.

  21. Completely agree with you Jess. Having seen close family go through both fertility treatment and adopting, I would say that both are very very hard and put tremendous strain on relationships, but if they result in that much wanted child/children, then they are both wonderful things. And you're right that it's completely unfair for those who have trouble conceiving to shoulder the blame for not always choosing adoption. I know a lot of women who hate the idea of pregnancy and childbirth but desperately want children. Why don't they choose adoption? Because it's hard, that's why.

  22. Jess, I never comment but this post has struck such a chord with me that I would be remiss to leave without doing so.

    I realize adoption is a calling, and that it's not for everyone. I also realize the same is true about being pregnant and having a child naturally. I don't think anyone -- those that can or cannot conceive -- should be told to "just adopt." You are correct that adopting, just like conceiving, is not something that should be entered into lightly. And I completely, 100% agree that your choice is your business and not up for judgment.

    1. Adoption is expensive. But so are the vast majority of fertility treatments (IUI, IVF, most drug regimens).
    2. Adoption takes time and paperwork. Most people who try fertility treatments struggle with it for an indeterminate amount of time.
    3. You may not ever have a child placed with you through adoption. Fertility treatments are also not guaranteed.
    4. Adoption agencies are not going to just hit you with a disabled child, without you being ready and willing to care for him. I don't have to tell you that naturally conceived children aren't always perfectly healthy.
    5. You also can choose whether you want an infant or another age with adoption. You are not going to apply for an infant and "get stuck" with a 12 year old.
    6. I will give you that there are likely issues with abandonment and other questions regarding where an adopted child comes from. I do think it's ignorant to think that this cannot be handled well or that the child lives his whole life not knowing who he is.

    And finally, parenting is full of "so many, many, many other complicated situations that (you) cannot even begin to envision." There is nothing that guarantees that the child you bring into your home -- whether he is adopted or from your womb -- is going to be smart, or handsome, or free of his share of problems. Life, in and of itself, is not perfect and neither are humans, regardless of where they came from.

  23. *jcg: Thanks for the comment. You make a lot of very interesting and valid points. The overall idea that I was trying to express isn't that adoption is harder than fertility treatment, but that it is also not easier; rather, they are two very different and equally complex paths. I am not trying to say in any way that one method is preferable over the other--just that both avenues can be expensive and challenging in many ways, and nobody but the people involved can decide what is the best option for them, so it is not OK for others to judge the path that people choose to follow to form their families.

  24. In a way, yes, anyone who becomes pregnant is a bit selfish. With all of our modern advances that allow for women to pursue their careers and dreams without getting pregnant, it makes me ill to see some young women have baby after baby after baby and not work when they could have definitely made something of themselves, but instead to take the traditional, misogynistic way out.

    The above is absolutely unrelated to the post, but you did ask: "Why is it not selfish for me to have gotten pregnant?" Oh, to some people it is.

    I understand your frustration at the binary, arbitrary line that people throw out when some people confront the fact that not everyone can conceive right away. I also understand that people who are trying to conceive do not want to hear "oh just adopt"...

    But the big picture is, people will believe and say any number of things -- you voicing your frustrations may go only so far in one direction, but it will not change the world.

    I agree that adoption is expensive, and I would go so far to say that it should not be so deterrent, but I don't think that my declaration will in any way change the way the world works.

    Anyway, I don't mean to cause harm, just to give my two cents. Congratulations on your healthy young baby, and I wish for a safe and speedy delivery.

  25. I have two sons, both of which are adopted. I have no idea if I'm fertile or infertile because we never tried to get pregnant. This bothered SO MANY people! I can not believe the amount of people who actually felt the need to ask us why we were adopting since we never tried to have children biologically. So I basically got the annoying comments in the other direction, "just get pregnant!" I also think it's plain ridiculous when people tell anyone struggling to conceive to just adopt when THEY haven't adopted children themselves! We adopted our boys from Russia, so I get the "why didn't you adopt from the US there are so many kids here who need our help!" comments ALL the time. Every single time I've gotten a comment like that, not one of those people have had adopted a child from the US once, so much for their concern! Just another end of the stupid comments spectrum :)

  26. Wow, Shauna. Your story is so unique and I'd love to use it as ana example to others who criticize me for "taking too long to decide about adoption" when so many kid need homes. My response was, well, if you are so concerned, why aren't YOU adopting? i am all about helping, in my line of work, i work with underserved communiteis all of the time...but it's not JUST my responsiblity. it's everyone's. I am so tired of Malthusians expecting infertiles to solve the population problem when others pop out three or four kids and are seen as heroes~!