Whether difficulty conceiving has led you to IVF or an IUI, you are using donor eggs or sperm, or perhaps like me, you are enlisting the help of a surrogate to realize your dreams of becoming a parent, chances are you have already encountered unsolicited advice on how to move forward in building your family. There’s really no escaping it. When you’re facing infertility, other people getting into your business begins to feel pretty routine.
While the advice sought from doctors, therapists and other healthcare professionals can be welcome and helpful, the musings of your mother’s second cousin’s neighbour are anything but. Reaching the point of seeking reproductive assistance is no cake walk, and whether you’ve faced unexplained infertility, loss or have an underlying condition, nothing can prepare you for the emotional toll it can take on you and your partner.
When my partner and I began sharing our fertility journey with our community, we were met with a lot of questions. While they mostly came from a place of inquiry, one question came up time and again and somehow felt different from the others: “Why don’t you just adopt?”
At first I didn’t know why this question bothered me so much. Adoption is a beautiful thing and it’s certainly not off the table for us. In fact, I’d considered adoption long before knowing I might be facing medical infertility. Even though I’m very pro-adoption, the “Why don’t you adopt?” comment felt like more of a statement of judgement than a question with every additional time it was asked.
One day it clicked for me: the same people who would tout adoption as a wonderful, selfless solution for my partner and I never asked other couples if they planned on adopting. It was only their suggestion for me because I had disclosed my inability to carry.
I’m not saying I don’t get where they’re coming from. If someone can’t carry but wants to be a mother, why shouldn’t she find a child who wants a mother but doesn’t have one? At face value it seems logical. Unfortunately, it’s an entirely oversimplified solution and promotes dangerous and false narratives about adoption which harms both parents and adopted children.
First of all, adoption isn’t an easy process. Adoptions can take years, cost tens of thousands of dollars and become emotionally tumultuous journeys. Adoptive parents must be prepared for unique challenges and find a match best suited to their situation. Do they choose an open or a closed adoption? If it is an open adoption, what type of contact with the birth parents are they comfortable with? Where should they adopt from? Are there going to be complicated relationships now or in the future with the birth family of their new child, and are they prepared to navigate those chapters as they unfold?
It is also important to note that while adoption is an incredible way to build a family, it does not erase some parents desire for biological children – and that’s okay. It is not wrong or selfish to want to have biological children. In fact, it’s a totally normal and natural thing. Infertility does not make you less deserving of having biological children if you want them. When we casually suggest adoption as a solution to a person dealing with recurring loss, unexplained infertility, or who is struggling with a health condition stopping them from carrying, it invalidates the very real emotions they are experiencing.
Lastly, and this is important: it is not the job of individuals struggling with infertility to adopt the world’s children.
To suggest that couples having difficulty conceiving, single parents by choice, and LGBTQ couples should be the ones to adopt is insensitive. In fact, in many places there are barriers in place which make adoption incredibly difficult for these individuals. You don’t know if they’ve sought out adoption and been turned down. For some, it could be a particularly painful trigger. Adoption isn’t some easy, hassle-free way to get a baby.
Just like it’s inappropriate to tell someone which position to conceive in, it is also inappropriate to tell someone that they shouldn’t seek out assisted reproductive services. Like conceiving naturally, conceiving with treatments like IUIs and IVF, use of an egg, sperm, or embryo donation, or with the surrogate is equally as valid. Families come together in a variety of ways, with no one-size-fits-all approach.
If someone suggests adoption as a way to ‘solve’ your infertility rather than fertility treatment, know that you don’t owe them an explanation. If you do feel comfortable sharing, be honest and try to educate them – adoption isn’t for everyone, and a better way for them to lend support to you right now is by listening to your experience and empathizing rather than trying to fix you. Some people don’t realize they’ve crossed a line in their suggestion and by gently redirecting them you could help them be a better ally.