I'll bet you a dollar that every American woman who has struggled with infertility have been told at least once that she should adopt a child rather than pursue fertility treatment. Sometimes the suggestion is well-meant evangelizing from someone who has adopted and feels everyone should experience their happiness, but more often it seems to be someone who either has biological children or is childless. Couples using fertility drugs and procedures may be accused of being selfish or wasting resources.
Would you like to know why encouraging an infertile couple to adopt can come across as hurtful? Or are you infertile and wondering how to respond to exhortations to give up on fertility treatment and "just adopt"? I think you'll find this essay enlightening. A woman named Amy (who really ought to write a blog herself) wrote it yesterday in the comments thread at Bitch Ph.D.'s "Blog for Choice Day" post. With Amy's permission, her words are reproduced here:
"I don't really understand it either (having not experienced infertility myself). In this desperately overpopulated world, what drives people who want to be parents to do infertility treatments instead of adopting a child in need who's already here?"
Since you asked, here are a couple of potential reasons. (I'm speaking as a person who is actually interested in adopting, but wants to explain why it's hard to hear the "why not just adopt" question).
• Adopting can be difficult and time consuming in your particular state. You might have certain characteristics that would make pregnant mothers less likely to choose you, for instance, your age, or medical history, or marital history. You might have characteristics that disqualify you from most international adoption programs.
• You might have gone to your local adoption agency and been informed of the typical wait times in your state, and be worried about how long the waits end up being, and how many matches tend to fall through.
• You might decide to educate yourself about adoption more by reading birth mother blogs, in an attempt to understand all parts of the adoption triad. Through doing so, you might come to realize that adoption is not quite as morally straightforward as you once thought. That doesn't mean it might not be a great option, but it could end up being a much more complicated option than you once realized.
• But to be honest, I think the biggest reason for many people is that it's not as if most infertile people realize up front how long and expensive the road might be. It's not like you wake up infertile and then realize with perfect foresight that the road towards parenthood will take years and tens of thousands of dollars, no matter whether you go the adoption route or the infertility treatment route.
Instead, you might go to doctors and be told that likely you'll just need a little bit of help. Maybe one or two cycles with drugs, which doesn't cost much and doesn't take that much time. Maybe those don't work and you find you need something extra, but even the next step seems much more straightforward than jumping into adoption. It's not as if somebody wakes up one day and says "Hey, I think I'll spend a bunch of money and several years going through difficult and painful treatments to have a baby, because I don't want to adopt." You don't think that's going to happen to you. You don't think it'll have to go that far.
• The question you asked could just as well be asked of parents who conceive naturally instead of through infertility treatments. Why aren't naturally fertile people going out and adopting since there are so many children in need? Well, maybe because people just want to have a family by conceiving. Or maybe because people realize that it's not like there are a ton of kids sitting around waiting and all you have to do is just decide to adopt and blammo, it's a done deal. It's just not that easy. There are a million reasons why people don't adopt, as there are a million reasons why people do adopt. Why should infertile people be the ones who are supposed to carry the special moral burden of solving the "child in need" problem?
If I'd known 2 years ago what I know now, things would have been different. I'd have started the paperwork for adopting right off the bat. I'd have done the homestudy, filled out the essays and the questionnaires, sat through the multiple interviews, combed through the paperwork and signed everything in triplicate, called up my various financial and work institutions to get all of the paperwork in order. Adopting isn't exactly effortless or cheap. It's a huge, huge amount of work. It's an emotional roller coaster. It can be, and is, a wonderful, wonderful thing. But it's also a big commitment and I can't exactly fault somebody for wanting to think it through before jumping in.
I just don't think most people realize ahead of time that they will be that unfortunate minority who ends up needing so much help, time, money, and intervention to get pregnant. Doctors tend to be more optimistic than that. I also suspect that most people who have not adopted or who are not infertile just have no idea how much work really goes into adopting, and how it's not as if there's some child in need right around the corner who you could immediately let into your life overnight. Adopting is a different option than pursuing pregnancy, and it's not worse or better. It's different in a lot of ways, and can be a beautiful way to build a family. It's just different, period.
Maybe it's just one of those things that is hard to imagine unless you've been there, which is why Dr. B's admonishment to back off from getting snotty about other people's reproductive decisions is so right on. Being infertile sucks ass in so many ways, but it's even harder when you find yourself in the position of suddenly having to defend your own reproductive decisions. I imagine the same is probably true of women who have abortions, or women who choose not to have children, or women who choose to have 6 children. It'd sure be nice to see women supporting each other in their own reproductive journeys instead of judging each other for having too many kids, or too few kids, or needing an abortion, or needing infertility treatments, or whatever the hell decisions we each make. If we're lucky enough to make them.
Edited June 24, 2009, to say: Welcome, Salon Broadsheet readers.