Tuesday, January 23, 2007

"Why don't you just adopt?"

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.


DoctorMama said...

(By the way, at first glance, it looks like you are quoting only the first paragraph -- the italicized one -- rather than the whole thing.)

Good points. I was actually never once asked why I didn't "just adopt," but then I seem to have the kind of face that people are afraid to address rude questions to.

I would add that while there are certainly lots of kids who are waiting for a home (and that the process for adopting those kids is often expedited and at a discounted price -- they're on sale! How nice!), you might have realized that there is a reason these kids are available -- they're older and/or have physical or emotional special needs -- and that you are not equipped to give such children the best environment. And the reasons why you are not equipped could be quite private. (Yes, you could end up with a biological child with special needs, but signing up for that in advance is very different, and is in fact making an extremely important promise.)

I do find it unpleasant when someone gets ANGRY when someone who has adopted encourages them to adopt.

E. said...

Thanks for reprinting this insightful comment. I think the part that struck me the most was The question you asked could just as well be asked of parents who conceive naturally instead of through infertility treatments. Why do these well-intentioned suggestion-givers pick on people who are having trouble conceiving?

Adoption is a great thing, and as the Amy and DoctorMama both point out, it's personally and morally complicated. What is it that makes people think that just because you want to have a child, or have decided to have one, or have chosen not to have one, suddenly you are fair game for community scrutiny? I think I'll go read that post at Bitch Ph.D.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see you re-posted that comment. It's wonderful. And now that I've found your site (thanks to your comments at a little pregnant) I'm going to wander a bit.

Just wanted to not be one of those people who don't comment when they find their way here.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you!! I am not infertile (as far as I know) but am a woman who does not want to have children. I have just stopped letting my reproductive decision known because I am so tired of defending it. I have known for a very, very long time and now at 32 I still know that I dont want children of my own. I can not stand hearing "you will change your mind, you are young." When i am 50 will these people still be making this comment??


Orange said...

C., two of my four closest friends have never wanted kids. Not when they were 20, not when they were 30, and not at their current age of 39. I suspect it's one of those core traits that remains the same throughout life—"I know I want kids" and "I know I don't want kids" seem ironclad. (It's the "I don't know" folks who might change their mind someday.)

Anonymous said...

Okay, as someone who finds her way here all thhe time and hardly ever leaves a comment, I now feel sufficiently guilted by Ajay's comment above to leave a comment. (I don't want to be one of *those* people either....)

Anyway, really great comments by Amy -- thanks for posting. I missed it on BPhD's thread and you prompted me to go back and give it a read. REproduction is such a sticky issue. (Oh, geez, bad pun, sorry!) Some people don't want kids and find themselves pregnant, some want kids but have fertility problems. Some are perfectly fertile but lacking the proper partner/life circumstances. And so on. But whoever you are, if you are thinking about your reproductive track for any reason, it's probably a big deal.

I'm a partnerless gal worried about the ticking of the clock and I hear the, "You can always adopt," consolation all the time. But adoption doesn't allow you all the joys of pregnancy, delivery, breastfeeding. Life goes on, but however well intentioned "you can always adopt" may be, it ultimately just feels like a comment minimizing the real emotional impact of reproductive issues.

(That's why I usually don't comment -- so incoherent!)

Anonymous said...

Hi, this is the Amy who wrote the original comment.

I have to say that it bugs the crap out of me when people don't respect the decisions of those who say they don't want kids. "You'll change your mind"...uh, no. Not everybody changes their mind. It's funny how nobody says that to somebody who does want kids! "Oh, you want children? Just wait, you'll change your mind." Why can't we just believe that people know their own circumstances best?

I have been thinking about a couple of things related to adopting since I wrote that comment. One thing is that when I get the "why don't you just adopt" comments, or worse yet, the "I don't approve of you spending so much time and money to have a baby that is genetically yours when there are poor starving kids out there", these inevitably are people who have not adopted themselves and have not experienced infertility. It's just so easy to say that kind of thing when you haven't walked a mile in my shoes. Interestingly, of my friends who have adopted, they don't talk about it the same way. I do appreciate it when they bring up adoption or share their experiences and stories with me. Nobody who has adopted has ever told me "why not just adopt", maybe because they understand that there is no "just" about adopting.

The other thing I've been thinking about is this inherent assumption that it is selfish and egotistical to want to have a child that is genetically yours. (Of course parents who conceive naturally aren't subjected to this line of thinking the same way, but because I'm infertile, I go through an extra layer of scrutiny). I'll admit that my desire to have a child is a pretty selfish desire. I can't think of any reasons to do it that don't start with "I want", or "we want". But on the other hand, is it so evil to want to actually experience a pregnancy? To know my child from the time before he or she is even born, and to actually have that genetic link? I actually feel kind of guilty about this desire. It's not that I think my genes are all that special or anything. It just seems a heck of a lot...I guess simpler, in some ways. I really like di kotimy's remark that these kinds of attitudes about adopting seem to minimize the real struggle lots of people go through about reproductive decisions.

It does seem like a decision to adopt should be a positive decision, not a second-choice decision.


Anonymous said...

Sorry, di. I wasn't meaning to make anyone feel guilty. I was just responding to the "don't feel shy" in the previous post.

Orange, I think you may have nailed the difference. I'm an "I don't know" veering ever closer to wanting to have kids. One of the things that is killing me about changing my mind is knowing that all those obnoxious people who said, "You're young, you'll change your mind," might have been right in my case. I don't like hearing it and I don't want them to feel validated. I didn't think I'd have kids because I've suffered from chronic depression since I was 8. I worry about my ability to parent if/when the depression rears its head again. And I worry that a pregnancy would push me back over the edge. So I'd like to adopt, but my husband isn't ready to consider that. It's very frustrating.

Mona Buonanotte said...

That last paragraph...right on, sistah.

Anonymous said...

Ajay -- didn't mean to make you feel guilty for making me feel guilty... ;-)

Amy -- the more I think about it, the more I think the minimization of it all is truly the heart of it. A dear friend went through infertility hell a few years back (believe me -- I can't even begin to describe the hideous medical issues, much less the emotional ones!). As she waded through all the potential medical treatment options, things like surrogacy, and the vast range of adoption possibilities. (Yeah, "you can just adopt" is so freaking facile -- as if there were no real difference between adopting domestically, from China, from South America, privately, through an agency etc., etc. and as if it doesn't take a massive amount of effort to sort through all that!)

Anyway, as she's struggling through all this, "well-meaning" types insisted on "reminding" her how lucky she was to already have two beautiful children. As if she somehow had forgotten her first two children, as if the sorrow that went along with her fertility issues somehow implied she didn't love her first children enough. And the thing is, I'm sure these people would be shocked at the idea that such comments were insensitive. They surely all thought they were being comforting. But really, the underlying message is "You have no right to grieve; your sorrow is insignificant to me."

It's that same sort of failure of empathy that colors alot of the issues surrounding people's reproductive choices. We can't empathize with one person's lack of desire to be a parent so we belittle their feelings and tell them they'll come around. We can't empathize with the plight of a woman facing an unwanted pregnancy, so we shame her and tell her she was irresponsible and has to live with her "choice". We can't understand why someone would choose to have only a single child, so we nag them about when they'll have another or tell them how miserable their kid will be without siblings to torment. We can't understand what it's like to be gay and want children, but not be biologically able to create one with your partner, so we sneer about how unnatural it is. Rather than deal with our own inability to empathize, we project the flaw onto the other by implicitly declaring them unworthy of the empathy that we are incapable of.

Anonymous said...

Most of the people who ask "why don't you just adopt" are people who have not adopted children themselves. They are hypocrites.
Its also not their place to tell someone else how to create their family. Whether I adopt or not, is between me and my husband. Nobody else has the right to tell us how to create our family. We all should respect privacy of others.

Anonymous said...

I think some Foster Kids would have a lot to say about this debate. While I would never say it to someone out loud, I think anyone who has a baby today is selfish. Saying that adoption is "time consuming and difficult" and that those are valid reasons to avoid it - that is horrid. Private adoption is not the only rout and it is, in fact a crappy thing, as it contributes to overpopulation. Does anyone here not know there are millions of kids in foster care just sitting, languishing? Of course they aren't perfect, and who is? You people need to put yourselves in those kids positions: They sit, waiting until they age out of the system, because poeple think they are not good enough, because they have "Problems" which are not their fault. Or that bringing them into their lives is just too "Difficult" or "Time-consuming". Great. People don't want to be parents. They just want to pro-create, and that is creepy. Good luck trying to convince yourselves you are doing the right thing by judging and rejecting all those kids who only want people to love them.

Anonymous said...

As someone who has been adopted, I can say that I do wonder why people don't want to adopt. My parents adopted me in their 40's, and had two previous biological before me. Some people were concerned about their age but it didn't stop the adoption from going through. It took 4 years to finalize but I was under their care the whole time. I still remember when they all signed the final paperwork. Of course I had problems, and I admit I still do, but my parents biological children were much worse than I turned out to be. (There was mental illness that ran in both sides of the family that no one wanted to admit to.) Maybe we were just lucky?

I don't really want children due to the fact that I've dealt with depression since the onset of puberty (when I was around 10) and I'd be concerned about that. But if I ever had children I know I would adopt even if it took years. The time seems worth it to me to save a life.

I would honestly be dead by now if my parents had just decided that the "time and money" wasn't worth it.

Anonymous said...

As someone who was diagnosed with endometriosis 2 years ago and has tried 3 IUI and now about to try IVF, I find it extremely HURTFUL when someone says "Why don't you just adopt." I find it extremely insensitive to ask that question. I just want to turn around and ask the same question, Why don't you just adopt instead of having your own children. If you have your own children, you have no idea what someone goes through to have their own children and the reasons they WILL NEVER ADOPT. It is not selfish or wasteful in any way. Those of us who are struggling to have our own family--we just want our own family. Not someone else's child. So please, don't ask those that are struggling to have children why they won't adopt unless you want the question asked in return--give up your own children and adopt children you don't know and never be given the chance to have your own.

one_of_each said...

Two thoughts;
My spouse and I, after 1 successful pregnancy, a few years of unsuccessful attempts and one miscarriage, decided adoption was the right choice for us. Yes it is a lot of work and time consuming, but not necessarily more so than a regimen of fertility treatments.
My sister-in-law was told as a young woman that she would have difficulty getting pregnant. He gynecologist gave her some great advide. "As soon as you get back from your honeymon, apply for adoption, If they call you in a couple of years to say they have a child and you hove one of your own screaming in the background, you can always say 'no thanks' ".

My point, adoption may not be the best choice for some people, but fertility treatments might not be either. I think it would be a mistake to dismiss one or the other out of hand. Why not pursue both at the same time?
BTW, going through your state's social services, DCF, or whatever, is MUCH cheaper and faster than going through private agencies.

Good luck to all that are facing these decisions.

Anonymous said...

Long story short: you don't need anyone's permission to try fertility treatments. The only kind of scrutiny you'll undergo is for medical fitness to handle the treatments and the potential pregnancy.

Adoption requires the permission of various government agencies, which put you through months of paperwork, interviews, inspections, financial scrutiny, etc. In a domestic adoption, you often must then win over a specific birth mother. The financial risk is at least as great as a failed fertility cycle. (And a failed IVF cycle might leave you with some frozen embryos to easily try again.)

IF IT WORKS, fertility treatment is much quicker and cheaper than adoption.

Anonymous said...

I will admit that it's hard to listen to people complaining about secondary infertility (difficulty conceiving ANOTHER child after you have one). Because I have NOTHING to show for my struggles, I can't see why they can't count their blessings.

Anonymous said...

I'm a Salon reader who just today read this post. I think it's absolutely ridiculous that we should be having a pissing contest about whether adoption, IVF, or bio conception is "better." All people who want kids are selfish. All people who don't want kids are selfish, too. So what? My husband and I are not infertile but we are adopting, it was always our choice to raise a family through adoption.The paperwork for int'l adoption isn't that bad, I've had to fill out insurance claims forms that were worse.

The comments we get (Why don't you have one of your "own?" Why don't you do IVF?")sound eerily similar to the comments I read above. Bottom line is, if you're a woman and you can't/won't/don't want to/ give birth, you're going to be judged. Personally, I think it's more about power and control than anything. When a woman takes control of her reproductive life, it's threatening.

Alexis said...

one of each said:
Why not pursue both at the same time?

In some cases (maybe not all) you are asked to disclose during the adoption process whether you get pregnant, and it can affect the outcome of the process, especially if your child and the child you were/are wanting to adopt will be very close to the same age.

Pursuing both is not simple, just as any other choice is not simple. The whole point of this discussion is that being facile about these choices is ridiculous and hurtful.

Anita said...

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.

YES! We all need to stop doing this to each other. Each woman makes her decisions for her own reasons, and none of us should presume that we know better than her how to run her own life.

Rather than deal with our own inability to empathize, we project the flaw onto the other by implicitly declaring them unworthy of the empathy that we are incapable of.

di kotimy, you are a genius. So true.

All people who want kids are selfish. All people who don't want kids are selfish, too. So what?

I agree. What's so terrible about selfishness? Don't I have a right to spend MY life the way I want to??

Anonymous said...

In my experience, any advice that starts with the phrase "Why don't you just..." is pretty much guaranteed to be unhelpful.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great posting and subsequent discussion here. Dealing with infertility is so hard as it is without "why don't you" comments. I've found it so hard to put into words how these comments make me feel, but reading many of the comments here helps me get to some clarity. Thanks.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Don't pursue adoption, that's my advice. You may have to wait years to get a child. I think its better to do infertility treatments. There are also too many foreign adoption scams going on. Many children are kidnapped and sold to orphanages. I would never adopt internationally because I feel it contributes to this problem.

Megan said...

The key is that women should support eachother rather than tearing eachother down.

This applies to more areas than reproduction.

Anonymous said...

It Seems every topic in the world has it's issues, breast feeding vs. non breast feeding, Abortion, The choice to reproduce, etc. There will always someone trying to tell you why what they believe is the true way. I am a young married woman who has never wanted children of my own, but does want a family. I hope to adopt someday. I have no idea whether I am fertile or not (if I had to guess based on my family I would guess I am very fertile). I don't intend to find out either. My husbandand I both want to adopt and it seems like I always have to defend myself to people. It doesn't matter where you are on the spectrum of your decision, someone always knows better than you. It would be nice if everything was black and white and there was one best way to do something that everyone would support. I personally believe more (fertile) people would chose to adopt. But I also understand the process is not an easy one and not for everyone. I also wish it was easier to adopt, but understand it's important to be sure that these children will be placed In a great homes. So no decision is best and not all are wrong or right. What is best is for people to be educated in all decisions people make and for everyone to support each other--but then again, if it were that easy this world would be a perfect place. All you can do is try to be the best you, you can be. -Jennifer

Jan said...

If someone wants to use their monetary resources to pursue IVF, that is their money and their business.

Nobody is obligated to adopt, as harsh as that may sound.

For those of you who judge, why don't you adopt yourselves instead of telling other people to do it. There are always better ways to spend your time, than judging a group of people that you feel should be adopting or taking in foster kids. Do it yourself - take in a foster kid or adopt.