Adoption is NOT a cure for infertility. I know this is difficult for some people to hear, but it’s the truth. Suggesting adoption as a way to solve an infertile couple’s problem is dismissive, insensitive, and shows just how little you likely understand about the adoption process. The suggestion is also as helpful as asking someone if their computer is plugged in when they say it isn’t working. The point being, you aren’t really making a useful suggestion, just pointing out options.
This is not to say that adoption isn’t something more people, fertile AND infertile should consider, but to remind you that it does not “FIX” your friend or loved one. Couples facing infertility have often considered or are considering various forms of adoption. The decision to adopt, is just like the decision to have children or get married, is a personal decision for them to make - NOT YOU. Long before you began to pat yourself on the back for making the seemingly heroic and mind boggling suggestion of adoption, the couple has likely already researched options, joined a support group for adoption, or has met with agencies. Even if a couple has not entertained the idea of adoption it is not your call. There are several reasons a couple chooses to or not to adopt and none of the reasons tend are due to them not understanding the concept of adoption.
Not second place – First and foremost it is important to highlight that children, biological, step, adopted, or with any other “label” are CHILDREN first, NOT consolation prizes or placement trophies. Children do not exist to fix adult problems, be the issue a need for love, to mend a failing relationship, to make a person feel whole, or to “fix” a couples infertility. Children up for adoption need love and just as important to feel as loved and wanted as any child you may share DNA.
Couples need time to heal - Understand that a couple dealing with infertility has likely felt the pain of several losses already. They may still be processing their own feelings of guilt, anger, shame, loss and sadness and are not emotionally ready to adopt. They may be working through issues, or worry that an adopted child will serve as a reminder of a child they could not conceive. The last thing a couple needs to do is rush into or feel pressured into adoption.
The expense – Many are quick to condemn those that paid for fertility treatments given the high cost and that few insurance plans cover any of the cost. A comment from many critics is, why pay so much for fertility treatments when there are so many children that need adopting? This comment is clearly made from someone that has never explored adoption. This is not to say traditional adoption is the only form of adoption. There are less costly options than private agencies, however, they often come with their own increased emotional cost. Many will point to fostering to adopt, which I discuss in more detail later, but let’s just say that fostering a child only to lose them to a biological family member isn’t exactly cheap.
Adoptions often cost thousands of dollars. Home study costs and attorney’s fees, assuming it is a domestic adoption or immigration hurdles for foreign adoption can eat up tens of thousands of dollars. Even with the cost and time associated with adoption, a family can cover all their bases and the adoption may still fall through. So no, adoption is NOT a cheaper OR guaranteed option for many. The financial and emotional cost of adoption, especially when following the cost of fertility treatment, can ruin most middle class families.
The emotional cost is not as easily quantifiable but is just as high. Many in fertility treatment go through extraordinary measures just to see two pink lines appear. For many they watch in anguish as the line faded or their beta numbers fell from yet another miscarriage. They have watched the face of an ultrasound tech searching for a heartbeat in the ER go from friendly to concern. Some have even held their birthed child born too soon to survive. Many couples have experienced the loss of so many potential children that even the thought of having a foster child removed or an adoption fall through is a cost they can no longer pay.
Time – Families can spend years going through fertility treatments, and many adoptions can take just as long. Between home studies, finding a child available to adopt, completing the court processes adoption can take years. During the years of waiting for the adoption to be finalized, or for immigration paperwork to allow their new family member to join them, the parents in waiting can only wait and hope.
Availability – Yes, many children are currently waiting to be adopted, however, some older children often come with stipulations and a host of other issues. A common stipulation with older children is that there be no younger children in the house.
Qualifying – Not everyone qualifies for adoption. The causes for individuals being unable to adopt can range from financial, length of marriage, health, undergoing fertility treatments and several other reasons. Being dual military I quickly learned that many agencies did not find us to be suitable. Deployments and PCS were viewed as causing stability issues with the child. Families not married long enough, currently undergoing fertility treatments, without enough money or assets in the bank, health and numerous other issues can result in home study or adoption application rejection. Even if qualified, birth mother may take months or years to select you and state adoption can prove just as difficult.
Fostering to Adopt – Fostering to adopt is a route many people use. This is often the cheapest of adoption procedures. Unfortunately, children are often placed in the system and will bounce from family to family. This is not because a family does not want to keep the child or children but because the child is often returned to a biological family member only to return to the system again at some point. It is heartbreaking to foster a child or siblings, only to have to watch them leave. It is as though the loss never ends. Some couples are simply not ready to endure the potential for this loss yet again.
Not a Cure – Ultimately adoption does not cure infertility. For some people it is not just about the biology of the child, but coming to terms with the loss of fertility itself. Many don’t think about fertility as a part of them, until it is something they no longer have. Most people never have to think about their fertility at all. It is a part of them that works, so there is no reason to think about it. It’s like a liver or other organ a person doesn’t think about it until it no longer works. Until there is an issue, no one thinks about what the loss may feel like. Imagine waking up one morning and finding your leg was no longer there. Sure, prosthetic exist, but it doesn’t make up for the part of you that you no longer have.
This list is not designed to discourage anyone from adopting, just to point out there are a variety of reasons adoption may not be right for every family. Ultimately adoption does not cure infertility any more than prosthetic cures the loss of a limb. Think twice before dismissing a person’s infertility or implying they have not thought I through by flippantly suggesting the couple, “just adoption”.