So why don't you just adopt?
November 29, 2011 8:54 AM   Subscribe

Adoption after infertility and loss: how did you reconcile the grief of not conceiving a biological child and come to find joy in the process of adopting?

After nearly a decade (yes) of infertility, multiple losses, ART, acupuncture, highly specific diet hacks, prayer, voodoo, reverse-psychology, self-deception, reconciling to child-free living (then surprise spontaneous pregnancy and another loss), more ART, self-help groups, real therapy, real therapy with an infertility specialist, and so on, we've FINALLY moved on to adoption.

And, excited as I am about the prospect of finally having a child of my own (in roughly 6 to 36 months, depending on how long it takes for a birthmother to select us)... I'm having trouble reconciling the loss of not having a child biologically. Mefites who have have experienced infertility and/or loss and have gone on to adopt: how did you cope with that transition from trying to have a biological child to accepting that you would need someone else to give you their child to raise as your own?

Adoption, of course, is a ultimately a joyful thing, but the process itself is grueling and fraught with challenges of all variety. From an emotional standpoint, there is so much to you have to let go of to accept this new reality. You won't be able to watch those hereditary characteristics from both sides of the family develop in this new little person. You won't be able to say, 'you're just like so and so' to your kid. You'll never have the security that your 'claim' on your child is fully yours. You'll always know that that there's a potential mysterious 'other' parent/s out there who might be more appealing than you. You'll always know that someone else shares this incredible bond with your child. You'll always know that there was heartbreak involved in this child's journey into being. You'll always know that this wasn't initially your first choice.

I've done the work to get to where we are right now. I've read the books, talked to the right people, and I know this is the path that we're going to (happily) take. But. There's still that lingering, longing hope that we'll eventually succeed on our own someday, and that scares me, because I never want my child to even get the remotest hint that they weren't as wanted / longed for / hoped for as a biological child. The adoption specialists like to say that adoption doesn't cure infertility, but it does cure childlessness. So, how do you reconcile this alternative path towards parenthood -- acknowledging that there is great loss, even in the joy of bringing this new little being into your home and heart?

PLEASE: this is anonymous because adoption and infertility are highly personal and potentially volatile subjects which people have all kinds of opinions about. Yes, we're certain that adoption is the right path towards parenthood for us -- please don't suggest that we're not ready or haven't fully resolved issues of infertility and loss.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I think part of the answer is that you live into being able to carry all that, and it doesn't necessarily end. My sorrow at knowing how grieved our daughter's birthmother was to give her up waxes and wanes, as does my anger about our daughter's in-utero drug exposure. But it's always sort of there as part of the story, alongside the joy of having our daughter, and ultimately it ends up feeling like a very rich mix, if that makes any sense, all the heartbreak and anxiety and joy and loss. It's life! It's like all of life compressed into one messy yet fertile compost heap.

Some of the other stuff is compensated for. You may not get to look at old family photos and see that your child has grandpa's nose, but on the other hand, one of the great gifts of my daughter is that she has characteristics that she was never going to get from the family gene pool: she's extraverted, high-energy, graceful, athletic. Believe me, that's pretty unprecedented in our family history!

And you may be surprised by the "she's just like so-and-so" stuff. My mother has surprised and delighted me by taking a malicious glee in some of the challenges I've had with my very strong-willed and argumentative daughter. "She's just like you were at that age!" my mom cackles at me.

And you do eventually feel secure in your "claim" on your child--we actually spent most of her first two years in a hard-fought custody fight with her birthfather, so I know what I'm talking about! Not only legally, but emotionally, your child will be yours and you will know it. One thing that will help with this is that the baby will have no doubts that you are its mother.

My daughter isn't old enough for us to have any of the kind of common issues that come up with "you're not my real mother" or fantasies about perfect birthparents, so I can't speak to that.

You've had a long hard road. I wish you the very best.
posted by not that girl at 9:16 AM on November 29, 2011 [7 favorites]

You won't be able to say, 'you're just like so and so' to your kid.

Technically speaking, I'm a step father, with a step daughter. I've lived with her and her mom since she was nine, been around her since she was 4. She's 18 now.

Family members on both sides have commented on how clearly she's like me in certain ways, both in thought process, outlooks and mannerisms. She's certainly very much like her biological father in some ways, but it's clear that my close presence as she was growing up did indeed mold her to a certain extent. I passed something beyond genes, god help her!

If you raise the child as your own and included extended family, more than likely it will some family members in ways that will surprise you.

Bu the bigger issue is that you yourself see this as somehow different. While technically true, it isn't. Families form by any number of means, not all of them biological. I've seen my step-daughter (whom I never call that, she's my daughter, period) and her biological mother have spats and regrets about certain things growing up (Mom is bipolar, so there were some ups and downs when the kid was growing up and the divorce from the kid's father). That passes. I think most children weigh the good and bad, what could have been and what was and if the parent is basically good. If the parent cares and loves the child and there are plenty of happy memories and experiences to counter the low points, that things work themselves out. In the end, cliched as it sounds, love is what matters most.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:59 AM on November 29, 2011 [11 favorites]

I haven't experienced what you're going through, but I've found that the process of becoming a parent (and even the process of parenting) is often twinned with loss and grief. These are the things we don't talk about as often, but they are there, sometimes just under the surface, sometimes the very surface itself. What not that girl said above about living into being able to carry all that is right on. When I was dealing with some complicated feelings -- grappling with inexplicable grief and loss at a time everyone else seemed to interpret as cause for joy -- I came across a poem by Rumi that brought me a lot of comfort, mostly because it reminded me that grief is a process and that it is temporary and that it sometimes helps us more deeply prepare for what is coming next. I'll share it with you here, in case it might provide similar comfort for you.

Bird wings

Your grief for what you've lost lifts a mirror
Up to where you're bravely working.

Expecting the worst, you look, and instead,
Here's the joyful face you've been wanting to see.

Your hand open and closes and opens and closes.
If it were always a fist or always stretched open,
You would be paralyzed.

Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding,
The two as beautifully balanced and coordinated
As birdwings.
posted by mothershock at 10:00 AM on November 29, 2011 [11 favorites]

My heart goes out to you, anonymous.

The response from not that girl is excellent (and better informed than my own as I have not gone through an adoption). However I have been researching a lot about it, and based on what I have read, and my own opinions, I have a few suggested answers.

"You won't be able to say, 'you're just like so and so' to your kid." - as not that girl pointed out, you actually can still do this, and from what I have read, you should actually make an effort to do so as the child you adopt will appreciate your effort to show them that they belong in your family, especially if they don't physically look like other family members, you can still say "You love sports just like Uncle Bob", or "You are so good at drawing, just like your father" or whatever it is.

"You'll never have the security that your 'claim' on your child is fully yours." - Not sure this is true. I mean, at a certain point, the child has grown up and you are their mother. You have legal rights as the parent that are granted by the courts that would be very hard to take away. Even if a biological parent did try to show up and assert a claim, it would be an extra stress but it's not something you're going to worry about forever - once your child is 20, 30, 50 years old... you're not going to be thinking about this.

"You'll always know that someone else shares this incredible bond with your child." Someone else is going to share a genetic bond with your child, but you are going to be sharing the incredible bond of seeing that child grow up, their first steps, their first Christmas, every milestone. To me, those are the bonds that bind, more so than genes. Have you read the book "Everything Conceivable" by Liza Mundy - very interesting book about ART and it talks about some beautiful things that families have done who have used donor eggs to kind of celebrate and embrace the fact that there is another genetic bond in that child's life. I also recommend "The Kid" by Dan Savage (if you don't mind profanity) about an open adoption and the relationship with the birth parents, loved that book.

"You'll always know that there was heartbreak involved in this child's journey into being." There is no protecting a child from heartbreak in their lives - it happens to everyone. I'm a doctor and just yesterday I saw a patient's chart who had had 9 miscarriages, no children. That was an unusually heartbreaking case, but miscarriages are so common, although they are not talked about... I feel like in the end, there are very few women who did not go through some kind of heartbreak, of whatever kind, on their journey to becoming a mother.

"You'll always know that this wasn't initially your first choice." - True, but again also true of many other pregnancies and family situations - the reality is that things don't turn out the way they do in the story books. The adopted child has the blessing of knowing two things - that the biological mother wanted them to experience life (by allowing them to be born when they could have chosen not to), and that the adoptive parents desperately wanted them, enough to go through all the stress and paperwork and headache you describe. I think, from my experience with ART so far, I would say that the most reassuring thing to me is that the whole process is sort of antithetical to the way I function, and that it is teaching me new things about myself and changing me for the better. Sometimes things don't go as planned. Sometimes things are BETTER when they don't go as planned. I am a type A personality and this is very hard for me to accept, but this is my life and the harder I try not to accept it, the less I'm going to enjoy what it has to offer.

A friend shared a quote with me this week:

"We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us." (- Joseph Campbell)

I felt that this quote encapsulated the essence of the infertility experience and what I need to learn from it - and maybe, I hope, you might like it too.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:09 AM on November 29, 2011 [12 favorites]

"Mefites who have have experienced infertility and/or loss and have gone on to adopt: how did you cope with that transition from trying to have a biological child to accepting that you would need someone else to give you their child to raise as your own? "

While I didn't experience this process personally, let me give you a snapshot of the end of the process. One day I was in court, having someone declared dead of all things, and I happened to be scheduled right after the finalization of an adoption of a 12-year-old girl, who'd been with her adoptive family since shortly after birth but, for one reason and another, had to wait for the finalization until she was 12. Her family was all in dressy church clothes, and the judge handed the signed adoption order to the girl. She had this look of total disbelief as she stared at it, which melted into the most joyful face I have ever seen as she looked up at her parents, and then she burst into radiant tears of joy. Her mother cried. Her father cried. Her siblings cried. The judge cried. I'm crying now just typing it. I promise you that child floated out of the courtroom.

That's what you get to do.

I know that family has fights and happy days and bad days and "You're not my real mom!" days and all those kinds of days. And that parenting any child, biological or adopted, is never a sure thing, and is a mix of joy and fear. That was the single most transcendent moment of joy I have ever witnessed in my life. I was joyful when I had my children, but I'm not kidding when I tell you that it was nothing on what I saw on that child's face.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:11 AM on November 29, 2011 [29 favorites]

I would like to chime in, because I have been there with most of what you are talking about and then some more... We now have an 18 month old adopted daughter in an open adoption and she and my wife are the lights of my life!

We tried to start our family in earnest in 2005 or so. After a few years of scratching our heads, we visited doctors who said that there was nothing wrong with either of us. They put us through some fairly involved and costly infertility treatments. Unfortunately that ended poorly. We decided after that experience that we would look into adoption. We read lots of books and reached out to other parents that we could meet face-to-face who had adopted. Some of the parents we met had the following scenarios : parents who had two boys (approximately 4 and 7) in open adoptions; parents who had a daughter and a son (approximately 18 and 20) in open adoptions; a single parent with an adopted daughter through foster care; two women who are in the process of adopting a son through foster care and some more. I really recommend that you reach out to people you can actually meet and perhaps even with a variety of different adoption situations. We did not personally meet with parents who had done international adoption, but that was due to random circumstance as much as anything.

When you meet other families who have been through what you have been through, it can really help with the grief, because it is always helpful to meet others who have experienced what you have experienced. Further, and for me, more importantly, we could also see that they had made it through. They had children. They had good days and bad days with their children, but they were the same good and bad days that all families face. Each of the families we met had lots and lots and lots of love. That really was the most important part.

Now, I will tell you something that might frighten you. We had 3 failed matches before we finally had success with our daughter. Each of the birth moms before our successful match changed their mind, or even outright disappeared. But the last mom stayed committed and gave us the most incredible gift we have ever and will ever receive. We still stay in touch with the birth mom and we go to visit her with our daughter 3 or 4 times a year. It can be at times a little challenging, but ultimately we have decided that, at least for now, our daughter's birth family is part of her extended family. We are our daughter's parents, but she also has a large extended family.

As to the loss of feeling like your child genetically inherited something from your family : yes, that could be there. But, strangers tell me all the time that my daughter looks just like me. I just nod and say "Yes she does!" And actually, she kinda does. She also very much imitates my wife and has mannerisms and activities that she has picked up from her. Then she has characteristics that really remind me of her birth family. Like anyone on this planet, she has a blend of inherited and acculturated characteristics. You can easily meet lots of biological children who were raised by their biological parents and that did not really turn out much like them, too.

Lastly, as to that fear that you might not love your adopted child as much as a biological child. I have discussed that with other prospective adoptive parents, after we completed the process. Here is what I said then : do you love your spouse? Are you related to your spouse genetically? I love my wife as much as anyone in the world, but I am not related to her. In fact, we have grown and evolved that relationship over time, just like I will grow and evolve a relationship over time with my daughter.

You have been through tremendous heartache. As long as you live, you are likely in for some more. I don't know how you will feel about adoption, but I can tell you that I have been where you are and I and my wife did adopt and with all the time-changing, reality-bending powers in the world, I wouldn't change a thing about my daughter.
posted by Slothrop at 10:37 AM on November 29, 2011 [16 favorites]

Also, you are welcome to send me a message through MeFi if you'd like.
posted by Slothrop at 10:39 AM on November 29, 2011

I do not have any experience with infertility, Anonymous. However, I am a proud and grateful adoptive father. I come from a family which is heavily involved in adoption, mostly international. My mother was a regional director of Holt International Children's Services for over a decade. Four of my siblings, but not me, were adopted.

So, I come from a different mindset. To me, adoption is a natural and wonderful thing. That's down in my core.

My ex-wife and I did have a birth child. We wanted another child, and due to medication she was taking at the time, we decided to adopt instead of have another birth child. That may sound callous or that we can't understand your position. "We decided" sounds cold. But we talked it out and it made sense. Being up against a wall of serious problems with going off meds was a big part of our discussion.

When talking frankly to my dad about how I'd feel about my prospective adopted child, he said the most amazing thing. I can't put it in the exact words he used, but it touched me deeply, and made me certain that we were doing the right thing. I'll paraphrase:

"To be honest, son, I think I have a stronger sense of connection with my adopted children. It isn't that we don't love you, it is that your siblings *needed* parents, and we were it. I've always been far more protective of them than you because they needed the help. You didn't. Having to fight for them made our connection that much stronger."

That honesty hit me hard. It wasn't about me. It was about fighting to help kids. It was about doing the best you possibly can for a kid that frankly needs you. (crying).

My adopted daughter is fantastic, by the way. The marriage didn't last, but I'll always have that little fireball, whom I love with every ounce of my soul. And she knows it, there's no question at all.
posted by Invoke at 11:08 AM on November 29, 2011 [8 favorites]

I have one adopted child and two biological children. I love all of them, but have always felt a special bond with the adopted one for some of the same reasons that Invoke's father gave. Oh and he never pulled that "you're not my real mother" crap.
posted by mareli at 11:35 AM on November 29, 2011

I've found the online ALI community to be really supportive and a great resource for questions, and overall really welcoming (even if you don't have a blog). I'd read/reach out to Heather at Production Not Reproduction (there's a list of "calssics" on the right side of the page, maybe a good place to start), and there's an amazing blogroll at Stirrup Queens. And you might send in a note to Lost and Found Connections.

I know it's intensely personal, but you might be able to find some resources and experiences from other people who've followed a roughly similar path.

I wish you so much love and happiness.
posted by mrs. taters at 11:57 AM on November 29, 2011

I have no experience with these matters, but it does call to mind something my mother (normally a rather conservative Catholic) said when a family member was worried about her niece's teenage pregnancy. She said that it may seem difficult now, but it's awful hard not to fall in love with a baby once it arrives. And, of course, she was right: once that baby arrived no one cared a fig for the circumstances surrounding its conception. It was the idea of the baby that caused anxiety and distress. The baby itself was a joy.

I imagine something similar goes on here. You're caught up thinking about the idea of adoption and its attendant anxieties, but when the day actually arrives you get to hold that child in your arms, you'll find those imaginings melt away. You'll love your child. Your child will love you. Your child will be yours.
posted by Mrs. Rattery at 2:53 PM on November 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

I can't speak directly about how to process the feelings you're dealing with, but I've fully committed to adopting children instead of having them biologically (although many years down the line) and have wondered about many of the same things you talk about. One thing that really helped bring me peace about not having a full "claim" on your child and the heartbreak that they come out of was a conversation with a woman who had an adopted child. She told me about how she kept a pregnancy diary for each of her biological children, but she also kept one for her adopted child. The diary for the adopted child lasted longer than nine months and took a lot of twists and turns, but that was extremely helpful to forge a connection with the baby even though he was half a world away and they had almost no news about him until his arrival. I thought it was incredibly sweet and a great way to start building that connection so that when your baby finally arrives you have already been writing to him or her and are aware of the journey you've already been through together, even though you weren't physically together.
posted by lilac girl at 3:42 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

We went through multiple early miscarriages, and then went on to adopt four children, siblings, in an open adoption. A decade plus later, a surprise pregnancy and we now have a tiny biological baby.

We are besotted with all five. Just about every adoptive parent I know with a mix like ours has the same feeling. Part of it is the vulnerability - babies have that built in so you feel intensively connected, but with adopted children, it's their need from the reasons they were placed for adoption. My older adopted kids have been through hell, and we've had to do a lot of work, and it ended up pulling us closer and closer. From the open adoption and the biological relationship, we get lots of "oh that's just like relative X!" moments, and there's plenty of nurture moments - they are all athletic, while my husband and I are lazy bookworms, so seeing them curled up with a book is awesome for example.

Adoption comes with grief and trauma - it's really important to remember that while you have losses, your child has also suffered a loss, even if you adopt directly at birth. It's just intrinsic to adoption. Things get better, but you can't erase the initial loss, your child's or yours.

I lost a pregnancy at one point when we were in the midst of adopting one of the siblings. I had to chose between flying home for more medical care or staying with a traumatised young girl who I'd just met. It crystallised for me how much it was about parenting a child who needed a family then, not needing biology. I miss and mourn those babies, but it's what happened. And this is the family I have now.

One thing that will surprise you is how insanely busy you will be once you have a child in your life. There is not much time to ponder things for a while and there is all this new stuff, happy joyful and sad scary stuff, that the infertility part fades into the background at the start. You will have it come up again and again but it softens into a wave of regret/grief, not a tsunami.

I found reading widely and diversely very helpful - birthparent accounts, adoption industry discussions, etc. Realising how wide the range of experience went helps put your own tumult into perspective.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:12 PM on November 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

I recommend you read the book "Being Adopted." I'm an adult adoptee who was adopted at birth by a loving family, and that book has pretty accurately described my experiences so far.

One thing to keep in mind is that the trauma that comes with adoption is something that you and your child will deal with on and off for the rest of your lives. The vast majority of the time it won't be something you consciously think about, but it tends to rear it's ugly head in times of transition. For example, I just turned 30 and am starting to seriously plan to have my own kids, and wouldn't you know it, all the sudden I have a consuming need to search for my birth mother. I've never felt it this strongly before, although I've thought about it occasionally since I was a teenager.

Another important thing to know is that your feelings about it will change throughout your life. Sometimes it'll be positive, sometimes it's negative. Sometimes it's both. But it never gets resolved. There's nothing you can do to keep it from coming back. I think that's an important thing for adoptive parents to remember, because I think there's a tendency for adoptive parents to think that if the idea of being adopted ever causes their child pain, it means they haven't done a good enough job as a parent. It's just not true, but it can be hard to believe that sometimes.

As to the birthparent bond that you're afraid you'll be jealous of, that's a tough one. I feel a lot of guilt about being an adoptee, because while this curiosity I have about my birthfamily is completely natural and frankly unavoidable, it still feels like I'm being ungrateful to the people who actually raised me. My mom is very insecure about the whole thing and has done everything she can to discourage me from searching, to the point of refusing to send me my birth certificate or tell me anything she remembers about the adoption. It's literally the most hurtful thing anyone has ever done to me in my entire life. I'm still kind of in shock at the way she's acting, although on some level I understand her point of view. I guess my point is, don't adopt if you don't think you could handle the possibility of your child finding their birthparents. Because that part of the adoption is the one thing that is absolutely not about you, although it's the one thing that can be the hardest for adoptive parents to get out of the way of, precisely because it isn't about them and therefore it's threatening.

I'm not sure where I was going with this, sorry. Hopefully it's helpful to have a view from the child's perspective. I'm happy to talk more if you have questions.
posted by roscopcoletrane at 10:38 PM on November 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

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