"Just adopt": Four women take on the topic

Last week I got a comment on a post of mine that was about moving on and letting go of the hope of having genetic offspring. This was a post in which I was talking about how I was managing to move from grief into acceptance and, ultimately, into a happy ending. The comment that was left for me was by a well-meaning man, a man who clearly had the best of intentions. This man wants me to be happy and to have the child I had so long wanted. This man's well meaning  suggestion was that I "just adopt". "Just" is quite a word. "Just" sounds so simple. "Just" tricks you into thinking that the task it is asking of you is easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. And I can assure you that my experience with adoption was been anything but 'just". And, not that I talk about it much here or anywhere, but I can tell you that my failed attempt at adoption hurt me a million-zillion-trillion times more than any IVF procedure ever endured. It hurt more because there was a baby that existed and that for a period of time that baby was promised to me. When the mother changed her mind and kept her baby I was unhinged. I was the closest to a catatonic depression that I have ever been. I continue to think of that little girl almost daily. I know her name and I know what city she lives in and I know what grade she is in now and all of that knowing makes it harder to let her go. I know that I don't have it  in me to endure that again. I feel sure that another failed adoption would kill me, and I am not being hyperbolic when I say that. One, I believe, has to enter adoption knowing that they might not get the child that was promised to them. One has to enter knowing that and be able to handle that risk. I simply cannot handle that risk, and so that is why I don't adopt. For me it is just as simple as that.

As I pondered the topic of "just adopt" I found that I felt many things and one of them was a bit overwhelmed in fully addressing why those who are childless not by choice might not choose to adopt. I did what any wise woman would do in such a situation, I turned to my friends. I shared with them the comment and my strong reaction to the "J" word. Happily, I think they explain better than I can why adoption is not the easy answer that some may think.
The author, Pamela Tsigdinos, of  Silent Sorority  and the blog A Fresh Start shares her feelings on the topic: "Adoption is complex on many dimensions. While it's a given that the child involved is the preeminent priority, it's not enough today to commit solely to raising a child in a healthy and safe environment. With the prevalence of open adoption there are also the the birth parents and their extended family to consider. All who adopt (whether they have children already or are looking to add to their family) are advised to consider the losses involved for the child given up for adoption and the birth parents. With the needs of many to manage and facilitate, adoption calls for more than parenting. Those who cavalierly suggest "just adopt" to a couple who has been emotionally, physically and financially drained as a result of extended infertility diagnosis and treatment are typically the least familiar with the actual adoption process."

Lisa Manterfield, the author of I'm Taking My Eggs and Going Home: How One Woman Dared to Say No to Motherhood, and the blog Life Without Baby, explains her own reasons:

I think I could answer this question calmly and logically if I thought it was asked from a place of genuine curiosity or concern. But it always feels like an accusation, as if a woman who wanted children but didn’t adopt is somehow a lesser human being, or the dreaded word so often associated with childlessness: selfish.

So, instead of educating about the complexities of the adoption process, I usually just offer a neat version of the truth: that would have, if we hadn’t already maxed out our heartbreak cards.

After five years of dealing with infertility, my husband and I did choose adoption over the expensive and evasive fertility treatments that were offered as our next low-odds hope. We quickly learned that the “millions of unwanted children looking for loving homes” is a myth and “just adopting” isn’t a matter of going to Wal-Mart and selecting a baby off the shelves.

 At the time, foreign adoption was a quagmire of bureaucracy and corruption. Guatemala was in the midst of a baby-stealing scandal, China has just changed its requirements (making us ineligible), and good friends of ours had finally pulled the plug on six fruitless years of trying to adopt from Russia. Private domestic adoptions can be prohibitively expensive and just as fraught with danger. With the availability of birth control and the lessening stigma of the unwed mother, there simply aren’t enough “unwanted” babies to meet the demands of potential adoptive parents. As such, competition to adopt domestically is so stiff that it can feel more like a game show than an application for parenthood.In the end we opted to pursue adoption through the foster care system. We now understand that this route is a calling, and not just an alternative route to parenthood. The goal of the system is to keep blood relatives together whenever possible, and foster families can have several children temporarily in their care before an adoption becomes possible. We were more than ready to open our hearts to a child (or children) who needed a home, even if that child wasn’t the newborn we’d once dreamed of, but having had our hearts ripped out and stomped on so many times through infertility, we no longer had the emotional stamina to go through losing a child over and over again. Some people may view that as selfish; I prefer to call it self-preservation.So, when someone asks me why I didn’t just adopt, they’d better hope I say, “Because I’d maxed out my heartbreak card,” or be ready for a long education about the realities of adoption.

LoriBeth, the author of the blog  The Road Less Traveled, candidly shares why she chose not to adopt:
"There are many reasons why my husband & I chose not to adopt. We did think about it. We knew, from talking to people in our pregnancy loss group who were looking at adoption, that it was not as easy as "just adopting."Costs are minimal if you adopt through the public system in the province where I live. However, it is well known that children tend to remain as Crown wards in foster care, unavailable for adoption, for a very long time,while social workers attempt to work with the parent(s) & reunite the family. Very few infants get adopted this way. Not all, but some of the children have problems, including fetal alcohol syndrome, which aren't always discovered right away.Prospective parents wishing to adopt through the public system must complete a course. We knew people who waited for nearly two years just to get a spot in one of the courses. After completing the course, there was no guarantee of placement. We knew some people who only waited a few months, but others who waited for years.Private adoptions here can run into tens of thousands of dollars. Having already suffered broken hearts with the loss of our daughter, we were not comfortable with the prospect that the birth parents might change their minds. We also wondered how, as couple in our 40s, we could "compete" with younger couples.International adoptions are expensive, complex, and many programs no longer accept couples in their 40s. I also felt uncomfortable reading about babies stolen from their mothers and "sold" to rich foreigners. And while the prospect of a birth mother reclaiming her child from afar is minimal... I'm a genealogist. I love knowing about my roots, who I am, where my family comes from. How could I deny that knowledge to a child?

I believe Pamela has said she views adoption as a "calling" and one that she just didn't feel personally. Another online friend once put it this way: adoption was something that she tried to get excited about -- but couldn't. Her heart just wasn't in it. And didn't she owe it to any child that she adopted to be excited, truly excited, about bringing that child into her life?I don't think that makes her, or me, a bad person. Better to be honest with yourself about your feelings and limitations and what you personally feel capable of doing.

My husband & I talked about adoption, but I didn't feel that excitement or enthusiasm that I saw in other couples we knew who were considering adoption. If I felt anything, I think I just felt exhausted. Dealing with stillbirth and years of infertility does that to you. I was in my 40s (he was too). I've often said that, maybe if I'd been 35, I might have felt differently. As it was, I was just tired, and ready to move on with my life. I didn't look at adoption & see a possible child for us. I just saw more work, more prodding into our personal lives, more money, more complexity, more waiting, more uncertainty, more potential for more heartbreak. I didn't want another roller coaster ride. I'd had enough of roller coasters. I wanted off."

There are only four voices in this post addressing this personal and complex topic, however I think the women in this post( Thanks to Pamela, Lisa and LoriBeth!!!  I appreciate your participation in this post more than I can so!) do a fantastic  job and go a long way in explaining why there is nothing easy about choosing adoption after letting go of the hope of having genetic offspring.   No matter the why of why we didn't adopt, it is imperative to understand that just because we are choosing not to, or are unable to pursue adoption or surrogacy or whatever else it is that we didn't chose to do, that the choice not to adopt in no way minimizes our right to the resulting grief we have all experienced due to our inability to have biological children.