Oh… the question that everyone in the infertility community* is just waiting to be asked…
Why don’t you just adopt?
(*The club nobody wants to join but somehow we all manage to be members!)
Let’s think about this for a second. I’ve discussed my own experience of having been adopted in various places on this blog – a summary of which can be found here – and in a bit more detail on my mammoth adoption questions post. I have a positive experience of adoption (though not unaware of some of the complexities, particularly of transracial adoption) – and I’m open about having been adopted and often discuss it with people if they’re interested. So I can kind of see why people would think, well, if she can’t have children then why doesn’t she “just adopt”?
I wanted to do a post to explain a bit more about my feelings on the subject because it’s something that people who are infertile (or even not infertile but just haven’t reproduced) are asked all the time, and I think I can bring a particular perspective to this as I am part of the adoption triad, as a person who was adopted.
My feelings on this topic aren’t particularly organised so you’ll have to excuse me a bit if I go all over the place!
Some of my answers to the question:
- I was adopted. I think it was a positive thing for me and I’m perfectly happy with it. But what people don’t realise if they weren’t adopted is that if you’re adopted, it’s usually the case that you know no-one in the world to whom you’re biologically related. That to me is the biggy. Yes, I’m fine and happy with having been adopted. I think it was a good thing for me. I love my family. But I still have that yearning to know someone to whom I’m biologically, genetically related – I think that’s even more of a sense of wanting that if you’ve never had it. My partner T was also adopted and we’ve talked about it and I think we are on the same page there… I mean, he probably thinks about it a lot less than I do, but I think we both thought it would be nice to give it a shot. We don’t think it is the be all and end all – although it sometimes feels like that – but it would be our first choice to try and have a baby that is genetically ours.
- Adoption is often not the first choice for parents. I think whilst I am very positive about my own adoption experience, and my parents have never made me feel unwanted (anyone who adopts has to go through a lot to become a parent), I think it’s important to recognise that adoption is rarely a first choice. Even though I’m adopted, I understood from an early age that my parents adopted me and sibling #2 because they thought they couldn’t have children. They later miraculously managed to have two bio children, but the fact is they wouldn’t have adopted us if they had had the bios first. That’s just a fact. Now I know that some people do pick adoption as a first choice. That’s cool. But let’s not dismiss the fact that most people who want children start off by wanting children who are genetically theirs, born to them. There are many ways to make a family, and most of them are fabulous, and I think it is great that there are other options for people who can’t have children biologically. But I don’t think there’s any shame in saying We would like to try and have a biological child.
- Adoption is not the first choice for children. Adoption is great, yadda yadda, it’s giving a child a chance of a family where they don’t have one – but why don’t they have one? A child who is in that position is up for adoption because they don’t have a caregiver who can look after them. Think about that for a moment. That thing you take for granted – family, parents – an adopted child doesn’t have that. They have suffered loss. They are either an orphan or they have living parents or family who are unable to care for them. In the UK, it’s often the case that they have suffered trauma such as abuse, or their parents are addicts, and they have been removed from a family situation involuntarily – it’s not this kind of altruistic “giving up for a better life” scenario that I came from – these children had mothers and/or fathers who wanted them and who were deemed unsuitable parents. It’s not all bad, but it’s important to recognise that all adopted children have a loss of their first family. This often gets forgotten in the literature which focuses on adoptive parents’ desire to have a child (and often, their loss) and the birth parents’ loss. It’s really not all bad! But in an ideal world we wouldn’t have children who need to be taken from their first families.
- If want to know if I’m definitely infertile. (TMI alert: skip to next one if you don’t like it!) I have had many problems over the years including multiple operations, monthly and mid-monthly and throughout-the-monthly awful periods (so debilitating I often have had to take time off from work / work from home because I was losing so much blood), endometriosis, polyps, cysts, blocked fallopian tubes, uterine growths, fibroids and so on. I mean, it’s hilarious to think I ever used birth control. I had 15 years of infertility, one failed marriage, and I’m now in a happy relationship… If a bio baby is definitely not on the agenda then I want to have a hysterectomy. I know this sounds OTT but I really don’t want to go through the pain and horror (think abbattoir!) of monthly periods if I don’t have to. The only reason I keep putting up with it is that I want to try and have a baby. If it’s definitely off then I want it all whipped out.
- It’s not easy to adopt in the UK. I know right now that I would probably need to have a less demanding job if I wanted to adopt. I work extremely long hours and I often work away from home. I think this will obviously change if I can have a bio baby but there are [rudimentary] means in place for workplaces to accommodate that – they have to give me time off if I get pregnant, regardless of whether they want to or not. It sounds silly but we would probably not be approved to adopt. (Silly because I’m currently pregnant so no approval required if it happens that way.) I think we would both work too much and we also don’t live in a child friendly apartment. (We are hoping to save up and move out – that’s another story.) I also feel like because most children in the UK who are adopted are older, that they really would need more time to be spent with them settling them in. Right now I’m staying in a job that I don’t love because I want to retain my maternity rights… I’d have to think about a different job if we adopted.
- Adopted children have more needs now. I’m probably controversial saying this but when I was a baby and was adopted, I don’t think I had particular needs that were different from any other baby’s needs. (Actually I was a bit ill when I was born so I did have a few extra needs, but I got over them.) In the UK the majority of adoptions come from care and they are older children. In my opinion older children have more needs than babies because they already had a life before you. Friends have adopted older kids and it’s fantastic, but even they have acknowledged that it’s been really hard at first. It’s not that they don’t love them or the child hasn’t become their son or daughter – it’s just that the children need more support the older they are when they’re adopted. I absolutely think it is fantastic to adopt older children because they probably have greater needs… but for me right now I don’t think we could meet those needs without making very big changes (eg one of us staying at home and not working). Financially we can’t afford for one of us not to work so it’s not an option for us right now.
- Adoption has changed. As I’ve already mentioned, adoption is different to when we were adopted. I asked my parents and they said it was pretty much a single meeting assessment from the agency head who went on gut feel as to whether they were suitable. (My dad being my dad, asked what the process was. The answer: “If I like you, you get a baby. I like you!”) I don’t think this would cut the mustard nowadays. Adoption in the UK is a lengthy and intrusive process and only a tiny fraction of the children in care are adopted (see my previous post for more stats). There are a lot of requirements that we probably wouldn’t meet, and many adoptions now are open adoptions where the child has ongoing contact with the birth family and meetings and so on. I don’t know how I’d feel about that. (Happy for the child, maybe difficult for adoptive parents to deal with.) I think the point is, you don’t go into adoption in the UK without a great deal of thought, care, emotional investment, financial investment and expectation of a lengthy intrusive process. Quite frankly it’s easier to try and have a baby through IVF – it’s intrusive but not that intrusive! And the NHS pays for treatment in the UK.
- I was transracially adopted. This adds a whole new layer of complexity. As I said in point 1, I think it’s natural to want a child who looks a bit like you, and to want to be biologically related to someone. (I keep thinking I would like to know someone who looks a bit like me – a mother or sister. This doesn’t stop me loving my mother or sister. It’s just an experience I’ve never had.) I’m “ethnic” and my partner is white (like most of my family) and I feel like a child of mine would have those questions and experiences that I could add to. I don’t know what ethnicity we’d be matched with if we were to adopt in the UK, because a child of ours would be biracial. I guess they might be able to do some sort of race match but given the UK’s ability to deal with race, I wouldn’t bet on it. (All ethnics are kind of considered the same… People at my work can’t even tell the difference between me and someone from an entirely different country!) I guess I feel that having two parents that look a bit like [our child] would help them deal with those identity questions more easily. From my own experience, the transracial aspect of being adopted was the hardest (experiencing racism and not understanding why) so I feel like I could be more in solidarity with my child if I could point to me and T and say “Well you look a bit like me [ethnic] and a bit like T [white] – can you see that?”
So those are my fairly disorganised and rambling views, or justifications why I wouldn’t “just” choose adoption.
Let’s be clear though – I think adoption is a positive resolution to a loss. Adoption can work out great – me, T, my sibling #2 are all “success stories” of people who were adopted and who seem to be living responsible adult lives (ha!) and we still speak with our parents and get on with our siblings. I genuinely love and get on with my parents and siblings. T is super close to his [also adopted] sibling. I know people in my extended network who were adopted who have close, loving relationships with their parents and no obvious ill effects of having had that first loss. So please don’t get the idea that I think adoption is negative.
Right now though, for us, it’s not our choice. And that is okay.