Thursday, December 6, 2012

Infertility, Part 2: Clarifications and Additional Thoughts

Thank you to everyone who read and commented on my recent post about adoption, infertility, and childfree living. I had hoped the post would spark discussion and it certainly did! In my responses to the many comments the piece stimulated, I clarified my position on several points. I would like to summarize some of what I said here in this follow-up post.

I do not consider myself to be "anti-adoption" and actually dislike that label. I do, however, consider the separation of a child from his or her biological family, and especially from the mother, to be a traumatic event that should never be taken lightly. I do understand that there are situations in which the biological parents are unable or unwilling to care for the child for various reasons, and I certainly never intended to imply that children should remain in unsafe conditions. I myself consider adoption to be a valid option in some circumstances, but I am also aware that it is an extreme measure, one that not only separates the child from the original family but alters his or her very identity. I believe that the adoption industry is very much in need of reform. I would like for there to be fewer adoptions. I believe that ethical adoption must be about finding parents for children who really need them, not about finding babies for people who want to be parents.

My previous post was not intended to be construed as advice to any individual about the choices he or she should make about family. That is a personal matter. I was, however, trying to make several points:

  1. I would like to see more general acceptance within our culture of the childfree lifestyle, whether that lifestyle is chosen intentionally or arrived at because of infertility. 
  2. I would like to see an end to the glib assumption that couples dealing with infertility can "just adopt," as if it were as simple solution without a negative side. 
  3. I would like to see more couples discuss the possibility of infertility early on in their relationship, before trying to conceive, and for that discussion to cover the full range of responses, including choosing childfree. (I do understand that all will not reach the same conclusion as the couple I mentioned in the post, but I would like to see more at least having the conversation.) 
  4. There is currently a supply-and-demand imbalance within the domestic infant adoption establishment; this does need to be addressed somehow. I don't claim to have all the answers, but I wanted to start the discussion. 

To those who would argue that I have no right to comment on infertility because I myself did not experience it, please consider this: Like many adoptees of the baby-scoop era, I grew up knowing that I was in my particular family because of infertility. My parents chose adoption because they could not conceive a child in the usual way. Infertility, in addition to other cultural forces (shame around unwed pregnancy, etc.), shaped my life from the very beginning. I recommend Rickie Solinger's book Wake Up Little Susie, which examines the cultural and economic forces that determined the course of my life and that of many others. It's a resource that I found to be highly informative, but also, I will admit, difficult to read. When I read the phrase "marketable white babies" in that book, I know it refers to me and I feel a little sick to my stomach. Underneath all of the "adoption is a beautiful option" rhetoric lies this stark reality. My adoption occurred in the context of a set of cultural beliefs, and today's adoptions also occur within a cultural context. I am calling on us to examine that context. My earlier post focused on one part of it that I believe needs to be questioned -- the insidious cultural belief that people, and especially women, who do not have children are somehow lacking or "less than," and the resulting implication that they must rectify that "lack" by any means possible.

My intention was to raise up "childfree" as a more valid option. I apologize if it seemed that I was therefore positioning it as the only valid option for people struggling with infertility. That was not my intention. Additionally, I apologize if it seemed that I was being insensitive to the very real pain experienced as a result fertility issues. I acknowledge that I can never fully understand the experience of someone who has walked that path, but I am not unaware of the heartbreak that so many have experienced.

If you are someone who remains convinced that adoption is part of your path, it is not my place to tell you that you should not explore that possibility. I do encourage you to consider adopting from foster care because that is an area in which there is currently a need: there are more than 100,000 youth waiting for permanent families in the U.S. foster care system, and, tragically, tens of thousands of children of "age out" of the system each year without finding permanency. If, however, you remain convinced that infant adoption is the only path for you, please do make efforts to seek out an agency that does not engage in coercion of expectant mothers. For more on that subject, I recommend Shannon LC Cate's post 10 Red Flags that Your Adoption Agency Might be Coercive.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at


  1. Amen, amen, and AMEN. I've had that experience where I write something that sparks a lot of discussion and it helps me to figure out what the heck I was really thinking all along. By the way, thanks for the link to Shannon's post. It's an excellent one! :)

  2. Susan and Ty PerryDecember 6, 2012 at 3:47 PM

    What a well-articulated post, Rebecca! You have tackled a difficult subject in a sensitive and respectful way and have opened up some meaningful discussion as a result. Like you, I just want people to see the urgent need for adoption reform and more transparency in the process.

  3. I missed the first post, so glad you did this, allowing me to go back and read that one, too! I am experiencing secondary infertility. Because of this, in part, we became foster parents. 2.5 years and 20 kids later, we still haven't had any become adoptable, and that's okay. I do hope that someday we will, but for now I rejoice when each child goes back to a parent or relative. So, I know the joy of having my own child, the pain of infertility, and the trials of loving children who are not your own (and may never be). I've been reading your blog only a couple of months and am so glad to have found it!

  4. oh, I blog about fostering at

  5. Wow, thank you for reading, and thank you for sharing a little piece of your story! I love that you can rejoice when each child goes back to a parent or relative, and I'm sure your own history is a part of that! In a way, you are uniquely suited to support contingent planning ... something that some people find challenging. So interesting where our paths lead us!

  6. Thank you, Monika! And yes, I agree about Shannon's post. Good stuff!

  7. I think this is a fabulous post Rebecca. It is something I think about quite a bit. What did couples do in the past 60+ years ago? I think part of the problem we are seeing is that we are in a generation of people who want what they want when they want it and are not willing to wait or have patience. I can not tell you how often people post on a forum, or I speak to in real life that say they are infertile. And then when you ask how long they have been trying to conceive and they say 6 months or 1 year. There is a blog that I will share with you privately where this is very apparent.
    I do think that as our food supply is more and more tainted ( GMO's ) and people are waiting later and later to start to have children the incidents of infertility is rising greatly.

    I think it would be interesting to talk to women in years gone by who wanted to have children and found themselves unable... what did they do, how did they cope? Or did they decide life was unfair and did whatever it took to get what they want- AND GET IT RIGHT NOW!
    To many people in my age bracket want perfection and they want it now- it is sickening. I have one friend who right out of college was very angry because they could not afford a BRAND NEW house in a brand new fancy subdivision and had to have a USED house!

    I also see in the Christian community with which I am a part that people who have not had a struggle seem to think that they need one and make martars ( sp) out of themselves. So they can have something that God brought them through, so they can have a struggle, so they could prove their faith. so they can be patted on the back for what a Good Christian they are and that God was testing them on and on....

    It is really troubling. It seems to me that people decide what they want, need, deserve and then they figure out a way to say it is what God called for them.... when in fact it is what they wanted in the first ( or second place)

    This post was brave and timely and important to discuss.

  8. You make an interesting point. My husband is an only child, born to his parents after almost 10 years of trying.

  9. You have so much bitterness when you talk about adoption and ESPECIALLY infertility. I have no idea what your childhood or individual experience was like, just like you have no idea what it must be like for someone to want to be a mother more than anything in the world, but not be able to have a biological child.

    Adoptees do not want to be judged with a "one size fits all" label of who they are. Likewise, women who has suffered through infertility do not want to be judged in that way either.

    You should consider from a COMPASSIONATE point of view, why a woman would want to adopt an infant. I can assure you not every person wanting to adopt an infant has "selfish motives". Adoption is one of the most SELFLESS acts a person can do. It seems like your experiences may have left that impression on you. However, once again, making sweeping generalizations of an entire group of people is always a mistake.

    Just like you would like people to be compassionate, open minded, and educate themselves about the sensitivity of adoption issues, I invite you to do the same about people who have suffered through infertility.

  10. Thank you for your comments. I appreciate your feedback but I am confused by your interpretation of my words. Can you please point to the place where I have said that people who want to adopt infants have selfish motives? I was not aware of having made any such statements. To the contrary, I wrote "I acknowledge that I can never fully understand the experience of someone who has walked that path [infertility], but I am not unaware of the heartbreak that so many have experienced." You have accused me of making sweeping generalizations. Can you please point to those generalizations, using my words rather than your own? I would like a chance to clarify my intended meaning, and it would be helpful if you could please point to the specific phrases that have triggered this response from you. Thank you.

    You are correct in noting that my own experience as an adoptee has influenced my view, but not because there was anything particularly terrible about my situation. My a-parents are amazing, loving, well-intentioned people. I hold no resentment toward them. But parents, as it turned out, are not interchangeable. I affected by my removal from my biological mother at birth. I was affected by not getting to experience genetic mirroring. I was affected by secrecy and lack of information about my history and roots. I have struggled with post-adoption issues my entire life, and struggle with them to some extent to this day, though I have made much progress. I am not alone in this viewpoint. Many, many adoptees of my era are stepping forward to say, basically, "hey, that whole thing didn't work out so well for us, however well-intentioned." Adoption is not a simple win-win solution. That doesn't mean that adoption should never occur, but neither should we idealize it. We all need to look at it with a critical eye, looking for ways to improve it, to bring it more in line with the best interests of the child. There is much about the current adoption establishment that is not in line with those interests. I stand by that statement, but please understand that this is not the same thing as saying that the individuals who are drawn to adopt are selfishly motivated. That was certainly not anything I intended to imply.

  11. This and your previous post are both brave & amazing, Rebecca. Thank you so much for daring to tackle two very touchy, complex & painful subjects.

    As an infertile adult adoptee, I have struggled with answering the ever-present, well-intentioned but unthinking question of "Why don't you just adopt?" It's painful to hear, because the question ignores the complex losses involved in adoption. It is also painful because it ignores the pain of infertility.

    As an adoptee in a closed adoption, part of my deep desire for a child was/is a biological connection to another living person. Adopting a child can not give me that.

    My husband & I did not pursue adoption as a path to parenthood, just as we did not pursue infertility treatments. For us, we felt that parenthood seemed so difficult in the best of circumstances, what if we went through so much effort to produce/procure a child only to find that we were terrible parents? For us, we did not want to risk "playing God."

    I was crushed by the miscarriage that ended our only pregnancy. But, for me, I decided that I indeed need to embrace the life I had, instead of the one I wanted. I needed to embrace what I had (a child-free life, not by choice, but by chance). Much like Jenn & Rudy, my husband & I have decided to be the special adults in the lives of our nieces & nephews, as well as the lives of the children of our friends.

    We can be the people who spoil them, who can offer the parents a much-needed weekend off, and still go back to our own pursuits come Monday. I have the time & the energy to play a lot of hockey, and now I help coach a youth team, which I adore doing. There *are* worthwhile ways to spend one's time, even if one is not parenting. I wish, as you do, that our culture would respect that.

    Do I still get hopeful every month, then die a little when it's clear I am not pregnant. Yes. I do. Infertility sucks. No way around it.

    The cultural context that views childlessness as something to be fixed at all costs disrespects women. And I agree that it adds pressure to an adoption system in desperate need of reform. Something's gotta give.

    Thank you, Rebecca, for holding this very important discussion. I appreciate your ability to address the elephant in the room with such grace and compassion. Thank you.

  12. My husband and I are child-free and unapologetic about it. In fact we celebrate it!

    We have heard every asinine argument against our choice not to parent that has ever been dreamed up.

    A few (impaired by their religious brainwashing) told us our choice was “un-Godly”.

    Some told us we would be missing something “special” in our lives.

    Others told us not wanting children is “unnatural”.

    Still others told us not having children means we are “selfish”.

    It was and still is hard not to laugh out loud at these types because they all have the same thing in common — closed minds. They are deluded by their belief that producing little images of themselves is a selfless, natural act blessed by God — a service to humanity. Give me and the planet a break or as the Dalai Lama once said:

    The mind is like a parachute, it works best when it is opened.

  13. Thank you so much for your comments. I'm sorry to hear of your struggles -- you are right, it sucks and there's no way around it.

    I would really like to see our culture place a much higher value on the aunts and uncles and honorary aunts and uncles and those who are contributing to the general good in other, non-parenting ways! I mean really raise them up to a place of high honor, because I truly do believe the support to families and others can be so important and helpful. As parents, we are often too exhausted to do as much as we might like in other areas, and I am always grateful that there are others in a position to do the things I can't. We are all interconnected.

  14. Wow, thank you so much! I agree with you and am sorry that you have to put up with such thoughtless feedback. Love the parachute quote. Perfect!

  15. It is, of course, totally valid and wonderful to embrace child-free living but the desire to raise a child and to have a family is in itself inate for many, which is in itself a conundrum. I agree with most of what you are saying but also feel like I live in a different adoption era. We know both of my son's biological parents and while its painful, I think we are all clear on why we are his full-time parents. We are all in contact and it's complicated and deep. Not all biological parents want to place their kids in the care of a government agency. So ... I agree and the more supports there are for biological parents, the better but I do believe that adoption is an avenue to form a family and does not have to be an "unethical" or "naive" option. And ... I also dislike the view that adoptive parents have no right to celebrate their families or be happy. There are families and people who are good parents, who are not in denial, work hard at their relationships, and have happy children.

  16. Hee hee. I think I'm a little OVER sensitive and I worry A LOT about all the players in our own adoption. My personal concern (nothing to do with the institution of adoption itself) is that I don't sink into a pit of adoption despair can never be good, it's all about loss, nobody wins... or get overly invested in how everyone else is feelings, and somehow lose the smaller picture of my own family and making sure that we are good parents to our child.

    Records have been open where I live since 1996 so I consider an adoptees inability to access his or her records almost criminal. I do see the conundrum though re: birthparent rights. Still I think we need to as everyone points out always look to what's best for the children and clearly their rights would supercede a birthparents in this case.

    Also where I live all agencies and there are very few are licensed as not-for-profits by the province, which also helps raise the ethical bar IMO. Interestingly things go awry when Canadians adopt from the US, which our agency referred to as the wild west of adoption.

    There's obviously a ton that has to change but there's also this place of actually being an adoptive parents where you need to go forth, be the best family that you can be, and support your child in connecting to their roots, be open to their questions and so on!

    Anyway, always love what you have to say!

  17. "The wild west of adoption" - ha! That's one of those things that's only funny because it's a little too apt! :-p

  18. I often read your blog thanks to some smart people on Twitter who link to it in their feeds. I do not have personal ties to adoption but as someone who hopes to be a therapist one day, I can definitely use all of the education I can get on the topic so I just want to say thank you for always posting such informative, well-written pieces.

    I happen to be someone who is childfree by choice (I knew at the age of 5 that I did not want children and, at 41, have yet to ever feel differently) and reading through the comments here I definitely relate to many of them. It's sad that it is not respected by the majority of people as a valid choice, just as having children is. I'm used to having to "defend" my decision, which is ridiculous to me but I do it frequently. I'm anxious to be past child-bearing years so that I won't have to hear "Oh, you'll change your mind - just wait!" ever again.

    Anyway, thank you so much for this discussion and for your thoughtful and thought-provoking writing. I greatly appreciate how much you have helped to make me aware of so many issues I hadn't ever considered regarding adoption and parenting.

  19. "As someone who hopes to be a therapist one day, I can definitely use all of the education I can get on the topic." Wow - reading that is like a breath of fresh air! Thanks so much for reading adult-adoptee blogs as part of your education. Did you by any chance see the following article?
    Interesting timing for me to get your comment after reading that earlier today.
    Thanks for commenting and thanks for understanding my intention in starting this conversation. Glad to have your voice as a part of it.

  20. I hadn't seen that article - thanks so much for the link, I'll read it next!

    Thanks for your kind words - I'm glad to be welcome here! :)

  21. I find your blog rather frustrating. Live childless. So is this the new catch phrase? So instead of folks telilng us we should just adopt, they should now tell us to get over it and live childless. Another annoying attempt to get the infertiles to shutup. And yet, you were successful in adoption. So is this another case of do as I say, not as I do. My dh and I have attempted to adopt via our local foster care system. Unfortunately, they don't allow non-relative adoptions. Our county would rather see the foster children in long term foster care than adoptive by childless couples. I'm so glad the reforms you advocate for (not breaking up abusive families, etc) are working so well.

  22. Thank you for writing. I believe you have misunderstood my intention. I tried to go out of my way to make it clear that I was _not_ saying "get over it and live childless," but apparently I did not succeed.

    I am certainly not in favor of leaving children in abusive or dangerous situations. Sometimes original families can make the necessary changes with support, parenting education, addiction services, etc.; sometimes they can't (or, as in the case of my daughter, can't do so in time). I support's statement: "If reunification fails, child welfare systems must be prepared to move quickly to find them permanent alternative homes — usually through adoption."

    I am curious about your county. It sounds like they are in violation of the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997. In any case, I'm sorry to hear that your experience with foster adoption has been so frustrating thus far. Are you in contact with any of the national organizations that promote foster adoption?

    In closing, I repeat my closing comment from above: "If, however, you remain convinced that infant adoption is the only path for you, please do make efforts to seek out an agency that does not engage in coercion of expectant mothers. For more on that subject, I recommend Shannon LC Cate's post 10 Red Flags that Your Adoption Agency Might be Coercive."

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