Thursday, November 29, 2012

Infertility: Adopting Versus Embracing Childfree

Disclaimer (added 12/20/2012): Please note that the following was my first (somewhat clumsy) attempt to grapple with a difficult topic. It was intended as a critical look at broad cultural responses to infertility and an attempt to place adoption and infertility within their current cultural contexts. It was written as an expression of my own personal opinions, preferences, and concerns regarding adoption. It was not intended as a statement about how any individual who is struggling with infertility should feel or as advice about the personal choices he or she should make about family creation.

This post is probably going to get me in trouble, but I'm going to write it anyway. I'll start with a quote from a recent BlogHer post:
I've learned that "I can't have kids" comes with its own set of questions ("What happened?" "Have you considered adopting?")...— Julie Ross Godar,  Yes, Childfree Is Normal: Why I Moved From "Can't" to "Won't" Today
There it is, that question: "Have you considered adopting?" How quickly it rolls off the tongue. How little, I suspect, are its full implications understood by many of those who ask it.

Can you imagine living in a culture in which it was not the norm to automatically leap to a parenting-at-all-costs strategy, perhaps even a culture in which infertility was interpreted as a call to do something meaningful with one's life other than parenting? 

No? Me either. We're pretty far from that place. Even the very notion of "living childfree" is a difficult one for some to embrace.
Though the United States is making progress in terms of seeing women as more than just the sum of their reproductive parts, the stigma surrounding childlessness is still alive and well. Women who don't have children are still largely viewed as an anomaly at best and at worst, sad and selfish. — Jessica Valenti, Smart Women Not Having Kids, or Getting Support  
Childless women are accused of being self-centered, afraid of commitment, and more interested in pursuing a career and having fun than the responsibilities of child-rearing.  Amanda Marcotte, Why Parents Need Childless People Like Me 
I do understand that deliberately choosing a childfree lifestyle is very different from wanting children and being unable to have them. I understand that many who have suffered infertility and miscarriages have experienced real pain. I don't mean to diminish that. Loss is loss.

But we need to stop responding to that loss with the question, "Have you considered adopting?"

Why? Because there simply aren't enough babies who are truly in need of adoptive parents. And the supply and demand imbalance, in a context that involves for-profit adoption agencies, results in pressure on expectant mothers to relinquish. As someone who has struggled with post-adoption issues myself, and who has witnessed those struggles in others, I cannot view adoption as a benign solution to infertility. One family is created, but another is torn apart.

I'm not necessarily saying there should be no adoptions (though some would, and their reasoning is worth consideration), but I do believe we should at least be working toward fewer adoptions. And that simply isn't going to happen until there are fewer prospective adopters. As things currently stand, demand is driving the infant adoption industry. Too many people are interpreting infertility as a call to adopt rather than as a call to engage in some other kind of meaningful life work. For some, that call may be valid. I have my own opinions about who should or should not answer it. I have met adoptive parents, online and in person, who seem ideally suited to support an adopted child through the various challenges he or she will face. I often find myself thinking, "Wow, if adoption has to occur, I'm glad there are people like this who are doing the adopting."

Some of you are my regular readers. If you are an adoptive or prospective adoptive parent who has found your way to this blog, chances are you are someone who supports real openness and an end to secrecy and closed record. You may be working for adoption reform within the system. You may be someone who went out of your way to seek out an ethical agency or who stands besides adoptees at adoptee rights demonstrations. You understand the complexity of the adoptee experience and you are always educating yourself, seeking the best tools to support your adopted child. I don't want to minimize the importance of what you are doing; it matters.

But I also can't ignore the imbalance. Too many adopters. Too few babies. Something has to give.

I acknowledge that a need truly does exist for people who are willing to adopt older children from foster care, and this month, National Adoption Awareness Month, is a time to raise awareness of that need. As I have mentioned in the past, I would like to see our society devote more resources to strengthening vulnerable families in an effort to keep kids out of care in the first place, but there are kids in care now who would benefit from adoption permanency. I'm not certain that adoption from foster care is what first springs to mind when a person dealing with infertility hears the adoption question, but some may end up there eventually. If so, good for them. What kids in foster care really need, however, are caregivers with an understanding of trauma and a willingness to stick with them through the rough patches as they move toward healing. That caregiver's reproductive history is not the most relevant factor.

I was pleased recently to read the following by Jenn, an adult adoptee blogger who is engaged to be married:
Rudy and I have decided that if we are not able to have children of our own, we would not feel comfortable adopting.... We’ve both decided that if we can’t have kids, we’re going to be the fun married couple that spoils everyone else’s children and then go home at the end of the night and do things that we couldn’t do if we had children. — Insert Bad Movie Title Here
I realize that considering infertility as an abstract future possibility is different from confronting it head on after trying and failing to have a child. But I also really appreciate that Jenn and Rudy have had this discussion before marriage, and I found myself wishing more couples would follow their lead in terms of opening up the discussion early on. If Jenn and Rudy do end up without children, chances are they'll be pretty happy:
Robin Simon, a sociology professor at Florida State University and researcher on parenting and happiness, told The Daily Beast in 2008 that parents "experience lower levels of emotional well-being, less frequent positive emotions and more frequent negative emotions than their childless peers. In fact, no group of parents--married, single, step or even empty nest--reported significantly greater emotional well-being than people who never had children," she said. "It's such a counterintuitive finding because we have these cultural beliefs that children are the key to happiness and a healthy life, and they're not."  — Jessica Valenti, Smart Women Not Having Kids, or Getting Support
Is it time to question some of our cultural beliefs and to curtail our knee-jerk response to childlessness? I think so.

Note: I thank all who have read and commented on this post. Though I have closed the comment section below, I invite you to leave a comment, should you so desire, at the follow-up post: Clarifications and Additional Thoughts.

Image courtesy of photostock at


  1. One of your best posts...ever...

  2. Love this. Also, while the demand for infants outpaces supply and comes with all the problems you discuss, there is an unmet demand for foster parents and adoption of older children. If people could change that "I need a BABY" to "I want to serve a parental role and make a difference in a kids life" they would consider fostering.

  3. I love how well you say the things that need to be said. I wish I could kiss you all over your face. XOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

  4. On fire with this post! When the accepted cultural norm is "get an infant at any cost" we seriously need to examine why this has become so acceptable. At some point, maybe you can hop into the candy cane canoe with me and we can wave our OBCs around in celebration of the new, adoptee-focused cultural norms. ;-)

  5. As someone who went through the infertility roller coaster, my experience is as such: We decided we wanted to have children before we got married. We spent years trying to have said children through fertility treatments, which are horrible and frustrating and in my view, you have to be committed to wanting children to go through that. So, when it became clear that we couldn't have biological children, it was too late to consider child-free even though we did discuss it. At that point we were so emotionally invested in "we want to have a family" that we started looking into other options. For us, adoption was it. I agree that it would be easier to decide to live child-free if there wasn't such a stigma, and I don't automatically tell people they should adopt. I'm fully aware of the loss on all three sides and am doing everything in my power to navigate and acknowledge loss. I don't agree with for-profit agencies, or those "dorm-style" accommodations for potential birthmothers, or paying for living expenses (medical costs for pre-natal, maybe, if the mother is in need, but not rent/food/etc). That just screams coercion to me. Anyway, maybe I should turn this into a blog post - it's getting too long! Just trying to point out the internal conflict of one adoptive parent... :)

  6. Completely agree. Well-said, necessary, and very hard to hear.

  7. Thanks! When I feel nervous about hitting "publish" I usually know I'm onto something good. :-p

  8. Thanks. The rates of kids aging out of foster care without finding permanency are heartbreaking! Certainly this is an area where there is an unmet need. I appreciate your comment.

  9. Are you a puppy? JK. Thanks for the love!

  10. Excellent post, Rebecca. As I was reading, I thought about the great need of older children in foster care to be adopted. In my work as an adoption social worker, a lot of prospective families express that they feel a call from God to adopt. My supervisor was the first person I heard to challenge them, asking: "Is your call to help limited to the child, or does it include the birth family?" I think I'd add to his question "Does your call to help only include infants, or might it stretch to toddlers, grade schoolers, high schoolers?" Not everyone who desires (or feels called!) to parent will be able to start with an older kid. But I bet some of them are.

  11. It's a complicated issue, that's for sure. I appreciate your feedback.

  12. Thank you. I appreciate those, like you, who come here even when I say the stuff that's hard to hear.

  13. I have to say I love this post and agree with it wholeheartedly. That said, the quote at the bottom is maybe not the best choice, as it does not specifically compare parents to childless couples who have experienced infertility. Comparing parents to couples who chose to be child free can't give us information on the feelings of infertile women. I wouldn't dismiss their feelings but I agree there needs to be another way for them to proceed. Some bloggers have suggested that all infant adoptions need to go through social services and eliminate agencies due to the conflict of interest.

  14. You wrote: "So if you don’t think there should be adoptions, what do you want to happen to the children born to parents unable and unwilling to care for them?" I actually didn't say that I don't think there should be adoptions. I am an adoptive parent as well as an adoptee and I actually do believe that adoption is a valid option in some circumstances. I said that some people hold a different view and I think they make some valid points. We actually had an interesting discussion about this recently on the Lost Daughters private group. Some people believe that guardianship or some other situation in which the child is raised by others but does not lose his or her birth identity is the answer. You and I may disagree, but I'm not willing to dismiss that point of view. I think it is valid.

    I agree with you that the decision to have children or not is a very personal one. I agree that infertility is a source of real pain. (But so, for many of us, is adoption.) I agree that there is no guarantee that a childfree life will bring happiness, but I wanted to question what I perceive as a commonly held cultural belief: that it is not possible to lead a fulfilled life without having children.

    I am surprised to hear you say that you perceive me as negative toward adoptive parents. It is true that I would very much like to see adoption become a rarer occurrence than it is now, and to be reserved for those situations in which it is truly necessary, but I don't think I have ever said that _no one_ should adopt.

    But in any case, you hear what you hear, and I appreciate your feedback. I did question whether I had the right to speak about infertility given that I did not myself struggle in this particular way. For the most part, I try on this blog to tell my own story, speaking from my own experience. In this sense, this post is a bit of a departure for me. But I decided I did have a right to raise this topic given that I was one of those desirable babies of the baby scoop era. The course of my life was determined by infertility from day one, so yes, I do believe this is part of my story in too.

    I was also aware that I had avoided this topic previously because it is a difficult and controversial one. I didn't want to be avoiding the elephant in the room. I decided it was time to dive into the muck and wrestle with a difficult topic. I have many a-parent readers and it is not my intention to alienate them; rather I want to spark discussion.

  15. Thanks! I included that quote because I like that it questions what I perceive as a commonly-held cultural belief: that people who have children are happier and more fulfilled than those who don't. I was also being a bit playful at the end of a long, serious post. But you are the second person who has had concerns about my inclusion of that particular quote, even though I stated earlier in the post that I do understand that choosing childfree initially is different from being forced into it by infertility. I don't mean to dismiss the feelings of those struggling with infertility. But ...

  16. Thanks! I would like to see adoption be more clearly about finding parents for children who need them, and less about finding babies for parents who want them. Currently, foster care is where the need is. I do understand, as you do, that not all are cut out for that "calling," but the rewards are great for those who can answer. And for me (as you know) that does include embracing the biological family. I consider myself so blessed to not only have my daughter in my life but also her other mom, her brothers, and other extended family members.

  17. I am an adult adoptee and an adoptive parent like you. When I began to realize how hard it has been to be an adopted person, something I could never connect with before, one of the first things I thought was, "oh my God, what have I done adopting a child from China." After I realized how dramatic and ridiculous this notion was, I realized something important. Now I have the tools to ALWAYS put this child first, not my own parenting ego. None of our kids belong to us or should affirm us as people. Wendy Mogel says "your child is not your masterpiece," and I believe it. I can already see the trauma coming out in my sweet daughter. She is already on guard trying to manage her life. Can I fix that for But, I can look to the experts, read a lot, pray, hold her, reassure her...PUT HER FIRST, let her love and talk about her first parents...encourage that. For the love of God I just wish in 1966 someone could have put ME first.

    But other people got to decide what happened to me, and I have the right to be mad and sad about that now that I am figuring out how on guard I had to be and how hard it was to manage my own life. I don't want to live in sadness and anger, but I need to feel it, an so does this daughter that I have the privilege to parent.

    If only we had a magic wand of enlightenment to wave over all of the adopters in the world. They are NOT bad people (I am not bad for adopting)...they want to love these kids, but these kids will NEVER be theirs alone. I don't care if a child's mother is a heroin addict. Maybe a kid should not be allowed to live with a person like that, and I definitely don't think that they should. But they will still love that herion-addicted mom and should never be told not to.

  18. Thank you, Julie. Yes, yes, and yes! :-)

  19. My best friend is currently undergoing IF treatments after several years of trying to concieve. She and her husband have decided that if these last rounds of IVF don't work, they are done and will live child free. She is the bio child raised with one adopted older sister. They will not adopt because adoption has been so painful for her sister. She has been lectured by some her extended family about rude and inconsiderate she is to say no to adoption. They think it is a slap in the face to her sister and some sort of rejection of her, since people just can't see the deeper issues involved in adoption. They only see the happy parent, happy kids, "just adopt" stuff that is way too common in our society.

  20. Should a drug addicted mom be allowed to keep her kids. My sister has been a drug addicted on and off for twenty years. Refuses to get her tubes tided. She has six kids none of them live with her. I welcome adoption, someone who can deal with a baby kicking drugs. God bless them.

  21. Uh, I don't believe I've ever said such a thing. In fact, I specifically said in this post that I believe there should be fewer adoptions, not no adoptions. I also said that I support adoption from foster care, which is what I did. Each situation is different; I do know of moms who have overcome addiction and become good parents, but I certainly do not believe that children should remain in situations that involve abuse and neglect. Some people believe that in such cases children should be placed into guardianship situations, rather than adoption. I do not happen to hold that view (I believe adoption offers security for the child) but I respect the right of others to hold that it.

  22. Thank you for your comment, Susan. It certainly is true that those of us who have experienced or witnessed the painful side of adoption up close hold a different view from the majority. I've sorry your friend is getting so much flak from people who don't understand the complexities!

  23. Rebecca, I'm a huge fan of your blog and I find myself nodding in agreement after reading virtually every post. In this case, however, I wonder why you think that if society held a certain view -- in this case, that living a child-free life is noble or something to be admired -- that it would somehow change the suffering and pain felt by people who want to have children but are not able to get (or stay) pregnant. As you have pointed out many times, society tells us that adoptees should feel grateful for being adopted, that adoption is something to be celebrated and not mourned, that the adoptive family should be enough and adoptees shouldn't long for anything more. However, as you have pointed out so clearly in your posts, society's attitude toward adoption does not in any way take away from the tremendous loss and grief that adoptees and first parents experience. In fact, it's just the opposite. By minimizing the trauma of adoption, society adds insult to injury. I just don't think that if society somehow celebrated child-free living, that infertile people would then be happy living a child-free life. For many, infertility is the loss of a fundamental human experience -- and that loss is felt throughout a lifetime.

    I agree with your argument that more should be done to support and help pregnant women who feel that they might not be able to provide for their child -- adoption should not be the first (or even second or third) option they should consider. It should be the last. I agree that family preservation is critical. And money has to be taken out of the equation in order for there to be real reform. No one should make a profit when a child is placed for adoption. That's the root of the problem - not the fact that society doesn't tell infertile people they should be content living a child-free life.

  24. Thank you for your comments, which are thoughtful and exactly the kind of respectful disagreement I appreciate. You make good points, and I will give them consideration. I actually want to comment further but am unable to at this time. I will try to get back to this later.

  25. Jane,
    Most of us involved in the adoption reform movement recognize that adoption is sometimes necessary and a better option for the child -- in the situation you describe, that certainly seems to be the case. And I don't have anything against adoptive parents who put the welfare of their children first. After all, I loved my own adoptive parents dearly! What most of us object to is the fact that adoption is run like a business. As Rebecca points out, there are many more prospective adoptive parents than there are available infants, and that fact leads to a lot of coercion being placed on expectant parents -- some who could do a fine job if they were given some support. Some agencies, for example, have actually conducted studies to determine how best they can influence a woman to relinquish her child. Some adoption attorneys fly expectant mothers into their offices and give them "tours" of the city in an effort to influence their decision. Why? Because there is money to be made in the adoption business, and adoptable babies are in great demand. These same attorneys and lobbies for the adoption industry consistently lobby against adoptee rights bills that would allow full-grown adoptees to secure their own original birth certificates, which in nearly every state, remain sealed. All of the data and research points to the fact that adults should have access to their own records, yet progress is agonizingly slow. Why? Because the adoption industry is frightened that giving equal rights to adult adoptees will somehow affect their bottom line. They are afraid that adoptive parents will be scared away if they know that many adopted people are not satisfied to live their entire lives with no access to their own personal history and genetic roots. Many adoptive parents are not well informed, and unfortunately some agencies and attorneys like it that way. I would say that I am not anti-adoption, but I am very much pro-adoption reform. (I am a cancer survivor, and I was not willing to risk either my own life or the lives of my children and grandchildren by remaining ignorant about my own ancestors.) I didn't realize how severely my own rights were compromised by law until I initiated my search. I would like to see many more adoptive parents, realizing that their children will grow up into adults, advocating for their equal treatment under the law.

  26. Like Rebecca said in her response to you, she is NOT anti-adoption. Holding a view that children should stay with their original families whenever possible doesn't mean that she's "negative" and "anti-adoption." Her attitude is shared by me. By the way, I'm a birth mom. I relinquished my daughter, at birth (NO abuse of ANY type), to a wonderful couple and I have a great relationship with them.

    What Rebecca and I BOTH have a problem with is the general (and I'm NOT directing this at you specifically) sense of entitlement hopeful adoptive parents and adoptive parents can have. Just because we want something to happen doesn't mean it will. I wanted to be able to raise my daughter. But I didn't have the support or the emotional preparedness to do so, so I gave her an ADDITIONAL family that was better equipped to raise her than I was. Parenting is not a right, nor is it given out to all those who express a desire to do so. Parenting is a privilege and a huge responsibility.

    I cannot comment on infertility as I know it is a tender subject for many, and as much as it may seem I'm not, my heart aches for women who have been there and my loss (though it was chosen and you didn't choose yours) is similar to yours. I understand the loss of possibility that many infertile couples experience. But women who can have babies weren't put on the earth to fulfill the dreams of women who can't. I'm sorry to be so blunt and to put it that way. I think adoption can be a wonderful thing. But I cannot support people who have not healed from their infertility issues and immediately jump to adoption because they want to have that "perfect little baby." (Which, btw, is impossible even if one is able to have their own biological children. No child is perfect.)

  27. Hi again. I’m back. I actually didn’t mean to imply that the
    “have you considered adoption” question should be replaced by “Oh, lucky you!
    You get to be childfree!” I’m sorry if it came across that way. I consider each
    of those responses to be insensitive to the complexity of infertility in their
    own way. I understand that for many people infertility would be a source of
    suffering regardless of how parenthood was held by the broader culture, but I
    think for some the pain is exacerbated by the fact that childless people (and
    especially childless women) are somehow viewed as “less than” or “lacking.”
    That’s the piece I’d like to take away.
    I agree that loss is loss. Little is gained by playing the “my pain is
    greater than your pain game.” Infertility can be like a death to some – the death
    of possibility—and I believe our cultural response should be one that respects
    that suffering. And yet at the same time, I’m bothered by the glib assumption
    that is implied by the “just adopt” mentality. Also, though I agree with your suggestions for adoption reform, I worry that no adoption reforms will ever stick as long as the demand remains high. It's simply very difficult for adoption to be about finding parents for children who need them rather than babies for parents who want them when the desires of the parents are so much a part of the equation. I respect you opinion and I very much appreciate your respectful way of expressing disagreement. I also recognize that we are coming at this difficult issue from different points of view. When I read the phrase "marketable white babies" in discussions of the baby scoop era, it refers to me.

  28. I just deleted my whole response. In short. Bravo. Also, amazing you take time to respond to every comment.

  29. Thanks for your thoughtful response to my comments. We are definitely in agreement that adoption is not the "solution" to infertility. A woman feeling that she cannot parent her unborn child is one problem. A woman wanting to have children and not being able to conceive or carry a child is another problem. The idea of marrying these two problems as a way to solve both of them is very flawed on many levels. There is a real lack of understanding in our society about the long-term suffering experienced by many adoptees and first families as a result of adoption, especially closed adoption. If people understood this, I think there'd be a lot fewer "why don't you just adopt" comments being made. Women who undergo fertility treatments are often told they are selfish for going to such extreme measures when there are so many children who need a home. This also needs to stop. There should be fewer adoptions; as a society, that should be our goal. I just don't think that any societal change in attitude toward living child-free will have an impact on people who want to have children but cannot. (I do think that people who CHOOSE a child-free life should be respected as much as people who are parents, but I think that's a completely separate issue from people who want to have children and cannot.) Primarily, I think it's a slippery slope when we start conflating the issues of infertility and and adoption. Adoption should not be the solution to infertility, and at the same time, people dealing with infertility do not cause adoptions. It's the middle man -- the agencies, the attorneys -- who are pushing adoptions because it's their business. If there wasn't money to be made in adoption - if it wasn't run like a business - I think the number of adoptions would decrease significantly. I also think that counseling and support services need to be better for everyone -- mothers considering placing their children AND prospective adoptive parents need to be better educated about the complexities and difficulties of adoption, which no one is going to be motivated to do if there is money to be made from an adoption. I think I'm rambling now. In any case, it is a complex issue, and I admire you for starting this dialogue.

  30. Thank you for this post. I am a mother through adoption. And especially now, i have come to support the child-free option...which truly needs supporting since there is so much judgment about it. Having read all the comments and your thoughtful responses, i want to add an of the biggest triggers for me is the assumptions evident in sweeping generalizations....ex. "Adoptive pareents have a sense of entitlement" or "Birthparents are (fill in the blank). NEVER is all of us anything the same. And this is where the hurt lies for me. Our journey into adoption might look familiar from the outside, but the soul-searching, the 100s of books I read, the talks with a pastor about 'playing God', our deliberate and slow crawl through adoption paperwork, our careful distance from the pregnant woman who chose us, my response to the nurse at the birthwho said "Does Mama want to holdthe baby?" And Isaid yes and pointed to my daughter's mother because, at that moment, I was clearly not yet mother...and the on-going figuring out open adoption with people who have varying degrees of interest and abilities to interact...nobody can see all this whenthey see me and my clearly not biological daught together. I accept the complications inherent to my motherhood because I took this route. There are days that I really wish I would read on blogs like yours a recognition and appreciation to the mothers and fathers who are raising children, making room for extended family and living out their promise to open adoption...all the while doing the whole parenting thing. But you know, I will do my best regardless of sweeping generalizations and immense negativity because I love my daughter and I really truly am her mother.

  31. Thank you for your comment. I agree with your comments about stereotypes. They are problematic whichever side they occur on. I loved what Jill of Adoption Ain't for Sissies had to say about stereotypes in our recent interview exchange:

    You wrote: "I would read on blogs like yours a recognition and appreciation to the mothers and fathers who are raising children, making room for extended family and living out their promise to open adoption...all the while doing the whole parenting thing." Well, that is certainly something I try to do through my own story of adoptive parenting. For the most part (and I acknowledge that this particular post is a bit of a departure) I try to stick to telling my own story on this blog. Since summer, my focus has been primarily on the ways that my reunion with my biological father has knocked me sideways. My story has primarily been one of personal struggle as I work through yet another round of processing from the adoptee point of view. But I am still an adoptive mom living an amazing open adoption and I expect to return to writing more about that side of things as the reunion stuff settles down.

    Please also note that I did write the following in this very post: "If you are an adoptive or prospective adoptive parent who has found your way to this blog, chances are you are someone who supports real openness and an end to secrecy and closed record. You may be working for adoption reform within the system. You may be someone who went out of your way to seek out an ethical agency or who stands besides adoptees at adoptee rights demonstrations. You understand the complexity of the adoptee experience and you are always educating yourself, seeking the best tools to support your adopted child. I don't want to minimize the importance of what you are doing; it matters."

    It does matter. In fact, it is absolutely essential! I am so thankful for the adoptive parents who come here and read my blog, even when I say things that are difficult to hear. They do it for the sake of their children, and that's amazing.

  32. I do want to add that I do not mean that you, Rebecca, are negative or make a lot of sweeping generalzations! Just as it hurts people who were adopted to hear thoughtless statements about them...same goes for people who became parents through adoption. You live both sides and maybe know how it feels. At the same time, there are plenty of people doing adoption on both sides who should give it more thought. And I am truly ashamed at the people who want to become parents through adoption who think only of themselves and what they have to do to get what they want. These kind of consumer attitude is very damaging to all, even to themselves because they are not pausing and thinking about why they are doing what they are doing. This isn't limited to this particular situation.

  33. Thank you, Anne. We certainly are in agreement more than not, and I appreciate your willingness to engage in thoughtful, respectful dialogue about the places we differ!

  34. @carrie I want to thank you for your comment, which I got in my email, but I can't find it in the list here. So if you're reading this, thanks! I don't always manage to respond to every comment on this blog, but this is such a sensitive topic. I am making my best effort to respond to all. Don't know how much longer I can keep it up though. Phew! Love the dialogue though. It's a tricky topic and I love that people have been willing to engage in mostly respectful ways.

  35. Thank you, and yes, I agree. One part of the problem, I think, is that many of us are speaking from our own place of pain, and that can get in the way of hearing the other side. Our own stuff is just so overwhelming. Anyway, thank you for engaging in discussion with me! :-)

  36. Childless not by ChoiceNovember 30, 2012 at 12:55 PM

    I was referred to your blog by a friend. I got to tell you, your blog post this isn't my favorite. It appears that you and I have several shared experiences in common. Years of infertility treatments and years of adoption attempts trying to adopt a child. We are a childless couples not by choice. And we still get all the comments about us being selfish, etc. You bio says your were successful in adoption and have a biological child. I can only imagine the joy your children bring to you. As it stands right now, it something me and my dh will never know.

    I think it just too easy to say if your infertile you must accept your fate. I know our desire to have a family has never diminished.

    So what is your answer for couples in our situation? Accept our faith seems a little short-cited. We are not the cause of all the adoption problems and I admit there are serious problems with the adoption industry. How do we accept our fate if our hearts tell us childlessness is not the answer?

  37. Thank you for your comment. I am sorry for your loss and
    struggles, and I apologize if my post has stimulate additional pain for you. I
    do not claim to have the answers. I only know that infant adoption cannot
    continue to be the answer for so many. There simply are not enough available
    infants to fill the demand. I would like to encourage people to adopt from
    foster care, where there truly is a need for parents, but I understand that that
    is not the right path for all.

  38. Something that crossed my mind reading the comments. Let's say it became a fad for people to cut off their feet. Suddenly, everyone was going around cutting off their feet and getting prosthetic feet because it was the "cool" thing to do (all the celebrities were doing it). One day, someone woke up and realized how bad the whole situation had become. There were enough prosthetic feet to go around and people were in pain. A group of people started to argue that cutting off your own foot so you could have a better life with a prosthetic foot might not be a good idea and called for reform. I highly doubt those people would object to someone who legitimately needed their foot amputated went through with it. There would still be people with prosthetic feet around. People who lost their feet to disease, accidents, warfare, etc. It happens.

    It's not the best parallel, I'll admit, but something to think about. My mother was infertile She's the type of person who was meant to be a mom. My heart hurts for her if she wasn't able to get to have kids someday. That being said, that's about my mom. That's not about me, the adoptee. Adoption should be about finding homes for children, not children for infertile couples. I think that's the point Rebecca is trying to make. Adoption involves loss. Infertile couples probably wanted a biological child. If it didn't matter, why not adopt in the first place? Why go through all those treatments and appointments and years of waiting? The PAPs/APs have to grief that biological child. There's loss there. The child looses their family, history, culture, name, pretty much everything (generally - there are exceptions). It's like cutting off a part of you (the foot perhaps?). It's painful for some, though others don't feel the pain as acutely or even at all (though many do). And natural parents loose their child. Again, some feel it more than others (or go through different stages). It's painful. There's loss. Adoption does not FIX this loss. It may make other things better for a child. And sometimes, it's needed, just like some people do need to have their foot amputated. Yet somehow people tend to miss that when we talk about adoption reform. We're not saying that no adoptions should ever take place. Instead, we're trying to say that adoption should be the last possible option after everything else is exhausted. And that adoption shouldn't be viewed as a magic solution to infertility. It's not.

    That's my $0.02 anyway.

  39. Oh, here is your comment! I replied to you in a separate comment above ... mainly just to say thanks!

  40. I've enjoyed following your blog for a long while now, and while my defenses initially went up with this post, I think we share a lot of beliefs; I like that you tackle risky subjects, and you bring up many valid points. I appreciate the way you took time to carefully consider each comment and respond to reader concerns. I fully believe adoption is about finding families for children who need them instead of finding "marketable" babies for childless couples. I fully believe in and write about openness in adoption and support reforms to the system.

    That said, I still might encourage someone to consider adoption as a way to build a family because, as you said, there is still such a huge need in foster care. There's also a need for adoption (especially of older children) abroad. And while there are too many adopters for domestic infants, I would suggest that we should encourage the development of better-educated adopters committed to openness, because for the foreseeable future, our society still has a need for adoptive parents....even for domestic infants.

    My husband and I always discussed adoption as a way to build our family for several reasons, but we planned to have a child too, because I wanted that experience. However, after a miscarriage and a year of infertility, I decided I wanted motherhood more than pregnancy. We adopted our daughter as an infant through a small local agency. We were blessed to find an ethical agency, and our daughter's birth mother was clear and determined in her decision to place.

    I hate to think I contributed to a "demand driving the industry," but maybe I did. Our daughter is biracial, and sadly, non-white babies are harder to place, especially in certain areas. In any case, now that we've faced the fears and challenges of parenthood, adoptive parenthood, open adoption, and so much else, we felt confident in further expanding our family. Now we also parent two grown boys, and we're pursuing adopting another from foster care. Our "consideration" of adoption has grown and changed over the years as we've learned and matured and altered the idea of family we had in our heads.

    I'm not sure I'm "ideally suited" to support anyone through anything, but I try, and I hope I'm one of the moms you'd be happy chose adoption. And while I don't tell my infertile friends, "Hey, you should totally adopt," I do hope that my life shows them that adoption can be a beautiful and amazing way to build a family. I think a lot of people who would potentially make wonderful adoptive parents (open, educated, committed, and ready to deal with complicated issues) don't consider adoption because of fear, misconceptions, or unfamiliarity. They just don't know what it looks like. I show up with my spunky two-year-old and my two guys and say, "Consider this. It's awesome. If I can, why not you?"

  41. Thanks, Camille. I really appreciate your thoughts on this matter, and I also really appreciate that you took the time to read everything and try to take in all that I was trying to say, rather than reacting from your initial defensiveness. I certainly consider myself someone who falls into the "fewer adoptions" or "adoption reform" category rather than the "no adoptions" camp. I've never encountered anyone who believes that children should stay with biological parents who are abusive or severely neglectful or with parents who are simply unwilling or unable to do the job. I do know some people who would prefer to see guardianship or some other option replace adoption for such situations, but while I respect that viewpoint it does not happen to be mine. Like you, I believe that adoption should be about finding parents for children who need parents, and not the other way around. And yes, you are certainly among the group of parents whose approach I appreciate. Part of what I think I hear you saying is that we may not need more adoptive parents overall, but we do need more who are truly informed about adoptee issues and what it really means to be focused on the best interest of the child. So, yes I can understand how you might want to encourage by example when you know people who would fit that description. I do this in my own way when I speak locally to groups of prospective foster-adoptive parents. And yet on the other hand, I really, really appreciated that Jenn and Rudy had that conversation early in their relationship, before even trying to conceive. And it's not that they wouldn't make great parents, or even great adoptive parents -- I suspect they would. But I loved that they were considering "living joyfully childfree" as a truly valid path right from the start. I'd like to see more young couples have that conversation, and consider that option, and I'd like for the option to have more widespread general acceptance, rather than being viewed as something "selfish" or "less than." And yet I am not saying that every young couple would or should choose that as their backup plan ... only that I like it to be a more welcomed and understood choice. I also did NOT mean to imply that people who are deep in the pain of infertility should just "be happy and get over it" (though I can understand how some got that impression). Anyway, I'm rambling on a bit now, but I do very much appreciate your thoughts on this and agree that we share much common ground.

  42. Childless not by ChoiceNovember 30, 2012 at 9:17 PM

    I curious to know if your family adopted from foster care?

    In our state/county, the director of foster care does not want adoptive parents. She feels that her efforts would be better used to reunite broken families than attempt to find permanency for children in foster care. As a result of her leadership, the federal government has fined my state's foster care system over 5 million dollars for failing to follow the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA, Public Law 105-89).

    Needless to say, we are unhappy with the leadership of our foster care system. We also looked info adopting from other states foster care systems, but have experienced many of the system barriers documented in this article:

    I applaud you for encourage couples to adopt from foster care, but it is not really that simple. Our nation's foster care system is deeply flawed.

    So again, we are not the cause of our county's foster system problems. Just like we are NOT the cause of our nation's adoption industry problems. I just want to know how do we accept our fate if our hearts tell us childlessness is not the answer?

  43. Please note that I did not say that _all_ people who struggle with infertility should choose to be childfree. I also did not at mean to imply that people who are heartbroken about being unable to have children should simply be just "be happy and get over it." That is not my belief at all. I would simply like to see _some_ people (more than are currently doing so) consider the possibilities of a childfree life. I was especially encouraged to see Jenn and Rudy considering this possibility at the very beginning of their journey, before even beginning to try to conceive. I would love to see all young couples have that conversation, but that doesn't mean I expect all couples to arrive at the same conclusion that they did. Also, I recognize that shifting to embracing a childfree lifestyle is much, much harder once one is fully invested in one's heart in the idea of family. I certainly hope that you do find a way to become a parent through foster care. I am sorry to hear about the struggles you have faced. Though I would like to see more support provided to at-risk families before kids come into care in the first place, I do not support the "reunifications at all costs" policy that your state's director seems to support. Foster care can be so hard on kids, especially when they are bouncing from home to home as many do. The permancy and stability that adoption provides can be a life-saver.

    Anyway, yes, I did adopt through foster care, and I experienced my own challenges in doing so:

    “There are … many challenges that anyone jumping into the child welfare system faces -- unresponsive agencies, paperwork, system delays, and lack of post-adoption resources, to name just a few.... But we cannot give up.” -- Rita L. Soronen, President & CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption

    I wish you luck on your journey. Trust me, I know how frustrating it can be, but if you believe there is a child waiting for you our there who needs your support to heal from trauma within the love and support of a permanent family, then, as Rita Soronen says, you cannot give up. I wish you well!

  44. hypocrisy at it's worstDecember 5, 2012 at 10:47 PM

    Interesting blog article. Mother with two children (one biological and one adoptive child) telling infertile couples to choose to live child free. Nice. I believe my grandmother used to say of folks like that: do what I say, not like I do. Or ignore folks that cannot walk the walk, but love to tell folks what to do.

    I think I'll ignore your advise.

    Thanks for the blog.

  45. Short answer: I adopted from foster care, which is actually something that I encourage in the post.

    Long answer: I believe you have misunderstood my intention. I apologize if I created the wrong impression. I did not mean to imply that no one should adopt ever, and I certainly did not view myself as advising any particular person, such as yourself, as to the choices he or she should make about family. The main points that I was trying to make are as follows. 1) I would like to see more general acceptance within our culture of the childfree lifestyle, whether that lifestyle is chosen intentionally or arrived because of infertility. 2) I would like for see an end to the glib assumption that couples dealing with infertility can "just adopt," as if it were as simple solution without a down-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 choosin childfree. (I do understand that all will not reach the same conclusion as Jenn and Rudy, 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; this _does_ need to be addressed somehow. I don't claim to have all the answers, but I wanted to start the discussion.

    Since you have accused me of hypocrisy, please note that I adopted my daughter at age 9 from foster care. In this post I suggested foster-care adoption as a possible alternative to infant adoption. I understand that this may not be the right path for everyone, but my own actions are actually consistent with what I have written in the post.

    You may think that I have no right to comment to on infertility because I myself did not experience it, but I urge you to 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 (a culture of 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. 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" 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 adoption's also occur within a cultural context. I am calling on us to examine that context; this post focused on one part of it that I believe needs to be questioned and that is the insidious cultural belief that people, and especially women, who do not have children are somehow lacking or "less than." My intention was to raise up "child free" as a more valid option. I apologize if it seemed like I was therefore suggesting that I considered it to be the only valid option for people struggling with infertility. It was not my intention to do so. For those who remain convinced that adoption is the path for them, I encourage consideration of foster adoption or at the very least to seek out an ethical adoption agency that keeps the focus on the serving needs of the child, rather than the desires of the parents or the profits of the agency. For adoption to be ethical, it must be about finding parents for children who really need them, not about finding babies for people who want to be parents.

  46. For more on the subject of finding an ethical adoption agency (or more specifically, avoiding those that aren't), I recommend the following resource:


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