Sitting as I do with one foot in the infertility world and one foot in the adoption world, a question I hear a lot from people is whether they have to stop infertility treatment before they can apply to adopt. I suspect adoption agencies and social workers don’t hear this question as much since most people aren’t comfortable asking them this question. Quite frankly, it is a bit of a sensitive hot topic in adoption circles.
Over the years (Gulp, that sure makes me sound old!), I have talked with many adoption experts and therapists about this question, and there is disagreement about the advisability of continuing to pursue infertility treatment and adoption at the same time. Those that oppose pursuing both are concerned that on some level (perhaps unconsciously) you will consider adoption second best. They view continuing treatment as a red flag that you have not come to terms with your infertility losses and may have trouble bonding with your adopted child. The financial drain of pursuing both may also put undue stress on the family. Others do not think pursuing infertility treatment and adoption are mutually exclusive and that it is possible to pursue both without lessening your commitment to either.
I have mixed feelings. While I see it as possible to pursue both in an emotionally healthy way, I also think that it’s harder than most people anticipate. Infertility treatment is all consuming—emotionally and financially. As long as you are in treatment, there is still hope, and as long as there is hope, you have not had to come to terms with all the losses that infertility presents. Infertility is not just the loss of being a parent; it is also the loss of having a genetic connection to your child, the loss of being pregnant, the loss of the opportunity to breastfeed, the loss of seeing the “perfect” mixing of your and your spouse’s genes, and the loss of your dream about how your life would play out. Adoption only addresses the loss of being a parent, not all the other issues you need to grieve. It is not until you stop treatment that many of these losses hit you full force. Before that point, they are just theoretical. I’m here to tell you that there is a world of difference between a theoretical loss and a real loss.
From my experience, it takes time and commitment after fertility treatment stops to work through the various losses associated with infertility. It also takes time and commitment to pursue an adoption. You owe it to yourself to work through your infertility grief, but mostly you owe it to your soon-to-be child to do this work. You also owe it to yourself and your child to not get pregnant right before or right after she comes home. In an ideal world every child deserves the limelight alone for a little while. If you decide to pursue both, seriously consider talking with a therapist who specializes in infertility to make sure you are really ready to whole heartedly parent an adopted child. No child deserves to be anything but first in his parents’ eyes.
P.S. I strongly recommend the fabulous book Adopting: Sound Choices, Strong Families by Patricia Irwin Johnston. The first part of that book addresses the various losses of infertility and suggests a plan to help you work through your grief and decide if adoption is right for you. I also recommend this Creating a Family show on Transitioning from Infertility Treatment to Adoption. (Read Highlights or Listen/Download.)