We’ve been told since childhood to aim high–set your goals at lofty levels and then work to achieve them. Don’t settle for second best. I tell my kids the same. “It never hurts to try for the _______(team, scholarship, part in the play, job).” “Work hard and try for what you want.” It’s not a part of our societal mantra to sing the praises of settling for our second choice, but sometimes in life we have to settle because our first choice simply isn’t an option. But what if we’re talking about creating your family. Now, that’s another kettle of fish entirely. Is it OK to settle “for second best”. Is it fair–to you or to the child?
I received a call from one of my consulting clients a couple of weeks ago. We had worked together twice exploring their options for adoption. They had originally wanted to adopt from China, but after getting information on their options and given the specifics of their situation, they had finally decided to pursue a domestic adoption. But now, a couple of weeks into living with that decision, she called and said she had doubts. She really wanted to adopt from China and didn’t want to settle for something else. Another person I consulted with came to me after their third failed IVF using the wife’s own eggs to help sort out their options of using donor eggs, donor embryo, or adoption. At the end of our consultation they were leaning towards using donated embryos. The wife ended our consultation by saying that she guessed she could settle for donated embryos. Another time, a woman came up to me after I gave a speech at an adoption conference to say that her parents thought she and her husband were settling by adopting, and they even offered to pay for one more round of infertility treatment.
The Slippery Slope of Settling
The word “settle” is pretty innocuous by itself, but the truth, whether spoken or not, is that the rest of the phrase is “for second best”. Compromise is a part of daily life. We all have to settle for our second choice from big decisions, such as the college where we were accepted, to inconsequential choices, such as the restaurant where we could get reservations. But when settling for second involves bringing a child into a family, I get worried.
Given the nature of what I do, most of the people I talk with are in the process of evaluating Plan B. That’s not to say that adoption, or even donor gamete or embryo, is always a second choice, but it often is. This is simply the reality for most people. But I believe to the depth of my soul that all children that come into a family either through adoption or donor egg or embryo deserve to be first best, not second. This is easy to say, but how does this work, when in fact, this method of creating your family wasn’t your first choice? And what if you feel like all your available choices are second best? Does this mean you shouldn’t move forward?
If you grew up thinking that you would fall in love, get married, wait two to three years, then have a baby, it’s a shock to realize that it isn’t always that easy. All alternative options feel like your second choice. Duh, that is exactly what they are, and you’d be delusional to think otherwise. But, and this is the important part, this doesn’t mean that they have to remain second best.
When you have to fill in a building lot with dirt, you wait a while to let the new soil settle before you start construction. The new dirt needs some time to move and shift before it can support a building. This same type of gradual adjustment is often necessary with alternative family building plans.
How to Move Forward with Plan B or Should You?
It seems to me that the best approach is to get as much information as possible about your options for creating your family, then live with them for a while. Allow yourself to feel the disappointment, the anger, and the frustration with not getting what you wanted. Life’s not fair, and it’s OK to be mad. But while you are ticked, keep gathering information about your options. Talk with people, online or in person, who have lived those options. Be open to the possibility that your feeling of disappointment or settling for second best may diminish, to be replaced by a feeling of acceptance, and just maybe a little bit of excitement. When you reach the point that Plan B is different, but not necessarily inferior, from Plan A, then you’re ready to move forward. If however, the feeling of settling for second best doesn’t lift, you need to reconsider whether to proceed–for yourself and especially for the future child.
The first couple had initially been adamant that the only country they wanted to adopt from was China, but had been equally determined that they did not want to wait three to five years to become parents. After living with their decision to move to domestic adoption and not finding acceptance, they were ready to consider other country options. They now have their dossier in line for China, and are expecting a referral of a son from Kazakhstan this summer. (This was when that was a more viable option.) I received an email saying they were ecstatic. With the second couple, I strongly encouraged them to live with the idea of embryo adoption and play with it in their imagination. I gave them resources to read about this option, a list of online embryo adoption support groups, and the name of a family formed through embryo adoption that had agreed to talk with them about this possibility. Last I heard, they were still learning more and holding off on deciding, which seems like the best plan for now. I never heard what happened to the family whose parents offered to pay for another round of IVF, but from what she told me that day, she and her husband didn’t feel like there was anything second best about adoption, so I hope they are proceeding.
It’s unrealistic and unhelpful to tell people that feeling like they are settling is a bad thing. It often is the reality, at least initially, in their decision making process. Sometimes in life Plan A doesn’t work out, but rather than “settling” for Plan B, maybe you just need time to reassess what Plan A should be given the realities of your situation.
Now, be honest, at first did adoption or donor egg, sperm or embryo feel like you were settling for second best?