Did you think that once you adopted, the pain and disappointment of infertility would melt away? What about if through the miracle of sperm donation, egg donation or embryo donation you were able to experience the physical aspects, such as pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. Surely then, infertility would become a distant memory. Right? Maybe, but just as likely, maybe not.
“I thought I was living my dream. I have 2 perfect kids one from international adoption, one domestic adoption. I love them more than life itself. But yesterday at the park when all the other moms were comparing their pregnancy and labor stories, I felt this wave of sadness, followed by anger at my body for depriving me of so much. I took me by surprise. I have what I wanted-kids-I thought I was past all the infertility cr_p.”
“I have twins born to me from the miracle of egg donation. They are wonderful and we are all doing well. Except when I get a baby shower invitation or baby announcement. I feel angry that they get to experience this so easily when I had to work so hard. I’m angry because they can’t appreciate what a gift they’ve been given that has been withheld from me. I realize that I’m still stuck in the infertility world.”
And then I saw this beautifully written piece by an adoptive mama at On Loan from Heaven:
“I look in the face of my baby every single day and THANK GOD that I didn’t get pregnant. I wouldn’t change my life for anything in the world…. anything! …But …, I am also painfully aware every single day that my body doesn’t work the way it ‘should’. I remember every single day the struggle we went through to grow our family and I remember why we went through it…. because I’m infertile (I really hate that word but what else is it called?!?). I still feel the gentle pang in the part of my heart that would love to experience pregnancy…. not because a pregnancy would give me a child any different or more special than the one I have, but because women’s bodies were created to bear children. It’s in the Bible, for goodness sakes and MY body just can’t figure it out! I want to know what a baby feels like when he/she moves in my belly and as weird as it sounds, I want to feel contractions and labor and that moment when you witness your child’s first breath… .[She writes well, and I recommend that you read the rest of this post and subscribe to her blog feed.]”
The Losses of Infertility Just Keep Piling On
Infertility is an insidious disease. It robs you of more than just the opportunity to parent. It also can take away your dreams of pregnancy, your dreams of child birth and breast feeding, your dreams of biologically continuing your family line, and your dreams of your perfect child that is the perfect combination of both you and your spouse. Adoption addresses only one of the many losses associated with infertility– the loss of raising a child. Conception through egg or sperm donation addresses a few more, but you may still be left with grieving what might have been.
Triggers for the Pain
There are some predictable triggers:
- Pregnancy and labor war stories.
- Baby showers.
- “Who does that baby/child look like?”
- Facebook pregnant belly pics.
- Realizing that your child does not share your musical or athletic talents, and that you won’t have the bond over this shared activity that you always dreamed of.
- “You’re not my real mom” shouted by an angry teen.
- And this one from Pat Johnston’s essay mentioned below that struck a chord in me since my kids are at this stage: Taking your son to college or moving him into his own apartment, feeling a stab of worry about whether the connection is tight enough to ensure that he will indeed come home.
Resolving Your Grief
Before deciding to adopt or use donor gametes or embryos, take the time you need to come to terms with or resolve your grief over being infertile. The decision to adopt or use donor egg, sperm, or embryos should be a process not an event. One of my biggest concerns with fertility medical professionals is that they often treat egg or embryo donation as simply the next step up the infertility treatment ladder, with no more thought given to it than another IVF cycle.
Resolution does not necessarily mean that the grief entirely goes away, but it’s a matter of degrees. How intense and how often are your feelings of loss? Pat Johnston, in a great essay, “Infertility and Aftershocks“, argues that we should be proactive addressing the grief. Don’t wait around assuming it will just go away. Get help. Join support groups. Talk with others who’ve walked this path before.
No Need for Shame
There is no shame in feeling sad and angry. These feelings need not be a betrayal of the love you feel towards the kids that you have through the blessing of adoption or donor gametes or embryo. Parenting outside of your gene pool is different from parenting children from your genes– not worse, not second best, just different. Your child, regardless how she joins your family, deserves parents who want her for who she is, not because she is all they can get.
What are your triggers for your infertility grief? What have you done to help move past this loss?Image credit: Jeremy Kunz
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wow, not even a consideration for what the person you adopted or created might feel, growing up with no genetic links. Everything you might feel times 100.
Though this post is aimed at folks who are in the midst of the infertility struggle, it’s important to note that we do offer quite a few resources for those who have gone on to parent children either by adoption or by other means. We have many kinds of resources that offer support for how to talk to kids about the nature of their conception, such as this one: http://ow.ly/e0vk30nxNnO
We also offer fantastic book lists – as we believe that children’s books are a great conversation starter for helping children understand what might be “big ideas” or “big feelings” of life: http://ow.ly/TVwQ30nxNA3
Thanks for thinking of the kids.
I’m not sure I would use the word “cure” for the effect that finally becoming a parent through alternate means would have on my/my husband’s infertility. When I think about that far off day (in the hopefully NOT TOO distant future), the word that keeps coming to mind in terms of the infertility is “remission”. As of right now, there is no definitive “cure” for cancer, but the therapies and treatments that exist can put a person’s cancer into remission so that it no longer dominates their body’s systems and threatens their survival. Remission can be a life-affirming state for those who have been diagnosed with cancer and who have had the chance to fight it with the tools at our society’s disposal, because, even if there is always the possibility that the cancer could once again become a present reality, there is also something life-giving to build upon here in the present as well.
This is how I look at the alternate means of becoming a parent (assisted reproductive technology and/or adoption)-as a way for my husband and I to become parents. Hopefully once this day comes, the IF that had dominated our day to day life-both practically and emotionally-will recede into the background and thereby go into remission. I’m sure that there will be days when it will hurt to be reminded of the path we have had to travel, especially when we encounter those who were able to follow the easy path to parenthood with nary a detour or stop sign in their path, but if we are blessed to become parents to a child who we are able to love for who he/she is-we will love any child who comes to us more than life itself, but we will probably not feel as affectionate towards the path that IF forced us to walk in order to get to where he/she is-I am hoping that we will be able to enjoy our present reality of being parents to this wonderful child, instead of being overly haunted by the past or paralyzed with fear of what the future may or may not hold for us as a family. I am hoping that when those triggers rear their ugly heads, we will be feel those twinges of envy or regret and then let them pass, as we dedicate ourselves to the love and care of the child we will be honoured to be able to call ours.
“Parenting outside of your gene pool is different from parenting children from your genes– not worse, not second best, just different”. Thank you for saying this!!!
After I adopted my little guy almost all my infertility sadness and pain was gone. I don’t have the sadness and jealousy like I use to. Pregnant women don’t make me sad. God placed my baby in my life and he healed a broken heart!
I honestly think it depends on how attached you are/were to the idea of pregnancy and/or biological children. I never really cared about either, so that’s not an open wound for me. I just wanted a family.
Amber, thanks for making the point that not everyone craves the pregnancy experience.
For me, I had always felt that I wanted to experience everything in life, including being pregnant and giving birth, but after bringing my beautiful daughter home from Vietnam, I realized that if I had gotten pregnant I would have missed out on the experience of adopting! And, after returning from showing my now 13 year old daughter her birth country and meeting her birth family, those are experiences I would have missed out on if I had gotten pregnant. Every person is different, so everybody has to do what is right for them.
Yes Deb!! I often think of what I would have missed if I had’t adopted.
Yup, nope. No cure. Becoming a parent takes care of the desire to be a parent. That ain’t nuthin’. But, it doesn’t make organs work or biology cooperate. It doesn’t stop wistful sighs when you hear of someone pregnant on the first try. It doesn’t change that you need to find within yourself the truth that being infertile doesn’t make you less of a man or a woman.
It also doesn’t stop you wanting to throttle the author who took an awesome and strong female character who was infertile, who wrestled with it, who got married and had to go through second layers of resolution with her spouse, who finds peace, and who then, in the last chapter of the final book is revealed to have been cured of her infertility by a magical f’n mushroom. Not that I’m bitter about that. Nope, not me.
Clearly, I need to read more–what book are you referring to?
It’s a fantasy series called the Codex Alera by Jim Butcher. Six books long, sorry, not five. Still annoyed with him, and it’s been a few years at least since I read it.
Ughh! I can already tell I wouldn’t enjoy it. I’m not that into fantasy–and curing infertility with a magic mushroom (or relaxing, or adopting, or…) is pure fantasy!
I read in a journal article from The Psychological Impact of Infertility this observation: “The medicalization of infertility has unwittingly led to a disregard for the emotional responses that couples experience…”
I couldn’t agree more. There’s a huge need to help couples work through their anger, sadness and related emotions after infertility, which as you point out, can surface when we least expect it. The “disenfranchised grief” and triggers in the wake of infertility can feel like death by a thousand cuts. What I’ve learned is that it is only through active grieving and validation from those around us that I’ve been able to successfully manage through infertility losses. I wrote recently about Post-Traumatic Growth in this blog post:
Pamela-beautiful essay! And so very true, too.
No. Tell that to all those still in pain AFTER the adoption process is “successful”. While there may be services for couples before / during the process, there such be high quality services made readily available after placement, too. Just because an adoptive couple has their couple does not = happiness forever. In American culture, we are SURROUNDED / INUNDATED with messages / pictures / movies which extol the virtue of being pregnant…. what does that say about the woman who cannot? the man who cannot help? the couple who cannot?
Ryan, I hear you. In some ways it feels like our society is more pregnancy obsessed than I’ve even seen it. Maybe it’s just my skewed perspective, but all the women’s mag seem to glamorize the pregnant body right now. I do think the pregnant body is worth celebrating, not hiding, but it just makes it all the harder for those who want to be pregnant, but can’t. And yes, you are right that it would be nice if more support was available for those after adoption or conception through donor gametes or embryos. But hey, that part of why Creating a Family exists, to provide that support, so at least that’s something, right?!?
I am definitely triggered when someone makes a comment on how Baby X looks like me. Even if it’s just a stranger who doesn’t know he’s adopted, and there’s no need to tell them he’s adopted because I’ll never see them again, it really bothers me. I have a few friends who are trying to get pregnant now, and I’m sure at least a couple of them will sail through no problem. It will be interesting to deal with the inevitable baby boom, especially when we are waiting to adopt a second time.
Well, of course adopting a baby didn’t fix the fact that my husband and I cannot conceive and will never have a biological child together. However, for me, having that baby has healed my broken heart, and I no longer suffer from all the pain of infertility and miscarriage. In fact, I rejoice in being *free* from all that. Beyond even that, I am *grateful* for all that pain and suffering – for every single failed cycle, test, procedure, awkward coupling, tear, and rage against the universe. Because without all of that I wouldn’t have my precious little son. ♥
I will add though that my perspective is likely helped by the fact that I do have an older biological child. I have been pregnant. I have given birth. I have nursed. I have not missed out on that in this life. Additionally, because of already having a child by birth I am able to know with *absolute certainty* that I am not missing anything with my child through adoption. That the love is the just as fierce. I don’t have to wonder about that.
I love your blog. You have the uncanny knack for writing about the issue I’m dealing with. I await your newsletter each Tuesday and Friday so I can read it. I have been feeling so guilty about feeling sad bacause my totally perfect son is not from my genes. No one talked to me before we did donor egg that I might have these feelings. That these feeling were normal and not a sign that I was bad mother. Thank you for addressing it.
Thank you for being so honest. I feel the same way and have felt terrible about it. All the donor fertility group messages I’ve had are so positive they don’t acknowledge that the grief persists. Of course I love my sons and of course I’m incredibly lucky to have them but sometimes breaks my heart that they are not genetically mine.