Dear Abby Doesn't Have a Clue about Adoption or Infertility
Be careful when giving advice to infertile friends.

I thought I had seen it all.  I thought I was beyond being surprised by ignorance, but then I saw the Dear Abby column last week where she answered a letter from a “friend” who opposed the idea of an adoption fundraiser for a couple who had spent all their money on four failed IVF cycles and now couldn’t afford to adopt.  Dear Abby, in her infinite wisdom, suggested that fostering is the “perfect solution” to infertility and the inability to afford adoption.  Seriously?!? Is that the best she could do?!? Doesn’t she have a fact checker or someone in charge of stupidity control?  Well, as you would imagine, I felt compelled to write an alternative response.

The Letter

DEAR ABBY: My best friend “Zoe” is unable to have children. She tried in vitro four times without success. The doctors told her there’s nothing else they can do.

Zoe and her husband have decided to adopt. However, it is very expensive and all of their savings went toward the IVF treatments. Zoe’s mom wants to have a benefit to raise money for them. I am against the idea because, in my opinion, benefits are given for something you don’t choose (like cancer or a house fire). Adopting a child is a choice.

I live paycheck-to-paycheck as it is, and I don’t feel comfortable donating to this cause. What if they change their minds after the benefit or the adoption doesn’t work out? What will they do with the money then?

Is what they’re planning acceptable? I know I’ll be talked about by Zoe and her mother if I don’t contribute. — Friend in Conflict

Dear Abby’s Response

Dear Friend in Conflict: Whether Zoe and her mother retaliate by gossiping about you is beside the point. I see nothing wrong with a benefit.  If Zoe and her husband can’t afford to adopt a baby, another option they might consider is becoming foster parents. There are thousands of children who need good homes and loving parents and that, to me, would be the perfect solution. Please suggest it to them. If you are living paycheck-to-paycheck, then you do not have money to donate to this cause or any other right now.

My Response

Dear Friend In Conflict:

Your best friend Zoe is suffering from the disease of infertility.  She most assuredly did not choose to have this disease. And while adoption is not a “cure” for infertility, it is a cure for one of the most devastating aspects of this disease—the loss of being able to parent.  Since you brought up the analogies of cancer and house fires, I’ll try to explain it in those terms.  Let’s say Zoe had cancer of the sinuses and the treatment to save her life left her face functioning, but horribly disfigured.  Would you say that it is wrong to have a benefit to raise money for the reconstructive surgery?  After all, repairing her face is a choice, not a necessity, right? Or let’s say Zoe lost her house in a fire and is living in a tiny efficiency apartment.  Would you be against a benefit to raise money for a new house?  After all, living in a house rather than an efficiency apartment is a choice, right?  Wrong on both counts.

Infertility is a disease that affects so many aspects of life.  Some people have little desire to parent, so this disease is less devastating. But for others, being a parent is central to their life.  They crave the experience, the inclusion in the mommy circle, the Thanksgiving table surrounded by kids and grandkids, the continuity of love and caring from parent to child and child to parent.  For these women, infertility is devastating.  Research has shown that the stress levels of infertile women are equivalent to women with cancer or AIDS.

Fostering vs. Adopting

Please, please, please do not heed Dear Abby’s “advice” to suggest fostering as the “perfect solution” to infertility or the inability to afford adoption.  Her ignorance is frightening.  There are a couple of problems with her suggestion.  First, while she is right, that most communities are in need of good foster parents, she is dead wrong when she implied that it is the same as adopting.  Adoption is becoming a real forever parent to a child who will become your real forever child–a child you will raise and be involved with for life. The child you will worry over developmental milestone, schlepp around to after school activities, buy the first bra or razor for, and survive the teen years. Your involvement will continue for life.  You will host her graduation parties, laugh with him at holiday dinners, and attend the christening of her children. This child will be there will the tide of caring turns.   He will worry about you driving alone at night, your health, and whether you should still live alone. While this sometimes happens with foster parents, it is the exception not the rule. Foster parents step in during times of crisis while social services work to heal the family unit so the child can return home.  Foster care is vital for children and we need good foster parents desperately, but it is not meant to be permanent; in fact, there are strong governmental incentives to prohibit foster placement from becoming permanent.  It is possible to adopt from foster care and that is a terrific and inexpensive way to become a real and permanent parent, but that is not the same as being a foster parent.

Dangers of Giving Advice to the Infertile or Prospective Adopter

You could suggest adopting from the foster care system, but that brings me to the second big problem with Ms. Abby’s off kilter advice.  I suspect Zoe already knows about this option. In fact, I suspect she knows a whole lot more than you and Ms. Abby combined about every aspect of adoption because it is likely all that she thinks about right now.  It is what she spends her time researching and talking about in online adoption groups.  There is nothing more irritating that having someone who knows practically nothing about a subject that is of vital importance to you trying to educate you.

But then, surely as Zoe’s best friend, you know all of this.  You know about the almost unbearable sadness she has experienced through the years of failed infertility treatment.  You know that being a parent is probably the most important thing in her life right now.  You know about her current obsession with all things adoption.  If you don’t know this, you might want to take a moment to consider why not.  Could it be because Zoe is not sure you would be supportive, or that you would judge, or simply not get it?  Infertility is a lonely, sad, scary place.  Those who are stuck there need support and understanding, especially from their best friend.  You might want to check out the Creating a Family resource page to help family and friends understand infertility.

My Suggestion to Friends of the Infertile

So Friend In Conflict, here’s what I suggest.  Fix Zoe a nice inexpensive dinner and profusely apologize for your lack of involvement and understanding about her infertility struggles.  Ask her to tell you how it felt to receive the devastating diagnosis, to experience the emotional rolls of hormone injections, to try not to hope too much before each cycle so that the it won’t hurt quite so much when it fails.  Ask her to educate you about adoption. What options is she considering?  Listen as she weighs the pros and the cons of each type of adoption. If you listen hard enough, she might even share her fear that somehow this dream too will be yanked from her grasp.  Lastly, tell her that you are sorry that you are so strapped for cash that you can’t help her financially, but that you would love to help with the benefit in any way.  In fact, as her best friend, you insist on taking on one of the major tasks that doesn’t involve money, such as cleanup or decorating.

Etiquette of Adoption Benefits

I’m not exactly sure why you would expect the etiquette for an adoption benefit to be any different from any other benefit, or for that matter, from the typical bridal shower–if you change your mind, you return the gifts/money.  So long as the money is spent on the intended purpose (treatment for cancer or adoption of a child), no one should expect their money back if the treatment fails or the adoption “doesn’t work out”.


Image credit:  Ahoova