once you adopt you are sure to get pregnant

If you’re infertile, when you tell people that you’re stopping fertility treatment and moving to adoption, you will almost be guaranteed to hear some variation of “you’ll get pregnant after you adopt.”

People don’t mean it maliciously; in fact, they usually mean it kindly – as a way of giving you hope. Regardless of the intent, the comment rankles for so many different reasons.

Is It True?

We’ve all heard that adoption makes it more likely that infertile women will conceive naturally, but is it true? Everyone it seems knows someone who has become pregnant after adopting, or at least knows someone who knows someone, and you are sure to hear about everyone of them. But is there any truth to the pervasive myth?

The answer is surprisingly hard to come by.

The statistic that I’ve seen most often is that 8% of adoptive parents will conceive after adoption. However, that statistic comes from a study published in 1970, long before the modern medical advances in treating infertility. My search for more current research has not found much. Any research on this topic would need to consider the fact that some people choose to adopt even though they are not infertile and an increasing number of adoptive parents are going back into infertility treatment after adopting.

While not directly answering the question of whether adoption increases the likelihood of conception, I thought it would be helpful to know how often a spontaneous pregnancy occurs after stopping fertility treatment. Again, there is not a lot of research, but at least there is more than research on pregnancy after adoption.

Research published in 2012 found that that 17 percent of women who became pregnant and gave birth after in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment became pregnant again without treatment within six years. For women who were unsuccessful with IVF, 24% became pregnant on their own after stopping treatment. Other recent research has found that 16% of infertile women conceive naturally after stopping treatment.

I strongly suspect that those who become pregnant after adoption fall within these percentages of spontaneous pregnancy. Depending on your infertility diagnosis, if you have enough sex at the right times you may end up pregnant. If you’ve adopted in the meantime, people will smile and say they just knew it would happen.

Perpetuating the Myth that Infertility is Cured by Relaxing

I believe one of the reasons that this statement is so offensive to the infertile is that it implies that the reason you will get pregnant after adopting is because you finally relaxed. Nothing drives someone who is infertile crazier than being told to “just relax”.

Infertility is a disease, and relaxing seldom cures diseases. We know that stress does not prevent conception. There is no more stressful conception environment than rape, and rape victims do get pregnant. Research reported by the National Institute of Health reports that the national rape-related pregnancy rate is 5.0% per rape among victims of reproductive age, compared to a 20% pregnancy rate for healthy fertile 30 year olds.  Clearly if stress was a major factor at work in preventing conception, this statistic would be far lower.

Now here’s where it get a little tricky – relaxing is good for your overall health. Good overall health improves your odds of being cured of many diseases, including infertility and cancer.

There have been several studies that show that mind/body work and use of relaxation techniques can improve success rate of IVF, just as there are studies that show that relaxation techniques can help with cancer treatment. This is NOT the same as saying that relaxing is the cure for infertility, just like relaxing won’t cure cancer. Nor is it the infertility patient’s fault that they are infertile because they are not relaxed, just like it isn’t the cancer patient`s fault that they have cancer because they are not relaxed.

Disrespectful to the Parents

When people tell you that you’re sure to get pregnant, they are often implying that this is or should be your motive for adopting. No self-respecting moderately caring parent would ever use a child in such a manner. It is beyond wrong on so many different levels. People should adopt because they want to parent a child. Period.

Adopted Kids Aren’t a Means to an End

The person who this myth hurts the most is the adopted child. Who wants to think of themselves as a cure for some disease? Who wants to believe that their highest worth is to help their parents achieve their real goal of having “a child of their own”? Every child deserves to be an end to himself – a magical miracle that will enrich the lives of both his families.

Killing the Myth

Feel free to quote the statistics I’ve given and even to share this link, but I don’t expect that it will do much good. The myth of the magical fertility juju that adoption bestows is like the fabled Hydra in Greek mythology – you might cut of one head, but it’ll likely just grow two more.

People are suckers for stories with a twist, especially if the twist leads to a happy ending. Your best bet is to come up with a safe response along the lines of: “We would certainly welcome a child by birth, but it is actually no more likely now that we’ve adopted, and we can’t imagine being any happier than we are with this child we have right now.”

Other Creating a Family resources you will enjoy:

Have you been told that you’ll get pregnant now that you’ve adopted? What do you say?


First published in 2014; Updated in 2016
Image credit:Philippe Put