“Anyone Can Be a Parent” & Other Myths of Infertility

Dawn Davenport

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Despite what Mrs. Utah says, I’m not so sure that anyone can be a parent if they really want to be. Oh, if only wishing could make it so!

Despite what Mrs. Utah says, I’m not so sure that anyone can be a parent if they really want to be. Oh, if only wishing could make it so!

One of our Creating a Family community sent me a link to an article about the woman who won the Mrs. Utah title.  Prior to having two children, she suffered from infertility and five miscarriages, and she is using the publicity around her title to bring awareness to infertility.  The article provided good basic infertility information and ended with Mrs. Utah saying, “Anyone who wants to be a parent can be, but we can reach out and help the ones who aren’t yet.” Our community member took exception to that line because she thinks it perpetuates the myth that infertility is always curable.

She went on to say that not everyone who want to be a parent will be able.  “My husband and I have experienced 7 miscarriages with no explanation after exhausting testing. We are fertile since we can achieve pregnancy on our own and via ART, but unable to carry a baby to term, thus, our diagnosis is ‘recurrent pregnancy loss’. We are in the process of adoption, but know there are many challenges ahead of us and in the end we know we may not be parents.”

Balancing Optimism with Reality

She raises a good point, and one we wrestle with at Creating a Family–call it the optimism/reality balance.   It is quiet true that not everyone will be able to give birth, but with enough money, technology, and third party assistance, most people could eventually be successful at becoming a parent through infertility treatment.  With enough money and/or ability to parent a wide range of children, the vast majority of people can also adopt.  But the hard truth is that not everyone has the money for surrogacy, donor egg, or repeated cycles of IVF.  Not everyone is comfortable with increasing levels of technology or third party assistance.  Not everyone is able to adopt an older child or a child that carries the emotional scars from abuse or neglect.  Not everyone can handle the uncertainties that are inherent with adoption.  So, our emailer is right, the hard truth is that not everyone who wants to parent will be able to.  Just wanting it is not enough.

Public Misperceptions about Infertility

I still think infertility awareness to those outside of the infertility world is vital because the misperception and lack of sympathy for those suffering from this disease continue to amaze me.  Check the comments on just about any article on infertility, and you’ll see a few “Why don’t they just adopt” or “They can have mine” or  “Not everyone is meant to parent, get over it” type comments.  This lack of compassion literally takes my breath away.  So, my question to you is how can we bring awareness and education without bringing false hope or perpetuating the myth that success is just around the corner if you only try hard enough?

Image credit: Evelynized

26/07/2011 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Blog, Infertility, Infertility Blog | 32 Comments



32 Responses to “Anyone Can Be a Parent” & Other Myths of Infertility

  1. Kristen says:

    Not sure the answer to your question, but thanks for bringing this up. People tell me (even people who’ve struggled very hard to have a child) that one day I WILL have my baby, but I just don’t in my gut believe that is necessarily true. We’ve tried so hard/long and are not there yet, and I’m not positive this is going to have a happy ending. It may end with me figuring out a way to make peace with the fact that a baby/child is not in the cards for us…

    • Dawn says:

      Kristen, I think I know what you mean. When I am in the midst of a crisis of some sort, it is simply not helpful for someone to tell me that it will all be fine. They don’t know that. They can’t know that. Is somehow feels dismissive of my pain.

  2. Kelly Byrne Weishaar says:

    Tera…I do certainly understand what you are saying. My thoughts on posting that in response to the phrase Lynne used was that it sounds disrespectful. If she and her partner are going to consider adoption, they need to be loving and accepting of their child’s birth parents. Whatever circumstance, or feelings behind the birth parents desire to do adoption, you need to think of them and speak of them in respectful, loving terms. The use of the phrase “knocked up” does not convey respect or a readiness to accept this aspect of becoming a parent through adoption. Even if the birth parents are “lost souls,” you owe it to them and to your child. My son is 3 and 1/2 and my daughter is 2 years old. We have been on the parenting journey for a while and certainly do understand the wide variety of opinions people have on adoption. Thanks!

  3. Kelly Byrne Weishaar says:

    I certainly understand the need for hope….but your comment about adoption struck a nerve. Adoption is much, much more positive than finding “a girl who unwantingly got knocked up.” That makes the child sound unwanted….they are very much wanted, even if the birth mother/father can’t parent, they care enough to go through a difficult process to find that child a good life. If you are ever to consider adoption, one of the most important things is to love and respect the people who brought your child into the world. We just finalized our daughter’s adoption today and I can’t thank her birth parents enough for the gift they have given us.

  4. Maura says:

    I have been through IVF, DE IVF, and am now in the early stages of the adoption process. Once on a fertility board, in response to a post, a moderator asked others not to respond to me and others in similar situations by saying “it will happen for you someday” because the reality was that for some of us it would never happen. I found that comment to be surprisingly freeing. It acknowledged that all of the cheerleading in the world could not guarantee that my dreams would come though and, thereby, helped validate my grief.
    My answer to this issue is that we need to stress that infertility is a disease. I think the general public does not truly understand that. And, like other diseases, some people will beat it and some will mead to learn to live with it. Staying positive may help people to keep striving towards a positive outcome, but it in no way guarantees success.
    I agree with Sara and Dawn`s statements that infertility is a major life stress. As someone who has been diagnosed with both infertility and cancer within the past few years, for me the infertility may have been the more difficult blow.

    • Maura- beautifully said. I especially understood your statement:[It acknowledged that all of the cheerleading in the world could not guarantee that my dreams would come though and, thereby, helped validate my grief.]

  5. tera says:

    Thanks Kelly. Yes, I was just reminding us all how it feels to be afraid of the unknown. Of course your experience has been great and you have a wonderful birth mother. But that’s not always the case and we hear a lot of stories about birth parents who don’t want their children. That is a reality. Respecting someone for placing their child for adoption is a very difficult thing to do at times for someone who is infertile. Being grateful however comes naturally. However I don’t think disrespecting is right either. I’m not sure I agree that it’s disrespectful to say “got knocked up.” That’s what happened, right?

  6. tera says:

    Keiko,

    I’ve been where you are at, except the issue was my husband’s sperm and my age, which was 38 when we realized my husbans’s sperm was the issue, was not in our favor either. The chance they gave us on our own was 1%. Unfortunately we didn’t believe them. We chose to keep going at it. I don’t know why we were so unwilling to face our truth, but I also applaud you for going after what you want in the midst of facing the truth of your reality. I wish I had been as wise. We waited too long and then tried IVF. We don’t know for sure if IVF would have ever worked. But there is a much higher chance that it would have if we would have taken reproduction more as a science than we did. We didn’t respect how difficult it really is to get pregnant. Now we will never have a biological child and for me it has been devastating.

  7. Waiting Mother says:

    After choosing adoption over surrogacy with donated embryos, I sometimes wonder which is the better choice. We are coming up on the third year of one adoption process and two years on another process and still not a single child in our home. Wanting to be a parent does not make you a parent. Any path chosen to parenthood is not an easy one. No path is guaranteed a child. While we are going through our adoption processes, my best friend is going through infetility treatments. We do not know who will become a parent first or if either path will end in parenthood. Should either of us not achieve parenthood while the other does, we must support each other during the loss. We have both talked with our spouses about remaining childless and currently this is still much pain with that path. We both have hope and all we can do for now is continue to hope. No one can just “try harder” or “just adopt”.

  8. Keiko says:

    Dawn, this is an excellent post, one that I’ve even shared with my writing group b/c I found your closing question so moving and simultaneously baffling as I’ve tried to think of a response since I first read this yesterday.

    I can understand how Mrs. Utah’s statement can come across as minimizing the expense – physically, financially, and emotionally – that those in the ALI community face when trying to bring a child into their lives, IVF, adoption, or otherwise. As an advocate for infertility awareness, I had to give Mrs. Utah some credit though – she’s taken a highly sensitive and often culturally silenced topic and given it a very public platform. And while to some degree she’s her own brand of pageant celebrity now with her new title as Mrs. Utah, it’s still nice to see “regular” people share their ALI experiences as opposed to celebrities in the name of infertility awareness-raising.

    For me, I’ve been wrestling with this idea of hope vs. false hope. In order for me to really digest this, I think of it very personally in terms of my own diagnosis of POF/POI. For women with this disease, there’s a 5-10% chance we’ll conceive naturally, however, there’s no way to know just who will be in that 5-10%; there’s nothing I can do to increase my chances. It’s pretty random.

    Hope for me is knowing that my husband and I will fight tooth and nail, save and spend whatever money we can until the money runs out – but we will fight the long fight to become parents if we have to. Since we haven’t begun treatment yet, we haven’t yet set a deadline of when we’ll move on to adoption. But for now, that’s the hope that fuels us, that some how, some way, we WILL be parents.

    False hope I think then is believing I’ll be one of the 5-10% who will conceive naturally. Would it be amazing if we were? Of course. But I can’t hold onto that statistic like it’s really going to happen for us.

    I guess the last thing I’ll speak to in my rambling comment is this idea of “try harder.” If IVF didn’t work, try donor egg. If donor egg didn’t work, adopt. Or pursue surrogacy, or embryo donation. Sometimes my friends mean well when they say, “have you considered adoption” like the thought hasn’t crossed our minds. Whether they realize it or not, the implied message is “you’re not trying hard enough.”

    • Dawn says:

      Keiko, I too can understand how Mrs. Utah’s statement can come across as minimizing the possibility and fear of many infertility patients that indeed they will never be able to be parents, but on the whole I applaud her for using her “fame” and the media attention it brings, to educate the public about infertility. The more people who understand the fewer people there are to make unhelpful and often inappropriate comments.

      As someone who provides infertility education, I wrestle with that hope vs. false hope divide frequently. I sure hope Creating a Family strikes the right balance, at least most of the time.

  9. tera says:

    Like most problems in life, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for infertility. Infertility would not remain unresolved as often as it does if, as you mention, we all had funds to finance unlimited procedures for IVF and/or surrogacy. It is also important not to perpetuate the myth that adoption is 100%.

    We made some decisions that we now regret because we were thinking that it was selfish and irresponsible of us to put our money into IVF when adoption is a certainty. We now realize that was a misconception on our part. It depends how long you are able and willing to wait. Unfortunately, just as many people or maybe more believe that IVF and/or surrogacy are fail-safes for people experiencing infertility.

    As those of us who are informed know, it can take many procedures to finally experience a successful attempt of IVF. The average person (which is most of us) does not have that kind of money available. It also puts the future at risk to take out loans. It would be one thing to know it were a 100% chance of success. But that’s not the reality.

    Most people just being diagnosed with infertility and the others of the world who don’t experience infertility often jump to false conclusions and wrong understandings of the logistics and truths surrounding how difficult/easy it is to overcome the obstacles that prevent parenthood for so many of us longing for children.

  10. Kelly-Beautifully said!!

  11. tera says:

    Kelly, I want to extend congratulations to you on the birth and finalization of your daughter’s arrival. I know it must be difficult to hear other perspectives on adoption and the birth parent experience.

    Some experiences are awesome and some are not. Isn’t the truth that some birth parents do feel that their pregnancy is an inconvenience and truly do not want to raise the child? And that is one legitimate reason many birth parents have for placing their child in an adoptive family for them to love and raise intimately.

    Though many birth parents certainly do this out of love for their biological child and do continue to “love” their child from a distance, there are probably just as many who do it because they feel they no desire to be a parent at this time in their lives. It would be too much of a sacrifice for them and their dreams. Yes, of course, some desire it but reasonably understand they are ill-equipped and out of love find adoption the ultimate solution for all three parties.

    There will most likely be many people who will try to impose their ideas and feelings about adoption onto your own family. It is good to be prepared for the variety of perspectives, many of them which may not accurately represent your experience and none of which really matter in the scheme of your own reality. Blessings on your new adventure as parents.

  12. Sarah says:

    I think people’s initial response is to offer solutions to a problem, whereas those who are experiencing it want to be heard and validated. Fertility is a huge loss that most just don’t know how to respond to, hence the poor attempts at “humor” or minimizing the loss or complexity of other options. So I’m not sure how to educate people about this, except maybe to convey that infertility really ranks up there with other major losses, like death, divorce, loss of a job. It amazes me that people can be so thoughtless about this issue in particular.

    • Dawn says:

      Sarah, I think that you make such a good point. The stress and sadness caused by infertility is ranked as high as that caused by a cancer diagnosis. It is a devastating disease and those of us in the infertility education field need to work hard to convey this to the general public.

  13. Teresa says:

    I just want to add that another fact to consider is the emotional side of Ivf. We did two Ivf cycles and after the emotional upheaval I experienced (Primarily due to the drugs I think, but also the stress of hope and loss), I just didn’t want to go through that again and decided (after a period of grieving) to refocus all aspects –time, finances, and emotions–on trying to become a parent another way. So altho this statement could be true, that with “enough money, technology, and third party assistance, most people could eventually be successful at becoming a parent through infertility treatment”, it doesn’t address the sometimes limitless emotional strength you may need.

  14. Liz says:

    I think it is true that anyone who wants to be a parent can be one, but it might take letting go of expectations or assumptions about what that looks like. Not everyone who wants to be the parent of a newborn can be. Not everyone who wants to be the parent of a child who is biologically related to themselves can be. Not everyone who wants to be the parent of a child of the same race as themselves can be. Not everyone who wants to be the parent of a child they have given birth to can be. Not everyone who wants to be the parent of a child who has not experienced trauma before joining their family can be. If what you want is to be a parent, you can be – the question is, what kind of child are you willing to parent?

  15. My husband and I are suffering infertility on both sides. I have PCOS and he has azoospermia. Knowing that we could be parents if we spend enough money and wait long enough is more comforting to us than just saying ‘Well, not everyone gets to be a parent, no matter how hard they try.’

    Granted, there is no way we would be able to afford trying anything and everything unless we won the lottery or saved every penny for the next 10 years. But isn’t false hope better than no hope at all? We hate knowing that we will have to wait until we can afford potentially multiple rounds of IVF with donor sperm, or find a girl(s) who unwantingly got knocked up before we can have kids. But I would much rather think that we have a chance instead of giving up all hope.

    We have both discussed the possibility of being a childless couple, and honestly it makes me sick to think that I can’t have the one thing I’ve wanted since I was a little girl. I didn’t want to be a movie star, or a model, or famous. I just wanted to be a mom. The irony of our situation requires hope. If we didn’t have hope that we could overcome the adversity we’ve been faced with, I doubt we would still be together.

    • Dawn says:

      Lynne, I understand where you are coming from. Knowing that there is hope is sometimes what helps you stretch to imagine a different way of becoming a parent as well.

  16. Kimberly says:

    Many people who are pursuing infertility treatments are confronted by the high cost, of course most adoptions are expensive too. I myself struggled with all of the issues surrounding infertility for nearly 10 years, including five miscarriages. I know from whence I speak.

    One solution that many people are still unaware of [knowing full well that Dawn has discussed this on her show and her website] is embryo donation and adoption.

    I’m always a bit befuddled when folks are willing to pay large sums of money for ‘donor’ eggs and sperm to create more genetically unrelated embryos, when donated embryos are available through fertility clinics and adoption agencies. And they are truly donated!

    Certainly, one solution does not fit all, but you need to know about the choice before you can disregard it.

  17. tera says:

    Liz, your response feels to me like you are saying that the only reason people are not parents is that they are not willing to parent children that do not fit their expectations. What about the fact that after a couple goes through a long wait and painful, weary trial such as infertility can be, they just don’t feel equipped to knowingly CHOOSE to parent a child they know will be difficult and challenging to their already fragile nerves and heart?

    I don’t think other factors that influence why someone may or may not be willing to parent an adopted child are being addressed. I know a lot of my friends who have adopted or done IVF over and over again have nerves of steel in comparison to mine. I also know that most of them have a much larger support system than I do. I also know their personalities are more A types, confident, extroverted and they handle stress better. They aren’t necessarily the creative type. They are more the no-nonsense types. Many people who do not handle stress and uncertainty well get sick more often and are tired, their nerves are shot and they just don’t feel equipped to take on any more. Some of us came from dysfunctional families where TRUST, SHAME and ABANDONMENT issues are struggles we live with on a daily basis. We’re healthy, normal people but we have other limitations that some other woman might now. I think also the type of husband and his background and personality and willingness must affect these decisions as well.

    It’s one thing to get pregnant via intercourse and not know what is going to happen but have great hope because your odds are in favor of a healthy child and you will be able to influence its growth and development from day 1 en utero. It’s quite another to CHOOSE to adopt a child of whom you have no idea about what has happened to them nor do you know if they will bond with you or you will bond with them.

    I personally took what you shared as being a de facto way of telling women it’s their choice not to parent, so stop whining about it. Is this what you meant?

    • Dawn says:

      Tera, I 100% support your position that not everyone is able to adopt and there are a myriad of reasons for this. No matter what the reasons, they are valid for you and you are wise to consider them when making your decision. One point of clarification (and this is directed more to other readers than to you), with the vast majority of adoptions the odds are “in favor of a healthy child that you will be able to influence its growth and development” if not from day one en utero, then from birth or from a young age. And with embryo donation (embryo adoption), you will be able to “influence” from day one en utero. Also, even when adopting an older child or a child who experienced abuse and neglect in her early life, not all of these kids are “difficult and challenging”, although it does pay to be prepared. There are many options with adoption and it is possible to choose a type of adoption that feels more comfortable to you. But your point is still a valid one–Adoption is not an option for everyone and these folks deserve our sympathy and understanding.

  18. Kimberley says:

    To say that any infertile person should “just adopt” is ridiculous and insensitive. First of all, as any AP will tell you, we did not “just adopt”. It is a long and difficult process–no one threw a kid into our laps. Secondly, some people really want a child with their genetics, and there is nothing wrong with that.
    I hate the “us vs. them” mentality of adoption and ART. Those suffering from infertility should have compassion from fellow sufferers (especially), not judgment.

  19. Paula says:

    To say everyone can be a parent if they want to was I guess an off hand comment. Whether every person who wants to be a parent should be is highly debatable. Infertility stops us just falling pregnant and the reality is it may prevent some of us ever being a parent. Yes, I guess most of us can adopt but some cultures adoption is really not an option. It’s sad but true. We may also never be able to parent how we dreamed we would, I love my daughter and would not change her for the world but I wish that I could have been pregnant, that I could have breastfed her ect.. And when non infertile people tell me it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.. Or you took the easy route (yes real easy right!) I get so frustrated as they just don’t know what grief is involved with infertility.

    • Dawn says:

      Paula, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Many people who haven’t faced infertility simply don’t understand the grief involved with this disease.

  20. Debbie says:

    The stereotype of a first mom as a “girl” that gets “knocked up” is just that…a stereotype. Frequently a birth family is facing an unplanned pregnancy, often the first mom is already a parent and understands the responsibility of parenthood. This woman(and possibly her significant other) has many choices…to parent, abort or place the child for adoption. I am grateful every day that my child’s birth mother made the choice she did. My daughter is a blessing and we believe that the baby that was meant to be with us IS with us. Her birth parents are not us and might not have made the same choices we have, but we respect and care for them without judgement. Our daughter was not “a squirt in the night”(yep, a friend said this about our child’s conception)…she is a dream come true!

    On a broader scale, not everyone that desires parenthood will be parents. It is unfortunate that finances play such a huge role in infertility treatment and adoption. I live in a state that mandates significant infertility treatment coverage by insurance. I do believe that the vast majority of people that want to be parents will be…insurance, adoption fundraising, foster/adopt, international adoption, domestic newborn adoption…there are abundant options. But sadly, some people will not have the dream of parenthood fulfilled. That stinks.

    • Dawn says:

      Debbie, I agree. While most people will be able to realize their dream of parenting-perhaps through altering their dream–their are still some for whom it will remain out of reach. Yeah, that stinks!

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