Many families who struggle to conceive will move on to build their families by adoption. After infertility, those who pursue adoption often receive advice to resolve their grief before adopting a child. Hopeful adoptive parents wonder what that means and how resolved grief feels.
Recently, a member of our online community asked the group if the sadness of not having a biological child would ever go away. Our members came through for her with wisdom earned through their own experiences of adoption after infertility. We were able to sort the conversation among our members into four loose categories. As you can imagine, there were some overlaps between the categories as the members interacted and shared their stories.
In various ways, we heard from several participants that “yes, the sadness does go away,” but it took time and intentionality. Several mentioned that they actively chose to grieve their original dreams of starting a family.
When she realized she needed to grieve, one woman explained that intentionally opening the door to her grief allowed other emotions to surface and resolve. Still, another mentioned that the intensity of her sadness has diminished but not resolved entirely. When she occasionally still remembers the experience of her infertility grief, she feels a more distant sadness.
One member set an actionable plan to express her grief for the loss of the child she had dreamed of:
“I wrote a letter to the biological child that I envisioned. I discussed the ideas that I had of him or her and then said goodbye. This has really opened me to imagine the child that I am waiting for…”
Writing a letter is an excellent tool to help you cope with infertility grief.
Some of our members came to their “yes, but…” moments by asking what leaving treatment meant for their families. The process took self-reflection for some and releasing of earlier hopes for others:
“Yes, I do wish I got to experience pregnancy. But not if I had to trade (my adopted child) for it…”
A small number of participants in this conversation shared that yes, their grief has gone away, and they don’t mourn their infertility now. They feel such fulfillment in parenting their child now that their previous sadness is gone. Most of the “yes, and…” comments were variations of this member’s feelings:
These members who said “yes, and…” noted that it took them a while to work through the process. When they could conclude that they wanted to be a parent, they could release the sadness associated with their infertility.
Many times we hear that folks who struggle with infertility see this conclusion as the turning point of their journey to move on to adoption.
In the “yes, and…” camp, a few others resonated with the members who shared that letting adoption unfold brought them to “what was meant to be” all along:
“Now that my daughter is with us, that sadness is gone. She is the kid we were supposed to have.”
We appreciated another member’s vulnerability in working to embrace the sadness and the joy simultaneously:
“It’s not active grieving… It’s a loss and I think you need to grieve it. You can be at peace with a decision, but sometimes feel a bit of sadness about it.”
We also heard from some of our members that their sadness from infertility never goes away. However, they are okay with that – or working on it. They are learning how to allow it to rise to the surface. Some even mentioned that they could categorize it and thus keep it separate from the joy and contentment of adoption.
“I know that the pains from my infertility experience will never completely go away. It comes in ebbs and flows, hopefully more sparsely as I grow older.”
We heard from a few who explained how both experiences were profound and impactful and that they were figuring out how to hold space for both. They didn’t feel the need to let go of the sadness in doing so. Instead, they embrace it and feel it for what it is.
One member mentioned that being present with her sadness also leaves her free to engage the myriad other feelings that adoption brings. One typical result of this choice is the capacity for compassion over the losses her child has experienced.
Another participant mentioned that there is still sadness but also a curiosity about the losses that infertility brought:
“I am curious more than sad what it would have felt like to conceive and have a pregnancy and baby shower and give birth. It’s a fear of missing out.”
Interestingly, the primary theme of the members who said, “No, it never goes away, and…” was gratitude.
Grateful for the Family I Have Now
Of course, all the parents in the conversation expressed thankfulness for the children whom they adopted. But there were a few members who said it well:
“Nope. Grateful for my infertility now. Without it, I’d never have been able to know and love my child. And that, to me, would have been the greatest loss of all.”
“I would not have met my son if it (fertility treatment) worked. I’m not interested in a world where I don’t know him.”
“Some may not understand when I say I’m thankful for my infertility, but there are experiences it has afforded our family that only adoptive families enjoy.”
One mom admitted that it took some time to feel the gratitude, amid the sadness:
“…and now I am so grateful for my infertility struggle. Had I not known infertility, I wouldn’t have my son. It took adopting for me to realize that what I wanted was to be a mom.”
Infertility Is Part of Who I Am
However, several members who admitted that the sadness never entirely disappears also revealed that they wouldn’t want it to disappear. They have learned to accept all the experiences that infertility brought to their lives and how those changed them. They take infertility as part of their journey to becoming and look at it as just part of who they are now.
“Infertility was only one aspect of our story…We (also) had two failed adoptions before one successful. Once the healing is done, (it’s) just part of the growing process.”
It’s Not One or the Other
As we said, there were many points of overlap for the answers in this conversation. It strikes us that the responses in our online community are as varied as the members who shared them. Isn’t that so true of the human experience? We were also appreciative of the support and encouragement our members offered the original poster – even when their answers varied greatly.
There is no box that one can check to answer the question initially posed. Infertility has many mixed emotions, and each of us experiences it differently. Resolving our infertility grief will look different for us all – and how we feel that resolution is our unique experience. As our members modeled in support of this member, resolving grief means giving ourselves the space and permission to handle it all as it comes. When we allow ourselves to feel it all and process it without feeling how it “should be done,” we can find the path forward.
What about you? Do you feel sad about your infertility even after adoption? What do you do to cope?
We’d love to welcome you to the CreatingaFamily.org online support group, where you can also find encouragement and peer support for your journey.
Image Credits: Ashley Webb; Mary Anne Morgan; Claudia Dea