Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Infertility and Adoption

So it turns out that April in National Infertility Awareness Month -- who knew, right?  Honestly I didn't know until a couple days ago when I saw it on someone else's blog.  Doh.  Truthfully, I tend not to pay much attention to that sort of stuff -- I'm not really the activist type.  I tend to have people, not causes. But a blog post seems like a pretty small step for saying a bunch of stuff that I've been wanting to say for awhile anyway.

It seems like infertility and adoption get lumped together a lot.  It drives both the infertility groups and the adoption groups a little bit crazy sometimes.  I mean think about it -- how big a deal can your (whichever it is) issue be if it's always tagging along with another one?  And so I feel a bit ambivalent about lumping the two together yet again, but I have good reasons for it.

My last and final IVF treatment was just this past June.  If you don't know the story already you can find it here.  Jason and I brought Max home from Russia in February.  I went from grieving yet another cycle to being a mother to a two-year-old in less time than if I had carried that embryo full-term.

Wild, right?  I am still reeling from the shock of it myself.

So what I'm saying is that the ins and outs of both infertility and adoption are incredibly fresh in my mind this year and so I'm going to lump the two together.  I promise to find something new next year.

Years ago when we first investigated (domestic) adoption, I distinctly remember our social worker telling us that adoption means loss for all members of  "the triad": the loss of a biological child (birth-parents), the loss of a biological family (adoptee), and the loss of infertility (adoptive parents).  I'm not sure how much it sunk in at the time (apparently enough that I remember it, at least) but it's been percolating through my head for years now, and I think I understand it better now.  Certainly now that Max is home I am confronted daily by the losses -- tremendous, terrible losses -- that he has already suffered in less than three years of life.

It hurts my heart when I think about it for too long.

Yet oddly enough it is my years of infertility that allow me to step up to the plate and look at those losses -- and mine -- with (I hope) empathy and compassion.

So often we think of adoption as a quick equation.  Childless parents + parentless child = adoptive family.  Adoption seamlessly replaces biology and all is well.

It might work that way for some people.  In fact, I think I know a few people for whom that is true.  But I know others for whom the equation is not so simple.  We want to believe that adoption "fixes" both infertility and the loss of a birth family. It seems like it should.  After all, love makes a family, not genetics, right?


The thing is that while biology is certainly not everything, it is also not nothing.

We Mormons traditionally put a lot of effort into thinking about heritage and ancestry.  It's just one of those things.  I think if you were to draw the LDS view of an individual it might look a bit like this:

We are the dot in the middle -- above is our ancestry, the great-grandfathers and long-gone grandmothers who have given us our skin color, our hair color, the shape of our eyes, our gift for music or for sports.  Below is our progeny -- a hazy future mix of genetics where maybe some future grandson or granddaughter will have the same smile, the same freckles, the same aptitude for physics.  Most people take all of this for granted -- the idea that you can set yourself directly in the middle of a past and future and take a look around to see yourself.

This is not the case for everyone.

Max's tree looks like this:

 He doesn't get to look at me and say, "Oh, so that's where I got my hair/cheeks/whatever."  There is a certain comfort to being able to do so that I will never be able to give him.

My tree is the opposite:

My little boy is clearly the most beautiful child ever born -- but I can't take any credit for it.  None of our grandchildren will have Jason's red hair or my pointy chin.  Jason and I...well, we're a biological dead end, I'm afraid.  

It's not the worst thing in the world, being a dead end.  I can think of plenty of worse things.  But it is a loss. And yet this is a loss that allows me to see the losses of Max's life more clearly.  They are not the same, of course.  Our losses are the inverse of one another's.

I think of all the times when I have heard people say (online or in real life), "I could never look for my biological family because I think it would hurt my adoptive parents' feelings."  And yet...biology is not nothing.  If in five years it were miraculously possible for me to have a biological child, would I turn the miracle down?  How would I not want to plug that final hole?  Knowing this, then how could I do anything but support my adopted child(ren) if someday they want to find the people that are biologically "theirs?"  

Adoption agencies often tell prospective parents that before they commit to adoption they need to "resolve their feeling about infertility."  I think this is part of that -- to realize, deep down, that there is a loss that both adoptive parents and their adoptive children share.

And yet families have never been strangers to loss.

We lose pets.  We lose grandparents.  We lose jobs.  We lose children.  We lose parents.  We lose marriages.  We lose spouses. We lose trust.  We lose faith.

And we move on despite those things.  We do the best with what we have -- no matter how much or how little there is.  Our relationships stretch to protect the scars that those losses leave behind.

A few months ago a few friends threw me a toddler shower.  I had already met Max at this point and was well on the way to finally being a parent.  One of my friends suggested for the benefit of the others that I tell "the story."  I am a pretty decent storyteller most of the time, but this one fell remarkably flat.  Ostensibly this is a happy story -- and it is, I assure you! -- and yet there are veins of grief running through it.  I don't hide them completely, though it's tempting.  But "the story" -- and by this I mean the circumstances of Max's background and my struggle with infertility before adopting -- is never going to end up being shared in casual conversation.  It's too complex and too fraught with false starts before finally winding to the happy beginning.

And yet is is a happy beginning.  Mark my words, it is a marvelously happy beginning.


  1. I think people who have not personally experienced adoption believe it is all joyful. But, I believe it is actually very tragic. Not that there is no joy, but you have to take both together.

  2. Thanks so much for this Cat. You have given voice to many of the things that I have been thinking about lately. :)