When I was trying (and failing) to get pregnant, I went through a period where I talked almost daily with a friend who’d gotten pregnant in about three seconds. Maybe even two. The only problem was she had severe morning sickness. It was so severe that in order to survive she had to quit her job and not move her head except to eat bagels.
So, we’d get on the phone and laugh and laugh and laugh about how mean reproduction was, how cruel, how sneaky how unpredictable. But of all the things we called reproduction, we never called it judgmental. No, for that, you’d have to turn to one Wendy Walsh, an LA based psychotherapist with two biological children who thinks women who are having trouble getting pregnant should take it as a teachable moment and adopt a baby instead. To save the planet! Just like Ted Turner says!
Walsh’s argument makes me feel like my head is about to explode. (Can you tell?) Julie Robichaux of the blog A Little Pregnant (which I read when I wasn’t pregnant and still wasn’t pregnant and wait, no, still not pregnant), has written a response to Wendy‘s article. On the key point of whether or not one has a moral obligation to adopt if you can’t get pregnant, Robichaux counters:
Wendy writes, “Parents who are facing infertility may be given a wonderful opportunity to help the planet a bit.” But don’t we all have that opportunity? Don’t fertile people have the same chance to adopt a child in need? That’s a shared obligation, and when infertile people are singled out to bear it while others excuse themselves because conception was easy for them – well, it rankles. And that’s without taking on the problem of putting adoption on par with riding a bike instead of driving a Hummer.
When my husband and I realized getting pregnant wouldn’t come easy, we made a plan. We’d go through a certain number of fertility treatments and if they didn’t work, we’d adopt. An old friend who’d adopted her daughter (through an open adoption) after trying to get pregnant for several years had said to my husband, “You want to be a parent, not a patient.” That hit home.
When my husband and I talked about the loss that’s part of adoption, we didn’t try to minimize it. We tried to keep it in perspective. For us the potential for joy seemed greater than the weight of the pain. Life is textured, complicated. I remember telling a friend that at least with adoption one of its complications is right up front. Never once did I think I would be saving the world by adopting. I didn’t think of it as an ethical act or moral choice. To be honest, I thought it was extraordinarily selfish and I didn’t care. I’d been through my fertility treatments. I’d given up on being pregnant. I wasn’t going to give up on being a mom.
Then, I got pregnant. We thought, “well, we’ll adopt our second baby.” We didn’t think lightening would strike twice. Then I found out I was carrying twins. And here we are.
But the point is my husband and I had these conversations. I had other conversations with my closest friends, with women I met who were also trying to get pregnant, with parents who’d adopted. We made our own choices on our own terms. Fundamentally, that’s what each of us must do when we decide to have a child. It’s facile for Wendy Walsh to say “just adopt” instead of pursue fertility treatments because it’s better for “the world.” We don’t decide the fate of the world when we decide to have a child, we engage with the question of family and what it means.
What do you think? Do people who want to have children have a moral obligation to consider adoption over fertility treatments? Do people who have trouble conceiving have a greater obligation to do so than those who don’t?