I was 26 years old, single, and recently diagnosed with infertility the first time I heard it: “I don’t understand what the big deal is,” one of my best friends told me, rubbing her own growing belly as she spoke. “If I were you, I would just adopt.”
I didn’t even know what to say. There I had been, pouring my heart out to her — grieving something I felt had been ripped away from me — and she was throwing out the “just adopt” argument as though it was the simplest solution in the world.
As though I had no right at all to be grieving.
In the years that followed, those same little words would be thrown my way more times than I could count. I heard them when my IVF cycles failed; when I tried to express how crushing it was to realize I would never carry a baby below my own heart; and when I silently ached over my empty womb — just as friends started showing off their own growing baby bumps.
“Just adopt,” was the unsolicited, yet go-to solution offered by one and all.
Forget the fact that no one who gave me this advice had actually pursued adoption themselves, or even dealt with infertility for that matter. They all seemed to think they knew exactly what they would do, were they ever to find themselves in my shoes.
But the thing was, they never were.
It infuriated me — so much so that I started to rail against the very idea of adoption. No, I wouldn’t “just adopt,” and how dare anyone suggest that I should!
The irony now, of course, is that I am an adoptive mother today; a proud adoptive mother who will readily tell you that “just adopting” was the best decision I’ve ever made.
Only there was no “just” about it.
People seem to be so convinced that adoption is the perfect solution to infertility, but the truth is, one does not eradicate the other. There is no “baby store” to wander into in the pursuit of your happy, healthy, perfect infant; and there is no magic eraser to wipe away the pain of not being able to carry that baby yourself. Even now, as I raise my beautiful daughter, I can honestly say that I absolutely love the life we share — but I still often wish that I had carried her myself. Adoption does not erase the scars of infertility, and infertility is not a reason alone to adopt.
So seriously, it’s about time we shelve the “just adopt” advice already.
The words themselves completely discount the loss and grief that almost always accompanies infertility. Loss and grief that needs to be felt, explored, and processed before moving on to whatever comes next. For some, that means more fertility treatments. For others, that means walking away from the hope of parenting entirely. And for a small percentage, that means turning to adoption.
But even for those who pursue adoption, there is generally a fair amount of healing that has to happen first. Jumping straight into it is hardly ever the right answer for anyone. It certainly wasn’t for me.
I had to reach the point of being sure I would never become pregnant on my own. And then I had to heal.
For me, that turning point came after my second failed IVF cycle, when I decided I never wanted to put myself through that hell again. I knew then I had finally answered the gnawing question that would have burdened me the rest of my life if I hadn’t at least tried. It would take two more years to feel like I was in a healthy enough place to consider adoption, and even then it didn’t happen right away.
My point is, the timeline is different for everyone; but honoring it, and allowing the steps to happen naturally, is important. Because there are no guarantees in adoption either. Failed placements happen all the time, and if you aren’t in a healthy and strong place in your life to take those on; the devastation can be insurmountable.
Not to mention, adoption is complicated. I actually have one of the most seamless and quick adoption stories I’ve ever heard of, and still, it was complicated. So much so that if I had tried to take it on even just six months before I did, I’m not sure I would have even been in the right place to navigate all the scary and confusing emotions that came with it.
For most people, adoption can take years and cost tens of thousands of dollars. It also comes with no guarantees — sometimes a baby is taken home, only for minds to change after you’ve already fallen in love. There’s a piece of the puzzle that involves accepting how little control you have over the environment your baby was exposed to in utero, and the necessity (for your child’s best interest) of speaking about his or her birth family with only grace and love — because on some level, your child will always identify with that family.
Which is all to say that entering into adoption with the same desperation that can sometimes accompany infertility grief is a dangerous tightrope to walk.
The reality is, adoption isn’t for everyone — and that’s okay! It isn’t something anyone should do unless they truly want to. Unless they have reached a point in their journey where they are fully prepared to take on the challenges ahead.
I had to be healthy, strong, and ready to take all of that on.
I had to want it with all of my heart.
So even now, as an adoptive mother who is happier than she ever dreamed she would be after infertility, I never try to steer those struggling themselves towards just adopting. Because it’s personal. And it’s complicated.
And because I know there is no “just” about it.