adoption not automaticImagine if society treated singles looking for marriage partners as matter-of-factly as it does infertile couples seeking to adopt, pushing any two people together and expecting them to fulfill each other’s expectations simply because they are both searching for a spouse.

Yet many infertile people are given the advice to “just adopt”, especially if they have struggled for years and/or exhausted their medical options. While it may seem like a logical suggestion–parentless children and childless parents coming together–-it’s not that simple.

Some people, at a loss for how to be supportive to a childless friend, may judge the friend unfairly. A little-talked about fact is that not everyone who wants to adopt is eligible to do so. There are financial set-backs, housing considerations, health concerns. At times, the requirements to adopt may seem willy-nilly and unfair, but the point is that adopting is anything but easy. Everyone knows that adoption is “out there.” A well-meaning friend’s suggestion to adopt will not be the earth-shattering eureka moment the couple hadn’t considered until just then.  It can come across as ignorant and insensitive, so it is best kept to oneself.

For the infertile couple contemplating adoption there are many things to consider.  For one thing, adoption ought to be about the best interest of the child, not just about filling a void for a childless couple. A lot of pressure is placed on the child to live up to the parents’ expectations of the ever-elusive, long-awaited daughter or son. Additionally, desperate, hopeful parents may not fully realize that parenting an adopted child does come with extra skills and commitments.

Few modern adoptive parents refuse to disclose to their child her or his adoption status these days, but many still feel threatened by the biological family, and some are unwilling to take the time to acknowledge and celebrate the child’s heritage. Changing an older child’s first name remains a heated topic in adoption circles. Even transracial adoption remains controversial because the question of whether children will have role models of their own heritage must be addressed.

Adoption wipes the childlessness slate clean for the parents, but it does no such thing for the child. The child will always have a dual identity from the biological and adoptive family, whether the adoptive parents encourage it or not.

For the infertile couple, too, adoption cannot be assumed to simply take the place of their original goal of a mutually biological child. Biological parents who have never struggled with infertility often take many aspects of how their child joined their family for granted. For starters, an adopted child is not genetically related to the adoptive parents. This is a bigger deal for some people than for others, but it is unfair to adopted children if their adoptive parents see them merely as a consolation prize.

In addition, pregnancy and birth is a rite of passage into motherhood that few contest. Adopting a child bypasses this experience.  An infertile adoptive mother must come to terms with becoming a mother via an alternative route, and this takes time. There is a different process involved in claiming a child as one’s own when that child joins the family through adoption. There may be family resistance to deal with, grief over unfulfilled expectations, and struggles over such otherwise motherly tasks as breastfeeding and naming the child.

The adopted child will bring questions to the parents as she or he grows. The adoptive parents cannot just put their infertility behind them; they will be reminded of it every time they fill out a medical history form for their child, when the child asks about whose tummy she or he grew in, when a family tree assignment comes up in school. Adoption is an ongoing lifetime commitment. It cannot be entered into lightly.

Adopted children deserve adoptive parents who seek them out, not ones who begrudgingly agree to take them in. And infertile couples deserve to be given the time and space they need to discern if adoption can indeed become their new goal. Both parents and children will benefit from an adoption process entered into freely, joyously, and without desperation.

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