Anyone who has ever experienced grief for whatever reason knows that it is powerful and can wreak havoc on a person’s emotions, resulting in both mental and physical trauma that sadly, oftentimes, doesn’t seem to come with an expiration date.
Is Infertility Grief A Thing?
Infertility grief—or grief caused by infertility or loss of a child—is a very real thing that many more people than you’d think will face during what is supposed to be a new chapter in their lives. This new chapter was supposed to be a time of starting a family—a time that should have been joyous and exciting. Although infertility is not always just a “woman problem,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, infertility is a fairly common physical problem that affects around 10 percent of women between the ages 15 to 44.
For some who hope and dream of having biological children, a diagnosis of infertility is simply unacceptable and instead becomes the starting line to a race to try various infertility treatments, including in vitro fertilization or intrauterine insemination. While intrauterine insemination (placing sperm inside a uterus for fertilization) is considered less invasive and less expensive than IVF (process of fertilization by combining an extracted egg and extracted sperm in a laboratory dish before the embryo/s are then placed in the uterus), it is typically less successful. Neither treatment is a guarantee and both can be costly and span years.
Other hopeful parents may choose alternative options such as genetic testing and screening to see if there are any medical procedures available to help reverse whatever may be inhibiting their chances. Still, others search for egg and/or sperm donors, consider surrogacy, or begin to research adoption as an option.
Regardless of the choice, in addition to the financial burden associated with uncertain and sometimes long-term infertility treatment attempts and/or the alternative routes to parenthood, there is the emotional burden that comes with accepting (or not) the initial impact of hearing a diagnosis of infertility, as well as the ups and downs that come with all of the other choices available in an attempt to create or grow a family.
According to Psycom, “In 1969, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross described five stages of grief, popularly referred to as DABDA. These include:
“Denial: avoidance, confusion, elation, shock, fear
“Anger: frustration, irritation, anxiety
“Bargaining: struggling to find meaning, reaching out to others, telling one’s story
“Acceptance: exploring options, new plan in place, moving on”
So what actually leads to infertility grief? According to the article “How to Process Infertility Grief,” fertility-related grief may be caused by, but not limited to, the loss of:
“Fertility health, or a reproductive organ
“Youth (when women share they are older and feel they are ‘running out of time’)
“Pregnancy (miscarriage) or a child (stillbirth or after birth)
“Family, friends or peers – often a result of alienation or withdrawal because the loss/grief experience isn’t something one wants to share, or everyone to know– being disowned as a result of not being able to conceive (most common in some foreign cultures)
“The ability to conceive naturally, or the idea that one would/should be able to conceive naturally
“Identity (the idea that the female was created to bear children)
“Control of emotions
“Hope (due to repeated failed attempts of pregnancy whether natural or medically assisted)”
Grief and Adoption
It should come as no shock that experts advise those considering adoption after infertility to first allow themselves to resolve their feelings of grief. You can imagine this to be the case for many reasons—for a hopeful parent’s own mental, emotional, and physical health to the fact that an adopted child deserves for his parent to be 100 percent on board and 100 percent present in the parent/child relationship.
As Sherri Eppley, the author of the Adoption.com article, “7 Reasons Why You Need To Grieve Your Infertility Before Adopting” points out, “Every child deserves to be someone’s plan A!”
She suggests that “as with any grief, it is important to acknowledge it and work through the emotions before trying to move forward. Whether you intend to adopt or not, you still need to deal with the grief because it won’t just go away on its own. Once you grieve every part of the infertility, you can be in a healthier mindset and be the best version of yourself not only for you but for your spouse, family, and any children you may adopt.
“…For you to move forward with adoption and be fully invested in the adoption plan you need to have grieved. If you are still in the process of grieving your infertility, you may not be able to fully commit to the adoption. You may still be wondering ‘what if’ or longing for a pregnancy or biological child. It is perfectly natural to want to give birth to a child and that is one reason why infertility can be so devastating. It is important to fully grieve your infertility though, so that you can commit to your future adoptive children with the same level of desire and longing that you had for birth children.”
Unfortunately, despite the vast amount of information out there regarding infertility rates and available treatments and alternatives, infertility grief is still often overlooked. The website Creating a Family states, “One of the reasons that the pain of infertility is so hard to deal with is that it is often unrecognized by our society. Therapist and scholars have a name for this type of grief: disenfranchised grief or ambiguous grief [or loss]. The lack of recognition for the loss makes it easy to feel that you aren’t entitled to mourn, but mourning is crucial to healing. It is hard to grieve a dream and harder still when others don’t even see that there is a loss.”
Imagine then, trying to move on and begin a giant and uncertain undertaking like that of adoption, which comes with huge emotional considerations, while potentially not yet healed from infertility grief. Anyone who has gone through the adoption process knows that it does not fix infertility, nor is it a cure. The consideration of adoption should come from a healthy, strong place—free from worry or anxiety, but rather a place where your heart is ready and open for a child who is going to count on you to be strong for him.
Creating a Family goes on to advise those suffering silently through infertility loss to reach out to a counselor or therapist who is trained specifically to deal with infertility grief.
Further, Resolve, the National Infertility Association, provides a list of professionals nationwide who specialize in infertility, fertility treatment, and adoption. They also provide a listing of nationwide peer-led support groups that specialize in infertility as well as adoption. Additionally, for those not ready to commit to professional care or share with a support group, the association offers a helpline that services all those impacted by infertility that extends to:
Newly Diagnosed with Infertility
Living Child Free
Male Factor Infertility
Infertility after Age 40
What Does Therapy Look Like?
Those dealing with infertility may experience a broad spectrum of feelings, including loss, guilt, shame, and even failure.
In truth, there is a lot of pressure on women to bear children, even in a society that fights for equal rights. Women are often still judged or gauged on their female worth by their decision to bring children into the world. For many who want to have children but cannot, this only makes the inability all the more painful.
Those who have dealt with infertility know there is no sharper blade than attending a family or friend function and being peppered with questions and comments like, “So, when are you going to start a family?” or “Don’t you want kids?” or “When are you going to give Daisy a baby brother?” or “You’re missing out!”
A counselor or specialist can guide you through analyzing the different feelings that you’re experiencing and help you to better understand how to cope with these feelings, especially when dealing with well-meaning family and friends. Speaking in groups and sharing with others who are experiencing the same thing is a wonderful outlet to take the first step for an individual who may otherwise feel isolated and alone.
Infertility can put a lot of strain on a relationship too, so it’s important to ensure that you are cognizant of how you are personally dealing with your grief as well as that of your partner.
You can gain education about the reasons for infertility as well as a better understanding of the stigma associated with it and exercises to help you to better cope. This can give you hope to resolve negative feelings and work toward healing, acceptance, and even an excitement toward pursuing a family in another way—such as adoption.
Why Wait to Move On?
Infertility grief is not something that those affected can just turn off or get over. Like any major loss or life-path determiner, it very well may be something that stays with a person forever. Working through the stages of grief and accepting the outcome is a process that can and does impact all of the relationships in a person’s life—from spouses to other family members and children to friendships to coworkers and in some cases, even strangers on the street.
For some people, infertility means the end of a dream of having a family. Not everyone (or their partner) is open to the alternatives available to them and not everyone has the financial means to pursue these alternatives.
Processing your grief and allowing yourself enough time to do so before committing to an alternative solution, such as adoption that may or may not result in everything you’re hoping for, is not only in your best interest, but it is also in the best interest to the many people around you. This includes the adopted child who will need a parent who is totally in and available in every way to the many challenges faced with adoption as well as with the challenges of simply raising a child.
When Is it Okay to Pursue Adoption?
In her Adoption.com article, “Adopting After Infertility,” author Sonia Billadeau states, “If you or your spouse are infertile, you owe it to yourself – and to any children you may adopt – to come to terms with the issues raised by infertility before you pursue adoption.” She goes on to discuss how long to pursue infertility options as well as when may be a good time to consider looking into adoption as a choice and why.
In truth, the questions surrounding infertility grief and when it’s okay to pursue adoption, as well as the answers, will be different for everyone as everyone handles situations differently. Still, most adoption agencies and social workers will advise anyone coming to terms with any sort of grief to work to resolve these feelings ahead of the adoption process—or any life-changing decision.
Just as those who choose to pursue infertility treatments and medical procedures must mentally and emotionally, not to mention financially, brace themselves for impact, so, too, parents choosing to grow their family through adoption must be fully on board and open to the process and the reality that is—your adopted child is going to need you more than you will need her.
In the Adoption.com article, “Adoption After Child Loss,” author Lauren Madsen shares her journey to adoption after many heartbreaks: “Four and a half years of infertility, six surgeries, four miscarriages, and the devastating diagnosis in which I was told that I was born with a condition that would probably make it extremely unlikely to have a successful pregnancy was the road that brought me to adoption. It was a painful journey, but bitter sorrow makes joy that much sweeter.”
No matter your journey or where it may lead, the consideration for adopting a child in the wake of infertility should never be taken lightly, considered as your Plan B, or rushed into without fully considering what it will mean for yourself and your adopted child.
Resolving infertility grief is a path that no hopeful parent willingly chooses to follow. Although sometimes it can lead to a happily ever after/beginning that—if you were to ask many adoptive families—you may come to realize was meant to be. You may become connected to a child that you otherwise never would have thought could change your world in ways you would never have thought imaginable. An awful journey that leads you to just the place and the person you were always meant to find.
Visit Adoption.com’s photolisting page for children who are ready and waiting to find their forever families. For adoptive parents, please visit our Parent Profiles page where you can create an incredible adoption profile and connect directly with potential birth parents.