As soon as we started sharing with friends and family that we were struggling to get pregnant, many friends and family members asked us if we would consider adoption to help bring children into our family.
Sometimes this question was earnest, coming from a place of genuine curiosity and a desire to understand and help. Other times, the question was more leading ― and a judgment on the time and money we had put into expensive infertility treatments like in vitro fertilization.
Listen to Episode 4 of IVFML Becoming Family below.
We knew as soon as we began working on the second season of IVFML that we wanted to tackle this issue head-on, and talk openly and honestly about our feelings about adoption and the perception that infertile people are uniquely responsible for providing homes and families to children with neither.
In the episode, we cite data about foster care adoption compiled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In the most recent report available, about 437,000 children were in foster care in 2017, while about 117,000 children were waiting to be adopted. Meanwhile, about 57,000 children were adopted from foster care that year.
We interviewed Emily McCombs, deputy editor of HuffPost Personal, about what it was like to welcome her son into her home after adopting him through New York’s foster care system.
We also have data from a survey by Adoptive Families magazine about the average cost of a private adoption in the U.S., and we spoke to Katie Stickles-Wynen, a transracial adoption specialist at the private adoption agency Pact, an adoption alliance, as well as her colleague Malaika Parker, director of the adoptive parents of color collaborative at the agency.
Stickles-Wynen was born in Colombia and adopted by parents in the U.S., while Parker experienced infertility before adopting her two children and then going on to give birth to two more children.
When it comes to the question, “Why don’t you just adopt,” Parker pointed out that people who are blind advocates for adoption are only able to do so because they have a limited perspective that focuses solely on the adoptive parents’ experience, while leaving out the fact that most times, relinquishment is a major trauma for both birth parents and their children.
“They don’t take into consideration the children’s experience, they don’t take into consideration the loss from the communities when the children leave, [or] the impact on their parents by birth,” Parker said. “And it’s very much focused on families who are infertile.”
And if infertile couples approach the adoption process with this same limited mindset, they may inadvertently inflict harm on the very people they’re trying to love and care for, said Parker.
“These are human people. They do not exist to provide us with whatever we want,” Parker said about adopted children. “We don’t get to alleviate our pain by inflicting or perpetuating pain on entire communities.”
Parker’s advice for infertile couples is to give themselves time and space to grieve what they’ve lost before pursuing adoption. While adoption is a social good, and something positive for children who need families and homes, infertile people may short-change their own experiences by fast-tracking their adoption process.
“A lot of folks that come to adoption, come to adoption after a huge loss themselves,” Parker said, whether it be infertility, lack of a partner or a late decision to parent. “Things look different from the picture they assumed for themselves. And they need time to grieve that, too.”