01/13/2013 10:32 am ET Updated Mar 15, 2013

'Just Adopt'

I have a question for those of you who haven't dealt with infertility. When you hear a story about "extreme" measures to have a biological child -- gestational surrogates, multiple attempts at IVF, egg donation -- what's your response? Do you feel curious? Are you sad? Do you think "There but for the grace of God go I"? Or do you wonder "Why on earth are they putting themselves through all of that? Why don't they just adopt"?

I want to talk to you about that last response. I understand where it comes from -- at least I think I do. Trying to have a baby is hard work when it doesn't just happen. It's expensive, it's risky, it's painful and it's emotionally fraught. Surrogacy and egg donation create a host of legal and ethical issues. And we all know that there are children who need homes, so adoption seems like a straightforward and much simpler alternative. Just adopt.

I understand because we did that. We skipped all the assisted reproductive technology and adopted our daughter as an infant. We brought her home from the hospital when she was two days old. Her placement and adoption went as smoothly as possible, and for a while I did think I'd neatly avoided all the complexities and emotional upheaval of infertility. I was wrong.

Adoption is not straightforward and it is not simple. Emma is 12 now, and we've been answering her questions about adoption for ten years. We watch her struggle to figure out where she belongs and how she can love us without betraying the rest of her family -- and they are her family, make no mistake. Emma's first mother, now a part of our lives, suffers the same pain that I would if I'd surrendered the daughter we both love.

I am Emma's real mother, even though I'm not her only mother. The lack of a biological connection makes no difference to me, but I am learning that it does make a difference to her. She wants to know who she looks like. That seems completely normal and natural. I never felt compelled to have biological children. I never really knew why others did feel that way, but as I watch Emma search for her eyes and bone structure in pictures on Facebook, I've come to understand it.

"Why don't they just adopt"? Maybe because they've met me, or someone like me, and they know adoption's not an easy answer. Maybe because they need a biological connection. Maybe because they just don't feel right about it. You can be sure there is an answer -- a valid answer -- and if you listen to the voices of the people involved, they will tell you their own stories.