“Can’t you just adopt?”
Updated: Feb 7
A friend recently told me that when sharing their story of repeated miscarriages, she and her husband often heard the response, “Well, you can just adopt”.
Like many well-meant words that couples struggling with infertility encounter, the “just adopt” suggestion can come as a slap in the face. Not only does it fail to acknowledge the deep pain and grief that infertility forces us to contend with, but it treats adoption as a simple, easy, affordable and accessible band-aid to a misunderstood problem.
Adoption is never simple, it’s anything but easy, and it can be very expensive (depending on where you live and the type of adoption you pursue). Despite the joy and beauty that it can bring, it is also something that is filled with grief, not only for us, but for all involved. Grief experienced by the birth mother and birth family who grapple with this most difficult decision. Grief when she gives birth and says goodbye. Grief as she lets her baby grow up with other parents. There may be grief experienced by the child who will, at some level, have to integrate both loss and gain into their understanding of themselves as they grow up. Grief for the adoptive mother who will not have the chance to bond with her child in utero, feel the baby kicking, speak tenderly to a swelling belly. And grief for these new adoptive parents as we accept a joy into our lives while another mother and family grieves their loss.
Adoption has always been something I’ve thought about. My father was adopted and his birth mother located him as an adult, when I was just a babe. As such, I grew up with three sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. As a child, this delighted me: extra family, extra presents, extra fun! As I grew older, and particularly after the death of my Nana (my father’s birthmother), I encountered the more difficult side of it all. I read my Nana’s heart-wrenching account of her pregnancy and adoption, and her efforts to search out her son decades later. Thankfully, the adoption process has changed significantly since the 1950s but there is still loss and there is still grief.
My husband and I just became “adopt-ready”, which, in our province, means that the paperwork, social worker evaluation and mandatory training we need to be actively considered as potential adoptive parents is finally complete. It’s been a long journey to this point, and there is still a long way to go and much to learn.
We’ve been asked by friends who are carrying a similar cross to ours how we discerned whether to pursue adoption. Were we both on the same page? How did we know that we should start down this path? Did we have to be “over” the grief from our miscarriage and our infertility? Did we have to give up all hope of a biological child? I wish there were a step-by-step guide that I could give my friends that would answer these questions and more, but there’s not. My own experiences are all I have and all I can offer and if you are someone thinking about considering adoption, I offer them to you.
Thanks to my family history, adoption was something I had always been interested in and I had learned a lot about it through a previous job, but it wasn’t something my husband was very familiar with. And so, when we were faced with infertility, I was the one instigating the adoption conversations while he was putting on the brakes. It was frustrating for both of us. I needed to accept the reality that he had experienced much less exposure to adoption and needed both time and information before he felt comfortable formally starting the adoption process.
And so, long before we decided to pursue adoption, we decided to start thinking and talking about it. We had coffee with an old university friend of mine who had, with her husband, adopted several children. We familiarized ourselves with how the process worked in our province and then we had a meet and greet with a social worker. It was through that process that my husband was able to face some of the fears and concerns he had and decide that he was ready for us to begin the formal process. But even then, it’s still a process of discernment. The training course is another opportunity to learn more about ourselves and adoption. The home study process, likewise, involves a lot of learning and reflection opportunities.
Even starting the process of adoption doesn’t mean that you’ve decided to adopt; it’s one step forward and then another, if that next step seems right. In a sense it’s like dating. When you first get asked out, neither of you have decided to marry each other yet. You’re deciding to go on a date… and then another decision comes for another date, and eventually the decision to go steady. Then comes engagement, when you’ve decided to marry – but even then, nothing is definitive until you’re at the altar. So, you can “go for coffee” with adoption if you’re interested. You can get to know each other. You don’t have to know where it’s all going yet. One step at a time.
Grief and hope
Can we start pursuing adoption if we’re still hoping that a miracle might happen, if we’re still grieving our losses? Well, I’m not over my grief of pregnancy loss nor my grief of infertility and, despite everything stacked against us biologically, there’s still that flicker of hope in my heart during every cycle. No one is expecting you to be “over it” or beyond hope. What the professionals in the process seem to be interested in is if we’re at a place where we are living with our grief and hope in such a way that we can welcome an adoptive child into our home. Because what the “just adopt” attitude overlooks is that adoption should not be a simple Plan B when Plan A has fallen apart.
An adoptive child is a child, not a band-aid to fix a gaping hole in our heart. We have to be able to put their needs above our own, rather than using them as a means to meet our needs. But we don’t have to be done with grieving to do that. Does anyone really stop grieving? A loss is still a loss, even when it has become more distant and less painful. Grief moves and changes, grows and ebbs. It’s triggered by our friends’ babies, by Christmases and anniversaries. It’s always new. And yet it can become a source of strength and a reservoir of compassion within us. It can connect us to adoption in a powerful way, as we connect our losses and grieving to the loss and grief that will surround each and every adoption. And, for our child and ourselves, we can discover great joy in its midst.
And so, we cannot “just adopt” but we can consider it, if we feel the Lord tugging on our hearts to do so. Like we did in discerning our marriages, we can start down the path without worrying that we aren’t sure of the outcome. And we can start to imagine a new kind of joy and hope even as we continue to journey with our own grief.