Friday, October 17, 2014

fertility friday | guilt about choosing IVF over adoption

photo credit
i read this article that my friend K posted on facebook leading into november, which is national adoption month….and i haven't been able to get it out of my head. the article has not only stuck with me because the story is heart-wrenching and i have oodles of pregnancy hormones seeping out of my pores…but because there is a twinge of guilt that i carry with me.

you see, people will sometimes imply, if not outright proclaim, that we (meaning infertile women) have a responsibility to adopt because we struggle to conceive easily. i resent the hell out that inference because i think it is everyone's responsibility as a society to provide loving homes and care for children who've been neglected or placed in the foster system. the weight of that burden shouldn't fall more heavily on those of us who struggle to have our own biological children.

yet if i'm honest, in the quiet of my heart, i do feel some guilt. i do question whether it was selfish of us to pursue treatments rather than adopt. is it just me? or have any of you ladies who've struggled to conceive felt that way at some point?

maybe it is just the type of person that i am. maybe i'd feel guilty for having an empty home and the financial means to support a child in need, regardless of whether i struggled to conceive.  

it does take more than the means and desire to effectively parent a child in the foster system. you have possess the ability and emotional strength to love a child through some really tough times and help to heal painful, deep wounds that have been inflicted on their little souls. this is where i've always struggled and don't know that i have that kind of strength. i think acknowledging our strengths and weaknesses is crucial before making a commitment to a child….a commitment that should be for life.

unfortunately, i just didn't have that calling deep in my heart to adopt like so many amazing women do. but i sometimes feel guilt about that. i feel sad. i feel self-reproach that i didn't couldn't be a stronger, braver person and change the bleak future for a child like Stephen.

i've reposted the article that i am referencing below for easy readability. do those of you who chose fertility treatments over adoption struggle with these same feelings?

They Break, You know

It was something about the phrasing that got to me. Something about the cadence of his words, the staccato of his speech.

“Nobody loves me. Not even my mother who gave birth to me.”

It is an odd turn of phrase, isn’t it?

Not even my mother who gave birth to me.

He was buckled into the backseat of my Toyota, still too little to sit up front. At seven he had already moved more times than the total number of years he had been on the earth. And this time, like the times before it, he moved with his belongings in a trash bag. A suitcase, at least, would have added a small degree of dignity to the whole affair – to being “placed” in another and another and yet another foster home before reaching the 3rd grade. Trash bags break, you know. Trash bags can’t possibly support the contents of any life, and certainly not a life as fragile as this.

They break from the strain, eventually.

This move was harder for Stephen than most. It was a home he thought he would stay in, at least for awhile. He had felt affection there. When I went to pick him up, after his foster mother gave notice that he could no longer stay, he came easily with me; head down, no reaction on the surface of it. It was only when he got into my car that he began to sob the kind of aching sound that leaves you limp in its wake.

He could barely get out the words. Nobody loves me. Not even my mother who gave birth to me.

Months later, in a repeat scene (another foster mother, another removal), he would put up a fight. He would run around the living room, ducking behind furniture, refusing to leave. But on this night he had no fight in him.

That was Stephen at seven.

Nine-year old Stephen grips his report card in sweaty hands. We’re headed to an adoption event, where we will meet families who want to adopt an older child; families who do not automatically rule out a boy like Stephen with all of his long “history.” And he wants to impress them, these strangers. He wants to win them over, and so he brings his good report card along as tangible proof that he is a child worth loving.

A child should never have to prove they are worth loving.

Twelve-year old Stephen tells me that I’m his best friend. I’m his social worker, and he should have a real best friend, but I don’t say this to him. We’re at a taping for Wednesday’s Child, the news spot featuring children who are up for adoption. Stephen is engaging on camera. Maybe somebody will pick him this time. Maybe he is offering just enough evidence, at twelve, that he’s a boy worth loving. And he is lovable, truly. But it is not enough. A family never comes.

Years later, long after I’ve left the agency, I get an email from my old boss asking how I’m doing, and ending with a short P.S. “Stephen is in DYS lockup after running away from his foster home. You need to adopt him.” My stomach drops. I’ve had this thought many times. I should adopt him myself. But I don’t.

I heard about his murder from a friend who had seen it in the news. Shot outside a party over some foolish dispute. Dead at 18, dead just as he became a man. Not my Stephen, I prayed. When I realized that it was really him – that it could be no other – I sobbed gripped by the kind of anguish that leaves you limp in its wake.

The newspapers ran very little about the murder, as if it were an afterthought. Barely worth a mention, really. Anonymous strangers posted nasty comments online: “Just another gangbanger,” they said. You don’t even know him. You don’t know the first thing about this boy. You don’t know that as a child he would trace letters into my back with his finger to pass time at the doctor’s office, asking me to guess what phrase he was spelling out. “I ♥ U” he traced between my shoulders, the last time we played this game.

Stephen had been wrong, that night in my Toyota. His mother did love him, in her way. She was there, at the funeral. She greeted me kindly. I think she knew I loved Stephen as I knew she did. We both failed him in the end, and that joined us I suppose. Neither of us could give him a family.

There were no photos from Stephen’s childhood at the funeral home. No images of the green-eyed boy with the sweet smile to remind us of what had been lost. There were no pictures of Stephen with his brothers, and so I printed up snapshots of the four boys together, taken on a supervised visit, and brought them to the funeral to give to the family. It was something I could do, against the larger backdrop of nothing I could do.

There were very few social workers at the funeral, and none of Stephen’s many foster mothers. Stephen spent more of his life being raised in the system than out of it. If you claim legal responsibility for a child, you best show up at his funeral. You should show up when he dies. He was yours, in a way, wasn’t he? You owe it to him. And if he did not belong to you, then who did he ever belong to?

His mother was there, at least. His mother who gave birth to him. I hear the echo of his voice from those many years ago.

Somebody does love you Stephen. I want to tell him. But it’s too late.

Stephen was the one, for me. The one who embodied all the failures of a system so broken that to heal it would take far more than the casts that heal the literal broken bones of the children growing up within it.

They break, you know. These kids we leave behind. Eventually they break.

i invite you to use the button above on your blog post about infertility and link up below…every friday. keep the conversations about infertility and related issues going. 


Melissa @ Unexpected Delays said...

Don't feel guilty. At all. After 4+ years of infertility my husband and I came to a split in the road - we could pursue more invasive fertility treatments or pursue fostering/adoption. We chose fostering/adoption and it is proving to be 100% the right choice for us. That doesn't make our choice easier or better than yours to pursue IVF. What is great is that there are options available now for infertile couples to choose from. We couldn't afford IVF, so that played a big part in our decision. Fostering/adoption shouldn't just be left to infertile couples it should be pursued by all sorts of couples.

Best of luck to you as you with your pregnancy!!!

Elena Ridley said...

Wow, what a heartbreaking story! I often think about adoption, my best friend is adopted as is my step brother and 2 step sisters. My step mom often asks if its something I'd ever consider and I think it is, but not yet. There is nothing wrong, at least in my eyes, with doing whatever it takes to have a biological child of your own or carry a pregnancy, etc. And I agree, just because we have a harder time conceiving doesn't mean that we are any more obligated to adopt than anyone else! Great post Jessah!

Hapa Hopes said...

Woah. That just really got me. Wow.

I feel the guilt all the time. Somehow I work with too many women who have infertility. Three were unsuccessful and adopted and yet another fertile woman has one biological child and chose to adopt two more. While they were all so supportive while we were undergoing IVF and I fully believe they agree that how you choose to build your family is intensely personal, I can't help but feel like I'm judged on some level. That brings out the feelings of guilt.

We are still open to possibly adopting one day if we want to have another child, but as we all know that is its own painful rollercoaster and I'm not eager to hop on.

Jessica said...

That story is absolutely heartbreaking. I'm literally bawling my eyes out for all of the poor, sweet, precious children out there who feel so unloved. But at the same time, I think it's admirable and wise to be able to admit that adoption just isn't for you. At this time in my life, I would say it's not for me either. I would never want to undertake such a serious commitment without knowing that I was in it for forever. And forever is what those children need. It's what they deserve. Nothing less. I still hate that the foster system is so sad and broken though, and wish to see it change in my lifetime!

Laura Rahel said...

This story is tremendously powerful. I do agree that there is an extraordinary expectation on infertile women to automatically do what it takes to adopt. It reminds me of that post you shared about Christians often viewing infertility as a "shameful" thing, that you must have done something to deserve it. There are a lot of sad, sad things that come along with infertility and other peoples judgments about us and what we should or shouldn't do in our situations makes it even more difficult. But they have no place.

I do feel the intense calling to "save" children in foster care. To do foster care and adopt once or twice when the right child comes along. I've always wanted to do foster care. However, I also know that I've always wanted to have "my own" baby, too. And there is no shame in that. There is nothing to feel bad about, in wanting your own children, or in knowing that adoption isn't right for you.

<3 <3 <3

Caroline @ In Due Time said...

yes adoption is important, but don't let the enemy tell you that birthing your own baby isn't. At the end of the day, we are all called to take different paths... some adoption, some fertility treatments, some natural babies, etc. Hope you can walk in freedom that you have been blessed with the route you have taken. Say no to that guilt girl, that is NEVER from Jesus. hugs for you.

Ashley @ Life on the Parsons Farm said...

As an adoptive mom I understand the calling. While we were in the process of adopting I can't tell you how many people asked us what country we were adopting from, like there are no kids in the US deserving a home. Countless times I explained to them that I am called to domestic adoption, I feel like we need to take care of our own. After going through the process adoption is not for everyone. I don't think I am ready to adot an older child but my heart aches for this Stephen and I wish I could have been there for him. Thank you for sharing!

Stacy Moore said...

When talking about my ttc journey, I always get asked, "Why don't you adopt?" It's apples and oranges. Professionally, I work with juvenile delinquents, so I couldn't be any closer to this than if I were a foster parent. I take it personally when an at-risk child has needs that haven't been met. I do everything in my power to get them connected to others who can help. However, to open my personal life and home to someone else's child is a lot different. As part of a couple, I also have to respect my husband's dreams, hopes, wishes, and goals too. It's not one person's decision. After my experience with children in the system, they don't ask for their parents to leave them and they don't ask to have new parents with new rules, new family members, and new traditions. It's a difficult balance to decide to have children of your own, try treatments or move forward with adoption. It's also a difficult decision to know your limits and lead a child-less life. Each individual should be allowed the right to make a decision they are comfortable with at the time they are presented with life's dilemmas. I do not have the personal calling for adoption. I am a strong woman, but I know my gifts belong to other areas. I do not want to add to the turmoil of a broken-hearted child any more than they've already suffered. My gifts are served in the things I already do each day. I still want a child of my own. God will bless me as He sees fit and I will never say never, He may have adoption in my future. It's just not today.

Farin Vazquez said...

Such an honest post, I'm sure it speaks to everyone reading this who's heard those words. Thanks for sharing!


Lisa {Amateur Nester} said...

Absolutely- this is something I'm struggling with as we've had multiple failed IVFs. We have two more attempts paid for, but after that we've decided to pursue adoption. I feel such guilt that I'm still not wholeheartedly able to embrace adoption yet. My hubby is there; he just wants to be a parent. But for me, I can't quite let go of the genetic aspect yet. I think I'll get there eventually, but I feel terribly guilty that it's even an issue. Thanks for writing so candidly about this.

Krystal Sullivan said...

Girl, you took the words right out of my mouth. I posted something about adoption months ago, but I wasn't as eloquent as you. I wrote in the middle of my rage, when people were asking me if I was going to adopt now that my babies were gone. If you wouldn't mind, can I post a link to your blog post in my blog? I find this really inspirational and I think many women going through infertility can relate to this.

Holly said...

During our premarital counseling I was just 25 years old. He asks "If you had future fertility issues, would you adopt??" I laugh "of course, no big deal." I use to judge people myself for not adopting-there is a world of hurting kids yet you are so obsessed with having your own child. Then infertility punched us in the gut with a very hard punch-male and female infertility factor. 15 infertility treatments later, we will not give up the fight. So easy to "assume" what we would do but when reality hits, I long much deeper for pregnancy too. Great thought-provoking post <3

Erika said...

Oh my gosh- that story is heartbreaking. UGH. And I'm with you resenting the implication that infertile couples should automatically be the ones responsible for adoption. Now that I've actually adopted, I can definitely say- it's not something that can be done unless it's what you REALLY want to do. It's not easy, it's not a quick fix, it's not 'just''s a huge commitment that will impact at least three families. So anyone that thinks it's a simple solution or that would judge couples for not choosing it...well, I don't think they've really thought it through. I'm sorry you've had to deal with that.

J said...

Great post and that article made me cry.

But your feelings are your feelings and you shouldn't feel guilt for choosing one difficult path over another. Adoption is selfish too in its own right. Adoptive parents want a child to love and complete their family. There is an element of that and it's not all about saving a child. At least that's not how I felt about it when we were headed down that path and it was certainly something we explored with our social worker during our home study. Becoming a parent, no matter which way you look at it is a big deal and a big responsibility. No need to feel guilt over your choice. Now is your time to celebrate! said...

Ahhhhh good stuff. I totally think about this too and appreciate your honesty. Truth is adoption has just never been placed on my heart and I strongly dislike that it's "expected" if you struggle. But that guilt is still there and the battle of selfishness does occur in my head too. Thanks for putting your heart out there. Adore you sweet friend!

Desirae said...

Wow. That is a really sad story :( in the two years I have tried to get pregnant I have heard many times "you could just adopt" and while i am not against adoption, i am just not ready to take that step yet. My husband and I have always said that we would exhaust our options trying to conceive before we would go to adoption and that's what we are doing. I do sometimes feel guilty for not going straight to adoption but I also have a strong desire to experience pregnancy and carry my own biological baby (like you, Jess) if my journey leads me to adoption so be it but I will not feel guilty for not trying to get pregnant through fertility treatments in the mean time. Good post! Xo

Charity said...

Great post. I never felt guilt over not pursuing adoption. I know people who have adopted and its not easy as people think. I think the fertility treatments were easier. I also resent people expecting infertiles to be the saviors of the world adopting all the lost children. I've always had the heart to adopt but never by force or last resort. Thanks for sharing this.

I can haz babyz? said...


You are an amazing person!! I too have guilt that I chose infertility treatment over adoption. There are many reasons why we chose the route we chose. Some of those reasons were selfish, but others were not.

I do my best not to let the guilt overcome me. Like you said it's not up to the infertiles of the world to adopt. It's should be expected of all people to consider.

Thank you for posting!! It raises a lot of good points!!

-Mindy (mm29)

Darcie K said...

oh wow. That was very touching, deep, sad, and yet very true look into reality. I need to read it again, and really process it, honestly.

Jessah, as usual, I admire your honesty and willingness to share it with us. I have a lot of the same feelings about adoption, and the guilt that I didn't as you. I considered adoption a lot. I read up on it and the foster to adopt route a lot. In the end, we decided it wasn't for us. Much because I don't think I could handle it emotionally. I wish I could, but I know myself.

Cristy said...

This is hard, Jessah. I get the guilt and why you're feeling it, especially after reading that article. But the thing is, adoption is a lot more complicated that many can begin to understand. Especially in the foster-to-adopt world. I know because we started down that road. And were rejected because we were talking about moving. Ironically, now that we are resolved, we've been approached to consider being foster parents. It's still something I really want to do, but I also know we need to get to a place where we can.

I'll echo what you've said: it is not the duty of infertiles to fix this broken system. It's a job for all of society, especially since so many of these kids come from families who are so dysfunctional. It takes a lot to work through generations of dysfunction and a lot of the time these parents put their own feelings above what is best for their children (hence why so many are pulled from the home). We have a long way to go to fix this.

parveen gajera said...

Oh my god. That was a heart wrenching story.

futureMom said...

I wish adoption were not so incredibly difficult these days, and if it were a real, afordable option we may have pursued it. I don't feel particularly guilty about not adopting, because I know that at this point because of our age (past 40) we are not likely to get matched, so even if we wanted to adopt we could not. I feel mad about that. And that other people probably judge us that we are doing fertility treatments and "choosing" to not adopt. For example, my mother made a comment to us, after one of our losses, about what great candidates she thinks we would be to adopt. Well, she does not know that we had already looked into it and started a home study and then went back to fertility treatments when we realized it would be very low odds for success and a whole lot of heartache to continue down that path. It is sad that so many kids, like the one in this article, are not actually legally "available" to adopt, because there is a birth mother in the picture who may get their crap together and be able to parent. Or maybe not. The poor kids are in limbo when they are not legally able to be adopted for this reason. I know emotionally I would not be able to foster and then not keep the child as my own, I just can't detach like that, and for that perhaps I should feel guilty because we may have been able to help some kids if we were stronger people and able to live with that. I do feel bad for all those kids out there, but I am so angry that the system often blocks them from being placed in the right homes. It is really tough, but I know also my husband was not fully on board with adoption, if he were we may have persevered through that process at the time.

Em said...

What you wrote and what she wrote - both so powerful. I'm sure Stepen will be in my mind for a long time.

Emily said...

Don't you dare feel guilty for choosing the path that was right for you. I, too, get so annoyed when people suggest the option to adopt as a cure for infertility. I've often responded, "No, we'd like our own children. Have you thought about adopting??" Why should they pose a question they can't answer to themselves really? And then of course, there are people who foster just to get money from the government...oh a whole other ballgame. You should never feel bad about your choices.

C said...

This post hit home. I feel like I could've written it. My husband suggested adoption at one point. While I admire him for being open to it; it just wasn't in my heart. I'm not sure why I felt that way, but it just didn't seem like right path for us.

acoursetothefinishline said...

Oh my goodness. This story is so heartbreaking. I agree with you - we should be no more responsible than anyone else - we too have a right to want to have biological children. I once had someone suggest I "just adopt", as if it was that easy. That thought played in my head often as we went through our fertility struggles, as if I was wrong somehow.

There seems to be no right answer.

Judy Feldman said...

Loving the blog - very interesting to read

Amber said...

I read that article just the other day. It's so heartbreaking! Stephen was trying so hard to be lovable to potential parents and it just breaks my heart that nobody "picked" him.

Adoption wasn't for us. We were open to it if the right situation came along, but it wasn't something that we felt we could pursue. Like you, we weren't sure we were strong enough to make it through the rough patches. I needed to be 100% convinced I'd be able to love that child unconditionally, and I just wasn't sure. Sounds horrible doesn't it? That's what I feel guilty about. My husband was afraid of adoption because he wouldn't have been able to handle it if we got a child, only to later lose him/her back into the system or to their parents. He wanted to KNOW that child would be ours.

Weylin said...

That was a lovely post. I was explaining to our potential egg donor IVF to my friend the other day and she started again with, why don't you just adopt? I stared at her and said, well, it is an adoption. This is such a deeply personal decision and whether it involves a child, an infant, an egg, sperm or embryo, I don't think anyone, least of all people who have never been through it, should judge. We have always thought we would go on to adopt and that is both true with our course now and perhaps for future children for us.

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