How many people trying to get pregnant can say they are truly ready to have a baby? I don’t have statistics on this, but between the people I know and the patients I’ve seen, very few first-time parents know what they are getting into. Our babies come home and life as we know it is changed forever. We spend years trying to master the art of parenting, and despite all the parenting books, magazines and classes, it can be a very steep learning curve.
The same can be said about trying to adopt. Is anyone ever truly ready to adopt? I don’t think so. And yet not very long ago adoption professionals, mostly at agencies, counseled couples to begin the process only after they had ended fertility treatment, mourned the biological child they could not have, and embraced adoption.
So much has changed since then. We now know that no one ever completely finishes mourning the loss of a loved one, even if the loved one is the child a couple imagined it might have. People can be saddened by their failed attempts at getting pregnant yet feel ready enough to begin the adoption process. And, like a good pregnancy following a miscarriage, a child coming into their home through adoption can soften the pain that still lingers.
Adoption can bring couples and individuals into the excitement of being first-time parents. They are suddenly members of the stroller set, and they are off the hook in a sense because they have a baby to hold and love. As many have said, adoption is not a cure for infertility, but it does allow people to become parents.
The worlds of adoption and fertility treatment are not quite so separate anymore. A professional at a very old, very well-established adoption agency asked me to come in to talk to their professionals about all of the current options for having a baby through reproductive technology. She was clear about wanting to know, in great detail, about what would-be parents may have experienced at their fertility clinics before coming to her agency. She believed that, armed with this awareness, agency personnel would be better equipped to understand and empathize with them.
This was an exciting request, one that told me this august adoption agency understood and accepted that people brought the pain of their infertility experience with them as they approached adoption—and that their histories could affect the way they handled the challenges and disappointments that are part of the adoption process.
I learned something else from this adoption professional. She was seeing more people beginning the adoption process and then returning to their fertility clinic to have a biological child. She believed that some of these people came to her agency at a point where they were not ready enough. They were discouraged by how long adoption could take and the decrease in opportunities to adopt internationally. From this vantage point, their reproductive options became more desirable.
Fortunately, there are people who adopt and swear that, given the chance, they wouldn’t have created their families any other way. And there are people who have children through IVF, donor egg, donor sperm, donor embryo or through surrogacy who believe they have been blessed beyond measure.
If you are wondering if you are ready to adopt, consider this: Through your fertility journey and or your adoption journey, you will be learning a great deal—the magnitude of which you cannot imagine when you first set out to build your family.
The road you’re on is going to open your eyes to the intricacies of the bond created between parents and babies who are biologically related and those who are not. Whichever route you choose there are professionals to guide you, and changing direction is always an option.
So, if you are (almost) ready, you are ready enough.
Carolyn Berger, LCSW, is an AFA Founder, Board Member, Therapist, and Adoption Advisory Counsel Chair. She has a practice specializing in Fertility, Adoption & All Forms of Family Building in Larchmont and Manhattan.