May 10, 2013
Ever since I got back from doing IVF, people keep asking me if I will now turn to adoption. I thought I would explain why that's not in the cards for me, and why sometimes that can feel like a loaded question.
I have been thinking about building our family for six years. I have cried, raged, hoped, and writhed. I have been poked, scraped, injected, and pumped full of radiographic dye. I have bled and been anesthetized a lot.
I am exhausted.
Last week I had a consult for a second opinion on whether I could ever be considered a good candidate for IVF. As I waited for the doctor to enter my room, I realized I was getting panicky that he might say yes. That he might say that we should try another round or three of IVF and keep trying until we maybe, possibly, might get a good embryo that maybe, possibly, might implant and become a baby. I realized I was not worried that we would hear bad news; I was worried that he might offer me a glimmer of hope.
I realized I was done with hope.
I have been full-steam-ahead for six years, from the moment we decided we wanted a baby. It is not in my nature to be any other way. If I'm in, I'm all in. I am not the type of person who can "just relax" and go with the flow. I tinker, I fidget, and I run tiny science experiments every single month. And every time, I feed the fire of hope that this time, maybe this time, I have figured it all out and gotten it right.
That hope is really hard to live with. I realized recently that I could more easily live with my daughter being an only child than I could with that neverending rollercoaster of hope I've been living for six years.
Which brings me to my point: choosing to go the adoption route means choosing to keep living with that hope. It means putting my name on a list and allowing myself to sit there, heart open, hope half-kindled, waiting to see if we'd ever get the call.
I cannot do that.
This choice has nothing to do with the babies themselves. I think I could bond with an adopted baby, I think I could love an adopted baby, and no one anywhere in our families would have any issue at all with an adopted person joining our life.
This is not about the baby; it's about the process. I, personally, cannot endure the process. Many people can, and I marvel at their strength. (I'm lookin' at you, dear Darla.) I cannot. Definitely not after the past six years.
The IVF was incredibly stressful and that was a 28-day process. At the end of the month, you know if you have a baby or not. If adoption worked that fast, perhaps I could endure it. If someone showed up on my doorstep today and handed me a baby, I could run with it. But the adoption process could mean years of waiting. I cannot add more years to the six years I've already (barely) survived.
And I know that if I had nothing, I would be willing to endure more risk and more heartache in order to bring a child into our life. But I have done that once, which takes the edge off of your pain. Having one child means I do not have nothing. I have her, and I can choose to put her first by letting her have a mommy who is zen and content instead of a mommy who gnaws at her fingernails and waits for her heart to be trampled at any moment.
I am growing OK with walking away from the struggle and the hope and the family I once imagined. But every time some well-meaning person asks me if, now that everything else has failed, why don't I just adopt, I have to rip that scab off just a little bit in order to explain why I don't. And I have to justify why I am done. Whether they mean it or not, they put me on the defensive for having to explain why even though I would like one more kid, I cannot endure any more heartache or waiting or hope. It does feel like an accusation, like they're saying that we just haven't tried hard enough, that there are avenues we haven't pursued and we're quitters for stopping now.
I busted my butt for six years, and the question implies that I am a quitter.
I wanted two kids. I got one. But I know other families that don't have any history of infertility who stopped short of their original kid goal. Maybe they started out wanting four and stopped at three. Maybe they had two and enjoyed daydreaming of a third but just decided that they were getting too old to be pregnant again. Why aren't these couples getting badgered to "just adopt" to hit their original kid quota? Why is it only those of us who have been through YEARS of sorrow and pain who are expected to soldier on and happily enter the completely new realm of paperwork and home visits and waiting lists and lawyers? We've been through enough complicated crap already. Some of us are just ready for the ordeal to be over so we can get on with LIFE.
Usually I just try to pithily explain that adoption is expensive (three times as much as my IVF), and grueling, and not always guaranteed to result in a happy ending for everyone.
This article does a great job of explaining why suggesting that couples "just adopt" is not as simple as it sounds. Many of these stories are heartbreaking and make you realize that the adoption process is not for the faint of heart. But this part especially resonated with me:
I think I could answer this question calmly and logically if I thought it was asked from a place of genuine curiosity or concern. But it always feels like an accusation, as if a woman who wanted children but didn’t adopt is somehow a lesser human being, or the dreaded word so often associated with childlessness: selfish.
So, instead of educating about the complexities of the adoption process, I usually just offer a neat version of the truth: that we would have, if we hadn’t already maxed out our heartbreak cards.
After five years of dealing with infertility, my husband and I did choose adoption over the expensive and evasive fertility treatments that were offered as our next low-odds hope. We quickly learned that the "millions of unwanted children looking for loving homes” is a myth and "just adopting” isn’t a matter of going to Wal-Mart and selecting a baby off the shelves.
Deciding to remain childless or to just be happy with the one you have is a perfectly valid life choice. And I know that most people in my life are loving and kind and are just curious when they ask what our next step will be. They don't mean any harm. But I suppose what I want people to think about is this: asking these questions is normal and part of being a good friend...but I personally would really appreciate if friends started the conversation with "I'd love to talk to you about your journey if that's OK with you. I know you've been through a lot already and I am so impressed with your strength. How do you feel at this point?" Providing a really open-ended question like that -- where the person can say that they might consider adoption next, or say that they want to take a breather to figure it all out, or say that their journey is over -- puts the speaker in control of where the conversation steers, instead of being forced to discuss things that maybe she doesn't want to have to explain. And the compliment seriously helps. Most infertile people just want to be validated, shown that what they've been through is indeed an ordeal and that friends and family have noticed the struggle and give them a pat on the back before the barrage of personal questions begins.
And I really want to be brave enough one time to answer "Are you considering adoption?" with "Why...are you?"
I always saw myself as having kids. I was never one of those people who wanted to be a kindergarten teacher, but when I imagined my life, I imagined a family. When my husband and I started dating, we both thought two kids was just right. And then...life happened. There was always a reason we were remaining childless. Some reasons were beyond our control (deployment), some reasons seem frivolous in retrospect (we wanted to save X amount of money before we started a family), and some reasons still seem reasonable but really weren't the deal-breaker I thought they were (I really didn't want to have a baby in Germany). And so we put it off. And even when the time came to take the plunge, we both thought we weren't ready yet.
"Not ready" is such an odd way of looking at something that later came to consume my whole world and chip away at my emotional well-being. I so quickly went from being terrified of having kids to being terrified I might not ever be able to.
I remember sitting on the sofa talking about it and being completely not ready. Scared and overwhelmed. And then one month later, as I stared in bewilderment at the negative pregnancy test and realized how much I had assumed it would be positive, I realized how silly that idea of "ready" had turned out to be. "Ready" was whatever we told ourselves we were. It was a switch that had now been turned on, and turned on full-force. Not for one moment in the entire time between that day and three years later when BabyGrok entered the world did I ever question my "readiness" again. Once you just tell yourself you're ready, you are.
What I imagine telling BabyGrok one day, or anyone else who will listen, is that now that I am an old lady, and now that I have faced my inability to procreate, I realize that I think raising a family is the whole point of us being here in the first place. To pass on our genes, our values, and our culture to the next generation. To make more people, wonderful people, to fill this earth. But it took hindsight and a lot of tragedy to realize how important it was to me.
I had the husband. I had the good marriage. I had the stable income and the nice home and the perfect setting into which to introduce children. And yet I waited...for some "more perfect" setting that I thought would happen eventually. For the heavens to open and deliver unto me an epiphany that I was now "ready" to be a parent.
I squandered the most fertile years of my life waiting for the moment when I would be "ready." Waiting for all the rest of our life to be perfectly squared away so that there were no other boxes to check or things to be done before we moved on to the next step.
I don't want other young people to make the same mistake.
The irony is that I would've had trouble creating life no matter if I started at 19 instead of 29. My DNA is crap either way. But I still would've had better chances of conceiving earlier on, and I would've hit my breaking point earlier in life and still been biologically capable of doing IVF. I waited too long to start a family, and then to compound things, I waited too long to get to my wit's end and move on to medical intervention.
What I want people to think about during Fertility Awareness Week is that most of us these days don't feel "ready" at age 24, but our fertility says otherwise. That it's a gift that waits for no promotion or graduate degree or infernal sense of "readiness."
I bought into the idea that I could wait until one day shy of 35 and everything would still be fine. I was misinformed.
What I wish I had been made more aware of is this:
Infertility and Age
In her 20′s, a woman’s chance of conceiving ranges between 20 and 25 percent each month. This is directly in relation to her relatively high number of eggs. Though by the age of 27 the average egg count has dropped by 90 percent from the time she is born, 10 percent remain. [...]
In her early 30′s, a woman’s chance of becoming pregnant drops from between 20 percent and 25 percent to approximately 15 percent monthly. This drop in percentage is a natural result of aging. As a woman ages, she produces less viable eggs each fertility cycle, hence driving upinfertilityas less eggs are available for sperm to reach. [...]
In her late 30′s–those over 35 years of age–a woman’s chance of getting pregnant falls yet again to just 10 percent per month.
I screwed up and can never go back and use my time more wisely. As a result, I will be the nutjob urging BabyGrok to have a baby by 25.
And urging her to have more than two!
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