Those same two words were thrown at me relentlessly after my infertility diagnosis at the age of 26.
I was young and single, and from an outsider’s perspective I’m sure it made sense.
“Why worry about this now? Wait until you settle down. Then … just adopt.”
The words came from a place of caring. But every time I heard them, it stung a little bit more.
The truth was, I wasn’t ready to accept adoption as my path in life.
I had always wanted to be a mother, but I’d always pictured that coming to me in the same way it did for everyone else.
I believed I would fall in love, get married, get pregnant, and be able to care for my child from the moment of conception.
Once I felt those choices being ripped away from me, adoption began to feel like the scraps I was left with.
And the more people offered it up to me as the seemingly easy solution, the more I resented the idea that I should just accept this second-rate path to parenthood.
Because yes, at the height of my infertility grief, that was how I began to view adoption.
I’m not proud. But I was so angry. And sad. And hurt.
Why did everyone around me get to just snap their fingers and be pregnant, while I was essentially being told to simply take what I could get and be grateful for it?
A change of heart
It took years for me to get past that feeling.
I pursued fertility treatments on my own, determined to at least give my body a chance at carrying a baby.
When it didn’t work, I took a step back and told myself I would wait.
Wait until I fell in love. Wait until I had my partner. Wait until something else felt like the right step to take.
I didn’t move closer to adoption. I just moved further away from the tight grip I was holding on what parenthood should look like for me.
And in the years that followed, I worked on healing both my body and my heart. I gave myself permission to not have all the answers. I took the pressure off.
Then, something happened.
About five months’ shy of my 30th birthday, a friend sent me a link to a profile of a little girl on a foster to adopt website.
“I don’t know why,” she said, “But I saw her and just thought of you.”
I hadn’t thought any further about adoption at all in the years prior. And I certainly hadn’t thought about fostering or adopting an older child.
But something clicked as I looked not only at this little girl’s profile, but also at the profiles of other children like her looking for homes.
It no longer felt like second best. Suddenly, it felt like everything I’d been waiting for.
A sudden change in plans
My heart opened to adoption almost overnight.
I began to believe adopting an older child through foster care was something I was meant to do.
I started classes for my foster care certification almost immediately, and I was getting truly excited about the prospect of skipping those sleepless baby years and instead bringing a child into my life who might otherwise never find a place of their own to call home.
A child who might really, truly need me.
Life had other plans.
Just three months after that first profile was sent to me, and on the day of my last foster care certification class, I found myself in a delivery room holding the newborn who would become my daughter.
I’d met her other mother by chance just the week before, as she had been frantically looking for someone to take the baby she was still carrying. The details of our adoption story are incredibly unique, but four years later I can say with certainty … it was all very much so meant to be.
We have an extremely open adoption, and I am routinely thankful for the connections we have been able to maintain with my daughter’s other family.
I am also so in love with this little girl, to the point that I can’t believe I ever thought, even for a second, that adopting might be a lesser way of becoming a parent.
A long, emotional road
But hindsight is always 20/20.
One thing you will never hear me telling a woman who is struggling with infertility to do is to “just adopt.”
I firmly believe that adoption has to be a calling for it to work. You have to want it, not because you can’t have anything else, but because it’s where your heart is actually leading you.
I also know from experience that just because you’re not there now, doesn’t mean you never will be.
Healthline spoke to Lori Holden, author of “The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption,” and she shared a similar sentiment.
“Adoption is too big a deal to enter into with anything but full intentionality,” she explained. “There are just too many issues that can come up along the way that can be too difficult to deal with if it’s not something your heart is in.”
Which is why it can be important to come to a place of peace with infertility first.
“Filling the crib isn’t the same thing as resolving infertility.” Holden said. “Becoming a mom or dad through adoption resolves the parenthood issue, but still, we remain incapable of conceiving and bearing a child with our and our beloved’s DNA. This can show up over the years when we realize on occasion that we have a child with an unfamiliar-to-us temperament or interest or skill set. We may notice it when our child’s expression reminds us of a birth parent.”
These flashes can trigger feelings of jealousy or sadness or insecurity. “She looks too much like her and nothing like me.”
In those moments, we may feel left out, resentful, diminished. Will we allow these emotions to cause us to react from a hurt place? Or will we take a moment to understand what is going on inside us and choose how we respond to our emotions?”
I am personally of the belief that until you are at a place of peace with infertility, dealing with those emotions that go hand in hand with adoption in a healthy way is nearly impossible.
How long should you wait?
According to federal government statistics, there are about 427,000 children in foster care with an average age of 8.
There are also about 111,000 children waiting to be adopted.
So, clearly the need is there.
But how long should a person still grieving infertility wait before pursuing adoption?
Holden told Healthline, “I’ve found that grief tends to come in a spiral rather than a linear fashion. It may be unrealistic to wait until all grief is resolved — does that ever even happen? But there is a sense of acceptance that eventually comes if we allow our feelings to be felt and maybe even released. The spiral does tend to lessen in intensity over time. With the help of a good therapist, and with the intention to deal with feelings of grief when they do spiral around each time, we can get to a place of acceptance of infertility and excitement about adoption as a path toward parenthood.”
Reaching that point is different for everyone, and some may never fully get there. That’s OK, too. Adoption isn’t for everyone.
Of the several adoptive parents Healthline spoke to, there were a lot of different responses regarding when to move on to adoption.
Sarah Allen of Australia, and Amber Mary of Alaska, both said they wished they hadn’t wasted so many years (and so much money) on fertility treatments and had instead moved on to adoption sooner.
Meanwhile, Kim Freitas echoed some of my own sentiments, saying, “I don’t think I could have closed the infertility chapter of my life without trying IVF. That was my closure, so to speak.”
I personally needed to try. I needed to check those boxes and to be able to walk away from the dream of pregnancy knowing I had at least given it a shot.
I honestly don’t think I ever would have been able to move on to adoption had I not first answered that lingering “what if.” And while I don’t have happy feelings regarding the two rounds of IVF I pursued, I do tend to feel like things happen the way they are supposed to.
If I had come around to adoption sooner, I wouldn’t have my little girl … and I can’t imagine my life turning out any other way.