Infertility, Adoption and Me

Infertile. Sterile. Unproductive. Barren. Unfruitful.

Words that wound. Words that shame. Words that tell the world that we who cannot conceive and bear children have failed at that most basic human function - procreation.

Welcome to the wonderful world of infertility.

It's a world I know well, one that I lived with for years - eight to be exact, pretty much the entire span of my thirties. Eight years of believing I could beat my body into submission. Eight years of physical and emotional torture, drugs that threw my body onto a physical and emotional roller coaster, endless tests, painful treatments, and surgeries big and small. Eight years of utter helplessness and hopelessness on a scale that, at the time, I thought had no equal.

I married at 25, immature for my age and unready to start a family. Third Dad had put himself through college, and consequently finished a year and a half after me, in December of 1973. We married the following summer, and just wanted those first few years for ourselves. The biological clock was ticking, but we felt young and weren't ready for the responsibility of children.

We waited until I was 32 to start trying. By then we'd bought a house, settled into our jobs, and felt we were prepared to be parents. It never crossed my mind that my body wouldn't cooperate, although a long family history of infertility and miscarriage preceded me. We tried for a year - nothing. We began to push for an explanation from my ob/gyn - nothing. Tests revealed no significant cause, so we continued trying for another year - nothing.

I think every person who faces infertility will agree that there comes a point at which you say it's either time to walk away or to pull out the big guns. After two years of nothing, we reached that point, and found ourselves a reproductive endocrinologist. And folks, the race was on.

What astonishes me about those next six years is how I fell hook, link and sinker for every seductive shred of hope that came my way. Percentages showed that success was unlikely? I was going to be in that twenty or thirty or forty percent. Physical anomalies identified that made pregnancy (never mind carrying a child to term) a stretch? Hey, I was young and healthy and was GOING. TO. BEAT. THIS. THING.

Well, it damn near beat me to death. For there came a point a couple of years in, when my entire life focused on fighting infertility. I lived and breathed it - looking for a diagnosis, evaluating new treatments, seeking support, which I found in RESOLVE.

Connecting with RESOLVE was empowering. RESOLVE appropriately approached infertility as a medical condition, not a punishment from on high or a self-inflicted condition. My focus broadened to include fighting the insurance industrty, which sought to deny treatment of any sort, and to protecting infertile people from unethical infertility clinics - for wherever you are in life, there are unethical people waiting to relieve you of something, in this case your money. I became active in the local DC chapter.

Yes, I carried the banner for my fellow infertiles, and it said "Babies for All!" Even though RESOLVE supported the decision of any infertile person to remain "childfree," the main message was loud and clear: Infertile couples deserved medically-sound treatment delivered by ethical physicians and clinics. And they deserved children - not other people's children, please don't misunderstand. Just children.

But to those who are utterly desperate for a baby, and who have been lulled by the medical community and their peers into a sense of entitlement, the line begins to blur. It's not that you knowingly start preying on helpless women to steal their children. It's more that your focus becomes so fixed on having a child that you stop thinking carefully about your actions. But the motivation doesn't matter: for the mother and child the end result is the same - separation.

I can see that in so many ways my eyes were closed. I remember a nurse once telling me that treating infertility was like baking a cake - you had to keep adjusting the recipe. But at $5,000 and up per cycle, that's one hell of a cake! Yet I accepted it, never questioned for a minute the wisdom of continuing to try. I wanted a baby, and bad. When reality finally sank in (after the discovery and removal of a baseball-sized fibroid that had completely scarred and deformed my uterus) and I realized I would never become pregnant, I threw the medical approach over my shoulder without a backward glance, and embraced adoption as if I'd invented it.

I often read that people who have experienced infertility grieve for their "dream child" and carry that pain throughout their lives. It's odd, but in all my years of infertility treatment - and there were some doozies - I never once imagined the child I was sure I'd bear. Never. And when I walked away from it all, I never gave it another thought - except to question what pushed me all those years. Was it was some instinctual drive that kicked in in my thirities? The seductive promises of success from the doctors? Or my need to control the uncontrollable?

I'll never know. But I do know this: I'm a reasonable, reasonably intelligent person who believes she behaves justly and ethically. Yet during those years, my desire for a child controlled ME, not the other way around. Had I been told then that adoption was unethical, I honestly don't think I would have listened. And if there ever was a good reason for us to make sure our adoption laws are solid and just, it's that.


Bek said…
You write so beautifully.... I can relate to some of what you said, but most of it is a journey that I have not been on....

It is good to "see" you here again.
Lisa V said…
This is a great post. And you are right, expecting prospective adoptive parents to be able to objectively examine the ethics in adoptions is probably not the place to start. I think that thundering drive to nurture drowns everything else out. That's why we need to work on society in general about adoption reform, so that by the time someone gets to approaching adoption they are somewhat educated. Maybe some misconceptions could be already dispelled even.
Lizard said…
Thank you for this post, Margie. You're right. Your story and thousands like it are the reason we need adoption reform.

Weird, it was my adoption issues that actually had me insanely obsessing over NOT getting pregnant. I actually had an IUD for 3 years before I ever had or CONSIDERED having sex, I was just that paranoid. I obsessed with preventing pregnancy until I got married at 33 and insisted my husband get a vasectomy before I would marry him.

7 years later I too had a grapefruit-sized fibroid and, when it was removed with my uterus, I found out I never could have gotten pregnant. My uterus apparently was always a POS. All that trouble and worry for nothing. lol
joy said…
Oh Margie,

You are so honest and brave, (((((((((Margie))))) said…
It's not something I talk about with other people, I am glad to be able to read about it here.

I am not going to go for the big guns or adopt, I am going to be 42 this year, I don't want to be totally focused on getting pregnant.

Thank you for putting it out there because it makes me feel less alone with all this.
Margie said…
Julie, it's amazing to me how many women I've met who had large unfound fibroids, and in almost every such case it turns out the were grown IN the uterus, not ON its exterior. I really hope the medical profession is doing a better of finding thos!

You know, Joy, there's no bravery here. I honestly and truly do not think about infertility anymore, which is why this post was such a long time coming. It's all so vague, I had to sit and think about it for quite awhile to get it back in focus.

And Kim - my heart goes out to you. I know what you're experiencing right now, and it hurts. When I was in those years of desperate desire for a baby with no success, the pain was overwhelming. I'm here to offer support or a shoulder anytime you want to vent, because I also know that venting helps.

Hey, Bek, thanks for stopping by! I'm so sketchy with keeping up with the 150 blogs on my blogroll (this is out of control), that I don't get to comment on each one as much. But I just want to say that yours is just great, really good stuff and absolutely adorable kids, too!
Kahlan said…
Yes, yes, and yes. Thanks for posting this, Margie.
Paula O. said…
Incredibly powerful and moving, Margie. Thank you for sharing such a personal part of yourself.
spyderkl said…

That's a terrific post. Thanks for writing that.
bijou said…
Hi Margie,
thank you for sharing this. youre right, making the decision to adopt whilst on an obsessive marathon run to have a baby will probably not lead to a very favourable outcome for all involved. When I see some of the postings from PAPs which are to the nature of just give us a baby already!, it truly scares me as an adoptee. I wonder if these kids will have to live with the guilt, or have issues from knowing they are plan C or D after hearing about all of their mom's trials and tribulations in IVF and subsequent miscarriages? Adoption is complex, and requires much more thought be put into it.

My perspective is a bit different. I live in Europe where women and couples are actually choosing to remain childless, and this is an acceptable lifestyle. I have to wonder if the pain of infertility is even greater in the u.s. by an overwhelming pressure to have this "ideal" life?

sorry to ramble on..but your post is quite thought provoking
Margie said…
Thanks, all. And Bijou, I just visited your blog, which is new to me - good one! I've got you linked.

And I think that you are certainly on to at least part of the issue. With the emphasis that's placed on achieving "the American dream," on "family values," etc, it can be difficult for some to let go of their hopes, even when their physiology is saying "no more!"

It is a kind of desperation, to be sure. In my experience, though, most infertiles that decide to adopt don't think of it as plan B; rather, they think of it as fate, "meant to be." That can be an entirely different, and equally challenging, attitude for an adoptee to deal with.
MomEtc. said…
For me, the torture was in not knowing whether or not I'd ever get pregnant. When I finally had a definitive answer (that I couldn't ever get pregnant)I was actually relieved that the battle was over.

I feel fortunate that I was actually FORCED not to go directly from my hysterectomy to the nearest adoption agency. First I was scared sh*tless I'd get cancer again and even if I wasn't I had to wait five years from treatment to get the "all clear" letter from my doctor. I think those five years gave me time to do a lot of thinking and getting myself in order to prepare for the road ahead.
Possum said…
Great post Margie - thanks for writing this.
Poss. xxx
mgpdirect said…
Margie, as always, you write to the truth and heart of the matter.

I spent the best of my reproductive years with the wrong husband :=) Hubby #2 and I married at 35. And because he had spent the best of his reproductive years with the wrong wife - and no kids to show for it, we both knew that having biological children might be, delicately phrased, problematic.

So we tried. Got pregnant fast, 2 miscarriages, ages 35 & 36. Got pregnant with our eldest daughter fast, age 36-37. Back in the saddle at 39. Had a nice little molar pregnancy. D&C and no pregnancy allowed for 1 year. Then several miscarriages & D&Cs more. Last one I was 42. I always got pregnant quickly, and that kept me on the treadmill longer than it should have.

When we embraced adoption - and that's exactly the right word - we were both very ready. Not so much with the baby fever, I just wanted more kids to call me mom. Completely selfish, I know.

I saw adoption as a good for two parties but even in the happy haze recognized there was loss, too. (It took me years to give away my maternity clothes, some still with price tags on them.)

As I tell my children, though, none of them are the second choice or third choice. My children are simply representative of my choice and desire to parent.

Even my eldest child, born to me, knows there were 2 pregnancies before hers. Doesn't make her a Plan B. Just another step among many in mommy's exciting adventures in reproduction and parenthood.

10 years ago this year, my husband and I began our adoption journey. Like you, I've learned much about the process, the good, the not-so-good and sometimes the godawful. Adoption reform needs to happen, to cut a wider swath across all members of the triadic community. APs need to do better without the knee-jerk defensiveness. Birth parents need to be acknowledged and respected. Adoptees, both children and adults, need to be heard.

We all need to be able to "take it" when it's our turn to shut up and listen.

Great post, Margie. Thank you.
Gwen said…
It's late and I'm tired but I just wanted to say I can sooo relate! The roller coaster of infertility stinks!
Me said…
Very interesting post. You've given me something to ponder...
Anonymous said…
lovely to hear a reasoned insanity and the grasp of reality that hits when one starts to think.

I am a first mom, who really likes that you think of me as having loved my child.

I am fortunate to have a reasonable chance of a normal everyday relationship with my daughter. I am so familiar to her, and she to me, even though we have never spent much time together. That does not mean I am her Mum in the way her Mum is her Mum. But I am her family and she is mine. I love her and wish her all best wishes.
Prabha said…
Stumbled on to your blog from Adoptive Families link. There is so much clarity to your expression and as a PAP it gives me even more things to think about and consider. I did not jump off the infertility treadmill onto adoption directly. I took a couple of years off and really mulled it over. The desire to parent is so overwhelming that it lead to where I am today. I am not sure how my life will pan out but I do want to tell you that reading your thoughts has made me view the other parts of the triad much differently. Thank you for your honest writing.

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