Dangerous liaison: infertility and adoption

Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy wrote a terrific and passionate essay on the relationship between infertility and adoption, and why current mainstream attitudes on this are skewed: Fertility and Getting Pregnant vs Infertility and Fertility and Getting Pregnant vs Infertility and Adoption. I love the grandmother analogy, Claudia, brilliant!

As someone who came to adoption from infertility, I feel like I can write about this subject with a fairly decent chunk of authority. I did, actually, on the old blog, and therefore won’t go into my personal experience with infertility and deciding to adopt here. Instead, and for those adoptive parents who may read Claudia’s post with disdain or dismissal, I’d like to offer a few additional thoughts to encourage you to rethink the “win-win” that often characterizes  infertility and adoption.

Infertility is a medical problem: the inability to become pregnant and/or bring a pregnancy to term. Infertility can only be resolved by a successful pregnancy. Pregnancy, however, isn’t an end to itself in the same way correcting other medical problems is (removing a tumor, for example, or putting cancer into remission). It’s no wonder most people view a child as the ultimate cure for infertility, which in turn sends us down a slippery ethical slope.

Take a look at the website of RESOLVE, the well-respected infertility support organization. Click the Family Building Options link, and look at what’s right up at the top of the list. With that simple menu option, RESOLVE sends its constituents and the public a message that, in spite of its tagline (The National Infertility Association), it does not restrict its support to the medical condition of infertility, but instead includes non-medical support for childlessness in its mission.

Look further at the information on the Adoption page. It is a how-to list, focusing on types of adoption and how to pay for it, no more than that. This is not the way anyone should enter the world of adoption.
I say this with regret, as a former member and DC chapter president of RESOLVE back in the late 80s. I, like many others, viewed infertility and childlessness as essentially the same, and adoption as a cure for both. Those of us who moved toward adoption did so with impunity, believing we had the same right to adopt as other fellow infertiles had to a cycle of IVF. It was, and continues to be, a dangerous attitude.

Adoption is not a treatment for infertility. Removing adoption from the infertility vocabulary would do adoption reform and justice a world of good.


And with that.. I feel completely validated and absolved for being harsh.
I sure do wish more people were like you!
Dana Seilhan said…
Using donor eggs or donor sperm doesn't cure infertility either. I just thought I'd throw that in there because I just had to explain to an adopter why using someone else's gametes to make yourself pregnant is not your own reproduction. You would think people would brush up a little more on Reproductive Biology 101 before making stupid unfounded assumptions about things...
Thanks, Claudia. You shouldn't apologize for being harsh, sometimes a 2x4 is the best way to get someone's attention!

Dana, I couldn't agree more. I think maybe I've tip-toed around that issue too long for not wanting to judge someone else's reproductive decisions, but honestly people should get that when you incubate an embryo that grew from egg and sperm that aren't yours or your partner's that what you're doing is, at its core, adoption.
Shannon said…
As an adoptive mother who never tried to get pregnant, I always feel like I can't fairly judge what infertile people are doing. But I'm glad you said these things, Margie!

And yesyesyes to gamete "donation" (which is too often really sales). It is enough like adoption that it needs to be addressed in the same ways vis a vis the rights of the people conceived in these ways to know their biological history.
Alex King said…
When you suggest that the loss of genetic connection for children born through AI is "the same" as that aspect of adoptee loss, that's narrowed enough that it doesn't rely on principles that may not be shared.

The notion that the fathers of children born through AI aren't their 'real' or 'natural' parents, that they are raising "someone else's child", as stated above by 3 comments--that idea relies on some assumptions about the nature of life, family and parenting relationships that are problematic.

Perhaps the way I restated those assumptions was unclear, so I'll take another swing at it: My niece is her parents' child, not the dislocated child of the grad student who sold his sperm. She has access to a comprehensive medical and personality index about that man, and should she wish to contact the other children born from his "donations" (a term I have concerns about) she's free to do so. The only "genetic connection" she doesn't have is contact with that donor, and despite the sales pitch he accepted 15 year ago, if she wants that she can have it. The terms of her parents' agreement with the sperm bank can't be applied to her.

I just don't see how you can meaningfully compare that experience to the disconnections experienced by adopted children, even if they're infants, especially if the adoption is cross-cultural. It's not even apples and oranges. One is an apple, the other is a hubcap.
Anonymous said…
"I believe the loss of genetic connection would be the same as for an adopted person;"

I don't see how this is possible. In almost all ART donor situations (sperm or egg) One parent is the genetic parent of the infant. Thus the genetic disconnection is not the same as for an adopted child.

Furthermore, children conceptualize motherhood as "who carried me in her tummy." An understanding of genetics comes later unless the kid is very bright - about pre-teen age years age 9-12 yrs. Again, this child would not be similarly situated to an adopted child.

You could argue a child born of sperm or egg donor is a more upsetting experience or whatnot. But to argue it's the same experience as adoption for the children just doesn't follow logically.
Anonymous said…
"Also, just want to clarify that the comment you quoted speaks only to the loss of genetic connection adopted and donor conceived people may experience, not the experiences of having been adopted or donor conceived in total."

I think the identity formation of children is likely to influence and shape the adult response. I am not trying to assert there is no loss for any donor-conceived people as a result of a genetic connection disconnect with one of the parents.

The overall experience of those who are adopted, versus the donor-born, will be shaped by their different experiential circumstances. As overall experiences, they are quite different.

Except in unusual circumstances, adopted people do not possess a genetic connection to either genetic parent. In contrast, a donor conceived person is almost always genetically connected to one parent.

In addition, women who use donors (sperm or egg) almost always give birth to the child.

Finally, kids who are adopted were relinquished after birth. Donor kids are not relinquished at birth. The interpretation of the birthing event figures into the interpretation and experience of adoption, but not in the donor-conceived experience/ memory/ interpretation of their own birth.

I'm going to weigh in here as an AP who participated in ART albeit unsuccessfully. Here's the thing. The first generations of ART kids are reaching their 20s now. You know what they're doing -they're looking for the genetic parent that's missing. Yep - the egg donor or the sperm donor who didn't think of themselves as a parent at that point. The loss is definitely similar to adoption. Because it doesn't matter whether or not the birth occurred before the "giving away." It's still a giving away. You can pretend it's like giving blood but to these kids it's not. They are missing a connection to at least one and sometimes 2 genetic parents. Does it make the loss different? yes, it can, but it still is something missing. We had to go through counseling prior to IVF with a donor egg. We talked about how to tell the child about their conception, their genetic history. It's not different from adoption in many ways. The donors are in their 20s, they don't have "complete medical histories"These kids grow up with a lot of unknowns about their medical history - some care, some don't. We also talked about the fact that some kids are now searching for their genetic parent (please forgive the ART term, no offense meant to first parents). They aren't just looking for medical history. They are many times looking for the same types of things that adopted people are looking for.

And yes, I fully felt that for me there was very little difference in adopting or conceiving via an egg donor as far as genetics goes. Genetics matter. Environment matters too, but we need to not discount the importance of genetics. How many people use Ancestry.com to figure out their family tree? For them, genetics obviously matters. Why do we pretend in ART or adoption that it doesn't.
Geochick said…
Just found you through Musings of Lame. Great post! I read Claudia's post, and while I felt myself getting a little worked up, here and there, I understand what you are both saying. It drives me crazy when people act like adopting solved all my fertility problems. Nope. They are totally different issues. The one link is that I wanted to be a parent. That's all.

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