Is it wrong to tell childless women to adopt?

It’s not morally wrong – your heart is probably in the right place, and adoption is the right path for some people. However, you can really hurt your childless friend, by responding to their fertility struggles by suggesting adoption. But why?

Your friend is a wonderful person, right? They really, really want a child, but can’t seem to get pregnant, right? Then why is it so hurtful to gently suggest adoption to them?

Adoption isn’t a dirty word – but it’s not a magical fix either

Let’s get one thing straight – people who foster and adopt are amazing. They have so much love in their hearts, that they’re prepared to share it with a child they don’t even know yet. However, books, movies and TV shows have given the wrong impression about adoption. It isn’t the answer to the vast majority of fertility struggles – no matter how much we’d all like it to be.

Here are the main reasons why it’s best not to say this:

Because that’s not your friend’s path right now

As much as we may wish that all of the parentless children in the world could connect with someone as wonderful as your childless friend, adoption is just not their path right now. If it was the answer to their struggles, you’d hear about it. 

“But they could make the world a better place for a child!”

Being brutally honest, so could you! We’d all like to make children safer and happier, but very few people are willing to go as far as adoption for that. If you’re not prepared to adopt yourself, whether you have fertility struggles or not, then it’s not fair to expect others to do so.

Be a great friend and respect the journey that they’re actually on. Don’t tell them to take a different path, they already know what the alternatives are. Fertility struggles are stressful and treatment is invasive. Nobody does it unless it’s seriously important to them. 

Because adoption isn’t the easy option people think it is

Lots of children with no parents, lots of couples with no children – the solution seems so simple on the surface. If only it were. 

Even if we ignore the primal urge some people have for pregnancy and a baby of their own – that a lot of us take for granted because it comes so easily to us, you can’t “just adopt” a child. You can’t walk into an orphanage and pick out a pink or blue bundle of joy from a row of cots. 

Like fertility treatment, adoption is a long process with no guarantee of success. It’s stressful. It’s invasive. Your friend might be waiting a long time, and then they might still be disappointed. There are no guarantees with fertility treatment – and no guarantees with adoption either. It’s not the simple solution that people think it is. Barnardo’s offer resources to help support people who do want to adopt.

Because you’re implying their journey has come to an end, and it hasn’t

Nobody knows how many attempts to get pregnant it will take. Nobody can predict exactly how expensive or stressful it’s going to be.  

There comes a point in every fertility journey where it either works, or you have to walk away. In case you haven’t guessed by now – that’s a really big deal for your friend. Rest assured, they think about this day and night. Fertility journeys are hard, and they are constantly weighing things up – “Can I afford this? Am I selfish to try again when it causes my partner so much stress? This next round of IVF might wreck my mental health and put me in debt, but this is my last chance.”

The only person who gets to decide when they need to end fertility treatment or trying for a baby is the individual that’s actually going through it. 

Some people do end their fertility journey and then make the decision to adopt, and that can work out incredibly well for them. However, it’s not your call to make. Your friend is not at that incredibly emotional point right now, and even if they were – they still might not feel that adoption is right for them. Saying “Have you thought about adoption?” is like saying “Hey this is a waste of time, why don’t you just skip to the end?” and it’s incredibly hurtful. 

Yikes, I have innocently suggested adoption to a friend, and now I feel bad about it!

That’s OK! Everyone makes mistakes, and it’s hard to see things through the eyes of someone with fertility struggles if you haven’t gone through that yourself. We’ve all been on the receiving end of unintentionally thoughtless comments, and suggestions that are meant to be helpful but just, well, aren’t. The world is a big place, and we can’t always understand exactly what other people are going through, even if we really do care. 

Not everyone is upset by this suggestion, and some people are actively considering it and might welcome the chance to talk about it. However, it is quite a loaded topic for some people who are currently struggling to get pregnant. It happens a hell of a lot though, so you won’t be the only person who’s ever suggested it – and most people know that it comes from a helpful place, even if it’s not the ideal thing to say. 

Feel bad about it? You’d be shocked how amazing it is when people say “Hey, I didn’t really get what you were going through before, but I read up a little bit on fertility struggles, and I get it a bit more now. I actually shouldn’t have suggested adoption, it’s a completely different thing to what you’re going through. How are you doing with it all?”

As a final thought to leave you with – people with fertility issues can feel very unheard and misunderstood, even by close friends and family. If you just support your friend on their personal journey, they will appreciate it more than you could ever know.