Dark Fertility is a collection of anonymous, true fertility stories. Because of the taboos around infertility, not everyone is willing to go public with their stories. We believe it’s important to tell these stories anyway.
Content warning: Infertility, miscarriage, mild black humour.
An open letter to people who tell me to adopt
“Have you considered adoption if this doesn’t work?”
Dear everyone who has suggested adoption, especially those who think I’m being oversensitive about it. I invite you to consider this phrase:
“I’m so sorry your cat died. But maybe you should just get another cat?”
Imagine if I actually went around saying awful stuff like this. It would raise a few eyebrows. Someone might take me aside and tell me it’s in bad taste. I would upset a few friends who love their cats.
When I disclose my infertility to you, and you say “Why don’t you just adopt a kid?”, I promise you, it’s ten times worse than the cat thing. I would be mortified if I thought I’d hurt someone’s feelings about something so precious to them. I’m simply asking for this courtesy to be extended to women with infertility. From my deeply fertile sister-in-law who I secretly call “Unicorn Womb”, to my co-worker who wanted to know why my mascara was smudged last Monday. For the love of God people, just catch yourselves when you’re tempted to blurt this out.
I’m writing this anonymously for my infertility sisters, because I can’t hold it in any more. Because the alternative is continuing to smile and shrug like we’re hiding a mouthful of broken glass, and we’re tired of it. We’re tired of being infertile, and we’re tired of answering this stupid question.
One of the most frustrating little things about infertility, is that we’re not allowed to simply feel how we feel about things. If we’re sad, people try to cheer us up by saying stuff like “You could always adopt a child though!” or even “If you adopted, at least you’d have a kid even if it’s not your own!”. Unfortunately, reminding me that there are plenty of women who are capable of having a child, but either don’t want them or can’t look after them, does not in fact, cheer me up.
I do understand that not every woman who gives up a child for adoption is a neglectful monster, and that it’s a tragic and terrible thing to have to do. Sometimes it is truly the best and kindest way forwards for the parent and child. However, it tests the limit of my empathy, to be constantly reminded that this is a common occurrence. I try as hard as I can to empathise, but sometimes I fail and feel guilty about it. Then I wonder if my infertility is a punishment for having such dark thoughts about other women. I’m not even religious. That’s how crazy infertility makes you.
We’re not allowed to be angry about it either. We’re told that we’re obsessed with having a baby (true) and that we need to “move on” (not your decision to make). If you ever dare be slightly cross or snotty about this question, as I have after a glass of wine and a rough week, the person asking will act like you did actually murder their cat and then suggest buying a new one. No, we don’t hate you for asking that question, don’t be so dramatic. We’re incapable of hating anything more than we hate our infertility. Sometimes we hate our stubborn bodies too, but relax – we still like or love you, even when you thoughtlessly stumble in on our otherwise OK day with this clumsy question. Much of the time you’re instantly forgiven. We just want you to stop doing it.
Why does it hurt so much? 1 in 8 couples struggles to make a baby. Sometimes it’s the horrific experience of repeated miscarriages. Sometimes, as in my case there is no rhyme or reason to it. My little eggs just stubbornly ignore their spermy friends, no matter how much we Do It. I’m getting to the point of never wanting to see another red Ann Summers negligee or bottle of Pro-Seed as long as I live. Infertility affects our whole life. Our emotions, finances, relationships, hormones, energy levels and mental health. It’s impossible to really explain what it’s like to desperately want a baby and not be able to have one, especially when everybody around you is getting pregnant and you’re being left behind. You’ll just have to take my word for it, that it is utter torture. Torture that will only ever be relieved by feeling that precious kick in my belly. That means we’re never 100% ready for “Have you considered adoption?” or “Why don’t you adopt a kid?”, no matter how many times we hear it. The question just seems to fall out of people’s mouths, as easily as the number of sugars they want in their coffee, or where they’re going on holiday.
I know that people are generally coming from a good place when they say this. What they often mean is “You’d make such a great parent!” or “It’s such a shame that all the love you want to give is just falling out of your eyes as tears all the time.”
I know that people want to believe that there is an easy fix to something as baffling and unsettling as infertility. I know that people want to right wrongs, and that a childless woman and a parentless child seem like a match made in heaven. I know some people even think God makes some women infertile so that they can guide them towards adopting. Some of these women themselves even feel like this is the case. Yikes. I wonder if it’s easier to have a faith of some kind and feel like there is a point to this pain. Is that easier than feeling like it’s just crummy luck?
“But there are so many children who are unwanted and need a good home!”
If you really care that much about parentless children, why don’t you support the adoption process in a concrete way? Why don’t you donate to a charity that supports adoptive children and their parents? But you don’t really care do you. You just want me to stop being sad, because you don’t really get it and it’s boring. These are the things I dare not say out loud.
I know my infertility makes you uncomfortable. I know that it’s difficult to know what to say, and that’s awkward. There’s nothing you can say that will cheer me up. I don’t want you to feel sorry for me, or feel guilty for having two sets of twins, or for telling me about your termination last summer, before you knew I spent five thousand pounds on IVF and then had a miscarriage on the shower floor. You don’t need to feel bad on my behalf or awkward around me. I do enough awkward smiling and shuffling about at baby showers and christenings for the two of us. There’s no need to fill the awkward space with barbed banalities like this. I haven’t suddenly grown an extra head, why can’t you just empathise?
I feel most upset with those who imply that I’m shirking a duty of care towards children I don’t even know, just because my body isn’t working properly. I know it’s tempting to think that God has a plan, the universe is bringing me what I asked for but in a different way, and maybe this is happening for a reason and so on. That’s a nice, positive take on a shitty situation, but it just doesn’t work for me. This is my actual, real life, and those are comforting fairy tales. Adults shouldn’t confuse those two things, when it comes to something as important as making a huge decision about a child’s future. Especially if that child has been let down or destabilised already by the adults in their life.
“Can’t you just explore it as an option?”
I get that there are many children in the care system who need a loving, stable forever home. I get that I look like a great candidate for that, and that in a movie this would work out joyfully in the end, even if my baby dreams didn’t come to pass. Why can’t I just accept that, think of others and take a leap? Why don’t I stop staring into puddles and start looking for rainbows?
Here’s the thing though – life is not a movie. Just because you think you can imagine how infertility or adoption works, that doesn’t mean you are anywhere near accurate. It’s just an assumption you have made, based on things you’ve seen on TV and read in books. Let’s face it, some of you probably picked up most of your knowledge about adoption from when Angelina Jolie was flying around in a helicopter adopting her enormous brood. Good for her. But for me, and also for these unplaced or unwanted children, it is real life.
It would be wonderful if every unparented child had an instant, just-add-water, imperfectly perfect parent with a freshly-decorated nursery waiting for them. But if life was a fairy-tale, there wouldn’t be children in the care system in the first place. Some children are traumatised and have lost trust in adults, and others are severely disabled with extremely complex needs. All parentless children deserve the chance to connect with the right people to parent them. This is always the ones who are making a positive choice to adopt, not swerving towards it out of guilt or desperation.
When people say “Why don’t you adopt?” they tend to mean why don’t you go and pick a cute baby wrapped in a pastel blanket out of a Disneyfied care home like in the movies. But these real-life children are not adorable Orphan Annie waifs. They are real people with individual needs. Children in the care and foster system are precious young people, who deserve consideration and dignity. They are not a consolation prize for women with wonky wombs. I’m not about to project my personal issues onto a vulnerable child, and expect them to make me feel better.
Finally, adoption can be as time-consuming and tricky as IVF – sometimes more so. The way it trips off people’s tongues, you’d think it was like picking out a puppy. Anyone that has adopted a child, even if the process has been relatively smooth, can assure you that is one million percent not the case. Maybe it was that easy for Madonna, but I’m pretty sure I’d have a harder time of it.
“My friend adopted her two kids and she’s happy!”
I can’t picture myself with adopted children right now, because that is a vision of the future in which I have failed at this. I do not have my baby in this version of events, and that is terrifying and almost unthinkable. Even if adoption was eventually to be my saving grace, my fresh start, my reason to go on – I’d have to accept the death of my dreams, as well as the death of my embryos. I don’t really want to hear about that on my lunch break at work.
“You can’t want kids that much if you don’t want to adopt.”
Yes, someone actually said that to me. People say terrible things to infertile women all the time.
The trouble is, as logical as all of my reasons for not adopting sound, part of me wants to adopt every single parentless child and love the heck out of them, so that they never feel unwanted or insecure again. That’s the parent in me – the part that people are trying to soothe by suggesting what seems like a simple solution. I wish I was that person, but that’s like wishing I was six inches taller or could breathe underwater. It just isn’t authentic. Some of the people I love or respect or like most in my life, who would always advise me to “be myself” will in the same breath tell me to adopt, when it’s just not a part of who I am right now. It’s confusing. I feel so gaslit at times.
“You’re going through IVF? Wow, I had no idea. Thank you for telling me, I know it’s a sensitive subject. How long have you been trying for? I hope it works out for you.”
If I tell you this private detail about myself and you respond like this, it makes me want to hug you. More of this and less adoption suggestions please!
If you’ve made it this far, you’re either an infertile person yourself, or perhaps you really are curious about why this is such a big deal for us. It has helped me to get my thoughts down on paper about this. Thank you for reading my letter, and I would really like to read your comments about it. Please don’t be mean though, as I am currently a bit fragile about this issue! I have just wanted to say this for so long. Wishing all of you peace, hope and babies!