Posted by: Liza Rosenberg | June 15, 2010

The Red Lines of Infertility

During the long, painful years when we were having so much trouble trying to bring a healthy child into the world, many well-meaning friends would often say – in a soft, gentle voice, “have you considered (pause for dramatic effect) adoption?” And I think I did a pretty good job of being patient with these people, especially as I understood that they were only trying to help. The obvious truth is, though, that of course we’d thought about it. When you find yourself on the far side of four problematic pregnancies and several egg donation treatments with no surviving children, it’s a pretty safe assumption that you have, indeed, considered a multitude of options, exploring and researching all possible avenues as you discover what you are and are not prepared to do in your quest to be a parent.

And without a doubt, adoption can be the right choice – for some. Despite everything we went through – the disappointment, the agony, the physical (mine) and emotional pain, the loss of a child… The path that I simply couldn’t bring myself to choose, let alone embrace, was adoption. I’m not one of those people who is immediately drawn to all babies, and I just don’t have that natural, instinctive, wonderful ability to bond with other people’s children (and I’m pretty sure children can sense that). While I was reasonably certain that I would love any child I managed to bring into the world, I was terribly, terribly scared of going the adoption route, frightened that I would not be able to connect to the child who would enter our lives in this way. I didn’t feel that it was fair to subject a child to such an experiment, especially when I couldn’t get past my doubts regarding the outcome. How could I even consider adopting a child when I was so afraid that I wouldn’t be able to love that child as it deserved to be loved?

So adoption was my red line. Initially, I even had trouble with the idea of egg donation. It took me quite some time to get used to the idea, and the only reason I was able to go through with it (the first time, anyway), was because my best friend had offered to be our donor. There was no way I would have been able to bring myself into that space otherwise, at the time. I had such a hard time coming to terms with the fact that I had to turn to technology to make this work, and I absolutely, unequivocally needed the reassurance that, despite the cold, clinical procedures being used, there was still an act of love involved in there somewhere, even if it couldn’t be the one normally associated with conceiving a child.

With each failed egg donation cycle (three in all), my boundaries expanded and my “requirements” became more flexible, but it was of course, a process that didn’t happen overnight. I had to be able to talk myself into a place of acceptance with each new stage. I had to redefine my red lines, and what was acceptable to me by the third cycle (using a completely anonymous donor from Romania) wasn’t something I could even contemplate for the first cycle. We began to consider a fourth egg donation cycle (going the same route that we’d used in the third cycle), while at the same time, accepting the fact that we might, indeed, remain childless, for I was still unwilling to consider adoption. In the end, though, before we could start on that fourth cycle, I discovered that I was pregnant (after having done practically everything that pregnant women shouldn’t do – drinking alcohol and lots of caffeine, eating sushi, taking medications, lifting heavy objects and having a flu shot) – a high-risk pregnancy that resulted in the birth (a birth that almost cost me my life) of the six year-old who seems to have taken over our home.

What made me think about all this now? A single, 47 year-old friend of a friend recently gave birth, having used both a donor egg and donor sperm to get pregnant. My friend couldn’t understand why her friend hadn’t just adopted, and while I’m sure the friend had her reasons, those reasons really shouldn’t be of anyone else’s concern. It is a misnomer to believe that anyone who wants to have children will be willing to do anything to get them, or that these people do not have red lines that they simply aren’t prepared to cross. And, for those of us who have been down the infertility path, it is nothing short of insulting and hurtful to try to make us feel guilty by opting for assisted reproduction techniques instead of going straight to adoption. It’s hardly fair to assume that people with infertility issues should be grateful to solve the global problem of unwanted children just because they’re unable to have any of their own naturally, nor should they be guilted into doing so. The tragedy of so many unwanted children in the world should be a global issue to tackle, and not a burden to be shouldered by the infertile couples of the world. It’s just not that simple. And do you know what else? You don’t have to understand it. You merely have to accept it.

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  1. “The tragedy of so many unwanted children in the world should be a global issue to tackle, and not a burden to be shouldered by the infertile couples of the world.”

    Yes! I also find it annoying (offensive? ignorant?) that people act as if adoption is as easy as heading over to the local Wal-mart and picking out a child. We’ve all heard the nightmarish stories of birth mothers deciding to take their babies back, or heading to some third world country only to find they’ve put a moratorium on overseas adoption. And yes, there is that fear you would not bond with this child. I have the same feelings you do about children–not really all that drawn to them. But I was positive I would love my own.

    I am a Twitter follower who has also gone through infertility, so your tweeting the title of this post sent me right over. We finally had a successful ED cycle, and I gave birth to my son at the ripe old age of 44. He’ll be three next month–and being his mom is even better than I thought it would be. We tried again with frozen embryos last summer but miscarried. I’m slowly coming to grips with the fact that he will be an only child, all the while knowing how incredibly lucky we are to have him at all.

    I seem to reside in a world where women decide they want to conceive one month and are pregnant the very next, so it’s nice to find others who have lived in my real world. Thanks!

    • Hi Sue,

      First of all, congratulations on succeeding with ED! I was a member of MVED for a number of years – what an amazing community that was.

      It’s so frustrating when people think we will do anything out of desperation to be a parent, and how we should be grateful for any option that comes our way. People who – as you said – decide they want to conceive one month and are pregnant the next don’t seem to understand that this whole infertility journey is so intensely personal, and that what may seem logical for one person just doesn’t work for someone else. I don’t owe anyone besides my husband an explanation for my feelings about different options, and I certainly don’t deserve to be judged for them.

      I’m sorry your cycle with frozen embryos didn’t work. We have also come to terms with the fact that our son will probably not be getting a sibling, as I’m not prepared to get involved in doing more ED cycles and all that it entails. If we manage to succeed, great, but if not, we – like you – have one fabulous kid on our hands. Of course, people have been asking us for years when we’re going to give our son a baby brother or sister (I think that would also fall under offensive and ignorant, not to mention insensitive, especially when it comes from people who know our story), but that’s would require an entirely new blog post… 😛

      I’m glad our paths have crossed – that other world is tiring sometimes.

      • Thanks, Liza! (And thanks for the DM on Twitter…I had requested email notifications but didn’t get one for some reason.)

        “Luckily” at my advanced age, everyone assumed L would be an only child. Close family were shocked when I was briefly pregnant last summer–my parents were upset, in fact (but that’s a whole other story)–so at least I don’t have to deal with that particular facet of people’s ignorance.

        I was part of a very supportive ED community too, but opted out after my m/c last summer. I really wanted to try another fresh cycle, but my husband just wasn’t on board. It would have been a financial strain–and I myself had misgivings as to whether it would even work.

        I’m so glad we connected. After trying to push all this out of my mind for so long, it feels almost strange to be talking about all this again. But it feels good too. There is an undeniable solidarity among us infertiles.

  2. Alas, the “soft gentle voice” becomes a strident, rude, incredulous one when couples have natural children and yet seek to adopt. And, like you, Liza, I say “And do you know what else? You don’t have to understand it. You merely have to accept it.”

    • Really? That’s horrible. It always amazes me that people can be so incredibly insensitive when dealing with a subject that requires the ultimate sensitivity.

  3. Liza, as always, you capture the moment, the feeling, very well.

    • Thanks, Deb. Certain things just need to be said, and if I can be a voice for that, then I will.

  4. Anyone who wants to raise a child deserves consideration and respect, not unrequested advice. The biological aspects are, as you say, completely personal, and “mind your own business” is at least what any parent or prospective parent should be thinking, if not saying.

    Except to the grandparents, of course 😉

    • I couldn’t agree with you more, and it’s a shame that there are others who don’t see it that way.

      And of course, it depends on the grandparents… 😉

  5. No one who has not walked in your shoes could ever understand, nor should they pretend they can. When did just being a good listener go out of style?

    (For what it’s worth, that “when are you going to have another” question can be just as rude, hurtful and out of line to someone who hasn’t had to take extraordinary measures to conceive. You never know what is behind someone’s closed doors or tight smile.)

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    • You’d be amazed by how many people try to do just that, Robin. I’m often shocked by the things I’ve heard over the years – don’t get me started on the comments that spring from religious beliefs (of all religions).

      And I definitely agree on your “FWIW” comment as well. It’s amazing to me that people can ask such questions.

      You should check out the thread on my FB page under the link to this post. It’s really fascinating (and pretty damn funny at times!).

  6. It’s interesting. In our family, it’s always been my husband who’s come around to these things more quickly and more easily than I have. It took me a long time to accept ED, and then it was only because my best friend became part of the equation.

    I find it so disturbing that people can be so judgmental when it comes to this issue. It’s such a personal decision, and if people can’t be supportive, than they shouldn’t say anything.

  7. hey there, I like those last two lines… seems like I’ve heard someone say that once! ;-).

    And I am with you all on this… I am still getting questions about “don’t you want to try for one more”, now that I’ve passed 40. As if it is anyone’s business that my child bearing years are coming to a close…

    …and sometimes I just tell them the truth even though it’s not for them to know. I say that I’d love to, but my husband doesn’t want to and that if we don’t both want it, it isn’t going to happen. It results in an uncomfortable silence, at least for them. And I let them wallow in it, since they walked right into it. If you ask to be invited behind someone’s closed doors, you get what you pay for…

    • It drives me nuts when people tell me “you’ll regret not having more” and such similar twaddle.

      It was my belief as a young and passionate student that my reproductive rights were my business, w/r/t abortion. How much more so now, at the tender age of almost-42, 10 years post-partum?

      Unlike my passionate student self, however, i do not go off on a major feminist soap box rant. Instead I smile, and make my customary joke about “two eyes, two ears, two hands… i got the message and stuck with two kids”.

      Maybe I should. I know I always want to bitchslap (figuratively) the person opposite me into submission, but the passing years have taught me a thing or two about decorum and prudence… le sigh.

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