The Stages of Grief Experienced While Undergoing Infertility Treatment Can Help Prepare You for Life After Infertility and Adoption
Most people who go through an adoption have gone through infertility treatment first. This is not because adoption is a “second best” scenario when it comes to becoming parents but because humans are programmed to reproduce biologically. The desire to reproduce ourselves is built into our genes, it’s there to keep the species going. Most people just assume they are going to be able to procreate the “regular” way because everybody around them is, and they don’t understand they can’t until they try. Unless the person has a medical condition that they know will prevent them from having biological children, most people assume they will make little copies of themselves just like everybody else does. Until they can’t, and then the first place most will turn is infertility treatment. Sure, it’s a blow to the ego to admit that you need help doing something that everybody around you seems to be doing effortlessly, but it’s the result that counts. The result of most infertility treatment is a baby who is biologically related to the parents, just like all those other babies.
Infertility, however, isn’t just one blow to the ego, it can be a series of blows that will end in one of two ways. The most obvious way, of course, is biological parenthood. Yes, you went through a lot of testing and invasive medical procedures, not to mention your savings, but in the end, you were rewarded with a biological child to call your own. This is a win for infertility treatment and for your ego since you are now a parent. The depression and hiding from friends and family members with young children is over, you’re embracing parenthood and jumping into the fray.
The other way infertility treatment can end is with acceptance of the infertility so family building can proceed in another way. Often that other way is adoption, which makes sense. People going through infertility treatment want to become parents and there are orphaned children who need parents. Seems like it should be a match made in heaven, but only if the infertility issues have been dealt with because an adopted child isn’t a “consolation prize.”
In dealing with infertility treatment, there are four primary stages people go through if no live birth is achieved. The stages are like the stages of grief over a death, they must be dealt with before you can go on. Like the stages of grief over a death, these stages are grief for the death of a dream, the dream child you longed for so desperately.
Stage 1: Denial and Isolation
Most people when confronted by infertility don’t believe it at first, they believe it just takes a little more work on their part or a medical procedure and everything will be normal. During this time people tend to isolate themselves from people they know with young children because it’s a reminder of what they can’t do. At this point, when they are first confronting infertility, some people rush into trying to adopt. This is either because they want the pain of infertility to go away or they think if they’re in the adoption process they will “relax” enough to conceive naturally. Most adoption programs have lengthy timelines so, even if people jump in at this stage, they will have a chance to work through all the stages before having a child placed with them.
Stage 2: Anger
During stage 2 people going through infertility treatment are angry at the situation as well as themselves and people around them. When your body is failing you, especially if the problem is called “unexplained infertility,” it’s easy to be angry but hard to know exactly where to place the anger so the tendency is to spread it around. You’re angry at your body, your partner, God, the doctor, the infertility treatment that didn’t work, adoption agency rules and policies, people who have babies easily, and the list goes on. Unfortunately, unlike grief over a death, society doesn’t have a good way for people to mourn lack of fertility, even though it is a life crisis and feels like a death. There are counselors and support groups that can help talk about the feeling, especially the anger, so the person can move onto the next step.
Stage 3: Depression
The depression can be caused by feeling of guilt over things done in the past, like an abortion or using birth control for a long period of time. Or simply not being sure you wanted children at an earlier time in your life. It’s easy to feel like infertility is a punishment and this is an especially easy assumption to make when depression has already set in. Depression is also hard on relationships, especially if both parties are depressed and see the other as part of the problem. It’s hard to let the dream of a biological child die, but you must make peace with the one dream dying before you are ready to move on with life and the dream of adoption.
Stage 4: Acceptance
This is where the person accepts the infertility and can talk about it, especially with their partner. If you can’t talk about it, you haven’t accepted it yet. Adoption home studies delve into your personal life very deeply and infertility will be discussed at length. The social worker needs to believe that you have accepted the infertility and are ready to care for a child you aren’t biologically related to. Adopting a child means you want to be a parent, not just a person who creates little versions of themselves.
Coping with infertility and infertility treatment can be difficult, especially if the person feels that there is not a lot of support available. The steps you go through, however, help prepare you for adoption and parenting an adopted child the way they deserve to be valued, as a gift in their own right and not a second best or consolation prize. The process can also help you become comfortable with whatever life path you choose to follow.