“Have You Thought About Adopting?” [en]

[fr] Pourquoi l'adoption n'est pas une "solution miracle" à l'absence d'enfant. Et pourquoi "tu as pensé à adopter?" n'est pas vraiment la chose à dire...

— “What about you, have you?”

More than one well-intention person asked me if I’d considered adoption when I came out about my childlessness and the associated grief I was experiencing.

Procreating and adopting are two very different ways of becoming a parent. They are not interchangeable. Adopting is not a de facto fallback plan for infertility.

The boys

In addition to becoming a parent, there is a biological dimension to the desire to procreate. For some people, it’s important, for others, it’s not. Being pregnant, giving birth, passing along genes — all this is absent in adoption.

Adoption is also costly (tens of thousands of francs here), and requires serious commitment to get through all the paperwork and years of waiting (5 on average here).

Not everybody wants to adopt. Not everybody wants to procreate. Some people will do IVF. Some won’t.

Adoption can be a “plan B” to becoming a parent, but it is a whole other way of becoming a parent, which has to be chosen for itself. And for those who turn to adoption after being incapable of conceiving, it means dealing with the grief of “plan A” for having a family.

In Switzerland, about 200 children are adopted each year, most of them from abroad (30 or so from Switzerland). 15 or so by single people. The numbers are falling steadily.

I have not thought much about adoption, for myself. Just like I have not thought much about becoming a single parent. Had I know what I know now in my mid-twenties or early thirties, about fertility, about the social context leading so many women of my generation to childlessness (did anybody know then? had anybody guessed?), maybe I would have made different decisions. Maybe I would have made a plan to become a single parent.

But I haven’t, and I need to look at where I am now. And now, I don’t think it is for me.

I can understand where the “why don’t you just adopt?” or “have you considered adoption?” questions are coming from. It’s hard to be powerless before somebody else’s grief. Adoption seems like a good “fix” to the grief of childlessness.

As a society, we are uncomfortable with grief in general, and we are even more uncomfortable with the grief of childlessness. It disturbs the narrative.

Yes, you can want something and not manage to have it.

No, there is not somebody somewhere out there for everybody.

Despite all the progress in reproductive technology, our biology still has hard limits.

And we are in denial about how following the male-designed progression of studies, dating, career, settling can impact women’s ability to reproduce.

We also are caught in the cult of parenthood.

If somebody dies, we have scripts like “sorry for your loss”. We don’t have a script for what to tell a childless woman who is grieving. So it’s uncomfortable, I get it.

Also, bear in mind that making suggestions or asking people questions about their reproductive life can be extremely tactless. You never know what people may be going through. A bit along the lines of “so, how’s your sex life these days?”

I’m currently reading The Kid by Dan Savage, which tells the story about how he and his husband adopted their son. As one would expect, he deals with some tough questions with honesty and depth.

Along the same lines, I recently listened to Radiolab’s Birthstory episode, the story of an Israeli couple (two guys) who decide to have children. Not a walk in the park either.

And remember. The infertile/childless person you’re speaking to has probably already thought about adoption. And if they aren’t committed to such a project already, there is little chance a comment about it will have much impact, aside from being hurtful.

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Sans enfant: quelques éléments sur le contexte sociétal qui nous y mène [fr]

[en] A few thoughts and links about childlessness, and the social forces which bring 1 in 4 women of my generation to reach the end of their childbearing years without having a child.

Un discussion, hier. Comme je les aime. Sur la vie, les relations, le travail, comment on fonctionne. Ce qu’on arrive à changer et ce qu’on ne peut pas changer. Et aussi, sur le célibat et l’absence d’enfant.

Quelques liens en vrac, parce que mine de rien, depuis bientôt deux ans, j’en ai fait du chemin.

D’abord, le must: Date limite de procréation dépassée. Un article pas agréable à lire si on baigne dans le déni ambiant concernant la chute de la fertilité féminine dans la deuxième moitié de la trentaine.

Il y a un problème sociétal et d’information sur ce sujet. Si une femme veut un enfant, et qu’à la mi-trentaine elle n’est pas activement en train d’essayer de procréer, il y a un risque non négligeable qu’elle n’y parvienne pas.

Une femme sur cinq née durant les années soixante arrive à 45 sans avoir d’enfant. Pour les femmes des années septante, ça risque bien d’être une sur quatre.

Et si on parle de plus en plus des femmes qui font le choix de ne pas être mère, mais ce n’est de loin pas le cas de toutes. Certaines, comme moi, se retrouvent “par les circonstances de la vie” sans enfant alors qu’elles en voulaient.

Et là aussi, attention: ce n’est pas blanc et noir. Je veux ou je ne veux pas. Il y a beaucoup d’ambivalence autour du désir de maternité (ou de son non désir). Et on peut se retrouver, un peu du jour au lendemain, à réaliser que le temps a eu raison de notre ambivalence et pris la décision pour nous. Peut-être même des années avant qu’on en prenne conscience.

Les solutions médicales aux problèmes de fertilité existent, certes, mais elles ne sont pas une garantie de succès. On a une vision déformée des “miracles” de la médecine, à coups de célébrités d’âge “avancé” qui ont des enfants, mais sans qu’on sache:

  • combien d’années d’essais et de traitements
  • si ce sont leurs ovocytes (le don d’ovocyte est interdit en Suisse)
  • si même elles ont porté l’enfant elle-même, dans certains cas
  • combien de dizaines de milliers de dollars les traitements ont coûté

Il y a aussi un “biais du survivant” dans ces histoires: on entend parler de celles pour qui ça a marché, des exceptions, et jamais (ou pas assez) de toutes celles pour qui ça n’a pas “marché”, qui se retrouvent sans enfant et l’espoir brisé après des années de traitements, le portefeuille allégé en plus.

Savez-vous qu’à partir de 39 ans, les chances de succès d’une FIV sont autour de 10% seulement?

Personnellement, je n’avais pas conscience de tout ça durant mes années de fertilité “maximale”. Est-ce que ça aurait changé quelque chose aux diverses décisions de vie que j’ai prises? Va savoir, c’est dur de se projeter en arrière et d’imaginer ce qu’on aurait fait “si on avait su”. Mais je peux imaginer qu’avoir conscience à quelle point sa fertilité est finie est tout de même un élément important à avoir en main pour prendre les grandes décisions de la vie.

L’éducation sexuelle que les femmes de ma génération ont eues à l’école — et c’est déjà bien — mettait l’accent sur comment ne pas tomber enceinte. Bien moins sur comment si on le désirait, et jusqu’à quand.

Comme avec la transmission du HIV: un rapport suffit, mais un rapport “n’implique pas nécessairement que”. On tombe dans le domaine des probabilités, ô combien dur à intégrer pour notre cerveau d’homme des cavernes. Une fécondation est une histoire de probabilités, et la probabilité n’est pas la même quand on a 25 ou 40 ans. On s’en doute, mais on n’a pas de chiffres, pas d’échelle, pas d’ordre de grandeur.

Notre génération souffre du retour de balancier de la libération sexuelle. Ça fait mal de dire ça. Mais oui. On a gagné plus de contrôle sur comment, quand, et avec qui on procrée. Surtout dans le sens du “pas”. Mais les limites biologiques dures ne se sont pas envolées. Notre contrôle n’est pas total. Même la congélation d’ovocytes n’est pas la panacée que certaines voudraient nous faire croire.

Avec la libération sexuelle, l’égalité, tout ça (qui est très bien!) on se retrouve en tant que femme à avoir (et vouloir!) accès à des “plans de vie” masculins. On fait ses études, supérieures autant qu’on peut, on se stabilise professionnellement, on fonde une famille. Vers 30-35 ans.

Vous voyez le blème? Si on regarde ça à travers le filtre de la fertilité, ça va très bien pour un homme, qui, malgré l’andropause, ne voit pas sa fertilité tomber dans le fond d’un ravin autour de 37 ans. Il suffit d’une rupture au mauvais moment, de difficultés imprévues, et hop, on sort de la fenêtre.

Du point de vue de la fertilité féminine, le modèle études-travail-couple-stable-enfants n’est vraiment pas top.

Au Danemark, et ailleurs également j’en suis sûre, de plus en plus de femmes font le choix de procréer “seules”. Parce qu’avoir un enfant est important pour elles, et qu’elles ne sont pas prêtes à risquer de se retrouver dans l’impossibilité biologique de le faire parce qu’elles attendent de trouver le compagnon qu’il faut. Jusqu’à trop tard.

Il n’y a pas de solution parfaite à ce problème social. Mais j’espère qu’il arrivera un moment où les femmes auront en mains les cartes nécessaires à prendre des décisions informées par rapport à leur désir ou non d’être mères, sans se réveiller un jour à 43 ans, après des années à s’être laissé ballotter par les vents et les vagues dans la petite coque de noix du manque d’information et de discussions franches autour de la fertilité féminine.

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A Patchwork Post From The Chalet [en]

[fr] Plein de choses en vrac. Y'a des liens qui mènent vers des trucs en français.

I keep falling into this trap. I don’t blog about something because there is something else, more important, that I should blog about before and haven’t got around to writing.

In this case, it’s the fact that just over a week ago, I finally got to see Joan Baez live on stage. I’ve been listening to her since I was seven or so. I know most of her songs. I’ve always listened to her. And a few years ago I decided that I should really go and see her live soon, because, you know, she’s not getting any younger, and at some point people who spend their lives touring and singing on stage might decide that they want to stay at home and paint instead.

Joan Baez at Paléo

And she was coming to Paléo, in Nyon, just next door. I think I cried during the whole show — not from sadness, just from too much emotion. I was glad to be there that evening, because it was the evening to witness, with Patti Smith and Robert Plant, too. Isn’t it strange how somebody can be such an important part of your life (the soundtrack of many of my years, like Chris de Burgh) — and yet they have no idea you exist?

If you’ve never listened to Joan Baez, just dive into YouTube.

During the drive to the chalet a story came up on the podcast I was listening to which is exactly about that. The Living Room, a story from the podcast Love + Radio, which I’m going to add to my listening list as soon as I have a good enough data connection.

I finished reading “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” by Jon Ronson, after devouring “The Psychopath Test” these last weeks. It’s a great book. Anybody spending time online should read it. It’s important. With great power comes great responsibility, but we the people on Twitter and Facebook are not aware of the power we wield. The power to destroy lives. To get the gist of it, use 17 minutes of your life to watch Jon’s TED Talk.

My reading of this book coincides with the unleashing of online fury over the killing of Cecil the Lion. It has disturbed me deeply. I feel an urge to dig through my archives and see what my reactions to Jonah Lehrer and Justine Sacco were, because I remember the stories. I’m worried of what I may find. I will be watching myself closely in future.

I also find myself shy in speaking up against those piling on against Cecil’s killer. Oh, he has done wrong. And I have no love for hunters, and no love for hunters of big cats. But what is missing here is proportionality. And I am scared that by speaking up I will find myself faced with a wall of “you’re either with us or against us”, ie, if you don’t join the mob then you’re defending the killing of lions. Just the way last year I was accused of “encouraging pedophiles” and whatnot because I was opposed to a stupid piece of “anti-pedophile” legislation. To some extent, I feel like I have let myself be silenced. Parallels to be drawn with the harassment episode I went through earlier this year (more on that, someday, probably).

This interview of Jon Ronson for On The Media also gives a very good summary of his book.

(My only gripe with Jon Ronson and his book is that a blog is not a post, dammit!)

Two local newspaper articles made me react today on Facebook (they’re in French). One about “the ideal age to conceive” for women, and one about a carer who got bitten by a Komodo dragon at the Lausanne Vivarium.

The first made me jump up because alongside statistics saying “if you want three kids you should get to work at this age” we find things like “you still have a 40% chance of conceiving at 40” and “don’t worry, it’s still quite possible to have children after 37”. Well, at 40 your chances of success through IVF are more around 10-15% — I’m curious where that “40%” comes from, and what it’s supposed to mean. Certainly not “4 attempts to conceive out of 10 succeed” but more “4 women out of 10 who are ‘trying’ (define that) succeed”. Another topic that’s keeping me from blogging about other stuff, because I have so much more to write about not having children. Well, you’ll get it in tidbits, it seems.

As for the second, well, I was expecting a “scare” piece. “Look, the dangerous animal.” Or “look, another negative story for the Vivarium” (which was running out of funding a couple of years ago). To my surprise the article was really good (edit: wow! they seem to have changed the title!), with the carer explaining how she was actually responsible for how the animal had reacted, and that showed how affectionate she was towards it despite the bite. I realised that reading the title had prepared me for “bad journalism”. But going back to it, the title was quite neutral: “Vivarium carer bitten by komodo dragon”. And so I wonder: how could the title have been better? Tricky.

Up in the mountains, in my chalet with almost no data connection, it’s easy to slow down and “do nothing”. A couple of weeks ago I decided I was going to consciously try and do less things in parallel, both on a micro and a macro level. Monotask more, multitask less. Try and keep my number of “open projects” under control. My podcast-hopping brought me to the “Bored and Brilliant Boot Camp” episode the other day. It really drove home the fact that my brain needs downtime. Bored time. And probably a holiday (I haven’t had a “real holiday” (= with no work to do) in much too long, and I’m starting to feel it. How did that happen? I thought I was over that.) So now, I’m paying more attention to where my phone is, and trying to keep it more in my bag and less in my hand, more in the other room and less just next to me.

That’s it for today, folks. My plan is to write again tomorrow. Or the day after. Let’s see if it materialises.

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Coming Out as Single and Childless [en]

[fr] Quarante ans, célibataire, sans enfants. Un deuil à faire, et une porte à ouvrir pour en parler.

I turned 40 last summer, and it hasn’t been easy.

To be honest, I kind of expected it to be rough: my mother died when she was 40, 30 years ago, and in my mind 40 has always been a kind of “cut-off” age for having children. But it’s been (and still is) much more of an upheaval than I guessed.

Simple Flower, La Tourche

If you follow me on Facebook or maybe on Twitter, you certainly noticed I shared a slew of articles about childlessness over the fall and since then. This summer plunged me into a grieving process I’ve been doing my best to avoid for years — and am still resisting. It’s not a coincidence that my blog has been so silent.

As I started researching childlessness, and talking a bit around me, I realised that this is something about myself I have never really talked about in public. Or talked about much, full stop. Same with being single. It’s not something I’m really comfortable discussing publicly. Which is kind of strange, as I’m a very public person. So what is it about the childlessness and singleness that keeps me quiet?

Some have suggested that it’s because it’s personal. But I talk about a lot of personal stuff. It’s painful, too. Maybe it’s the grief? Not either: over the winter of 2010-2011 and the months that followed, I wrote a series of extremely personal articles dealing with the death of my cat Bagha, and the grief I was going through.

And I understood: it’s shame.

Failing to have a partner or children, when it’s what you want, is shameful — particularly for a woman. The grief of childlessness and singleness is something that we have trouble dealing with, as a society. Chances are you’re thinking “wait, 40, everything is still possible, the miracles of medicine, you have plenty of time; you’ll find somebody, all hope is not lost”. Do you see the problem here? I will write more on the subject, but for the moment please just take it as given that my chances of ever being a mother are vanishingly small — and that the best I can do is grieve and get on with my life, “plan B”.

I have kept quiet about this, and shoved it under the carpet, because it’s an issue that’s loaded with shame. And as such, it stands to be pointed out that the grief of childlessness, and to some extent singleness, is a taboo subject. People do not want to face it. When bringing it up, it is automatically negated (“there is still time”, “children are overrated”, “look at the great life you have”, “you probably didn’t really want children that much or you would have them”). We don’t know what to say. We have scripts for losing a loved one. Even a pet — when Bagha died there was an overwhelming show of support and affection around me.

But childlessness is another can of fish.

Grief has a public dimension. To grieve, we need our pain to be recognized from the outside. Grieving can not be done in complete privacy. That’s where it gets stuck.

As much as I didn’t want to, I realised that I was going to have to start writing about this. Because this is how I process. I cannot do it alone: I need you too.

I’m not where I was back in July. Things are moving along, slowly. I’ve been talking to friends, and joined an online community of childless women for support. Read about dozens of stories parallel to mine. And though a part of me still rabidly refuses to accept I will continue my life without children, tiny bits of acceptance are sneaking in. I first drafted this blog post back in December, and getting it out of the door today is part of the process.

My name is Stephanie, I’m 40 years old, single and childless — and it’s not what I wanted for myself.

Here’s the post on Facebook.
Also published on Medium.

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