“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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