IVF and Adoption


Russell Webb
Focus on Adoption magazine

"My husband and I have struggled with infertility for several years. We have tried to conceive through IVF, but to no avail. We have come to the conclusion that adoption may be the best way for us to form a family, but I still want to pursue IVF treatments. My husband thinks we should stop IVF, come to terms with the fact that we can’t have our own children, and concentrate on adoption."

by Russell Webb

Not only is IVF difficult to go through emotionally, but then to consider adoption as well can be even more stressful. However, when considering such important issues, it pays to take some time to think about your own internal emotional process. Why is it that you want to continue with IVF treatments, if you have come to the conclusion that it may not be the best way for you to form your family? It may be that as much as you desire to have a child, that you still desire a child that is biologically linked to you. This is not wrong, but it does mean that you have not given yourself permission to grieve the loss of your biological child.

When a couple considers adoption, there are certain emotional milestones that need to be reached in their personal journeys, in order for the adoption to be successful for the child and for the adoptive parents.

The most important emotional milestone is coming to terms with your losses associated with infertility. If this does not take place, adoption will always be second best. Your adopted child will have to compete with your fantasy birth child, the one you were never able to let go of. This can severely damage the adoptive relationship. The adoptive parent isn’t happy because the adopted child continues to remind them of all they did not get through adoption. The child isn’t happy because he or she feels they can’t measure up to what their adoptive parent’s image of them should be. It hurts everyone involved.

So, how do you come to terms with your losses associated with infertility? Realize that trying to go down two roads (IVF and adoption) at the same time may be emotionally hurting yourself. Then, take a break from IVF and adoption for awhile. Chances are you have been pursuing this dream full time for quite some time, so rewarding yourself with a break, for one to three months, can greatly help to rejuvenate your emotional resources. Use that time to help process your grief and losses.

Many people I have had the privilege to work with, have found it very meaningful to give a name to the biological child that they feel they have lost. It makes an unrecognized and unseen loss more tangible and real. This is not for the purpose of bringing on pain for people, but rather to help them work through the pain they already have.

Writing a letter to the fantasy child you lost, can be helpful, in coming to terms with the loss of your biological child. It gives you a way to express all that you would have liked to have expressed to your child, your hopes, dreams, regrets and love for them; and most importantly it gives you a way to say goodbye to our child. It is not an easy letter to write, but it can enable you to begin the process of letting go.

Many people also find the use of a personal ritual to be very helpful in giving honour and marking the significance of their fantasy child in their lives. This can be done in many different ways as long as every aspect of the ritual is packed full of meaning. One man I knew wrote a letter to his son he never had and then took it to a specific spot in a forest. There he buried a couple of items that signified his relationship with his fantasy son. There he read out his letter. He left a single yellow rose to signify the joy his son would have brought to his life. He did what was most meaningful to him in dealing with his losses.

So, whether you are ready to concentrate on adoption or not, it is important to realize that you are human, and you have an emotional process to deal with, that is also a part of your journey towards your goal of raising a child. Adopting a child, without grieving the loss of your fantasy birth child, can cause you more hurt than help. An adopted child is a precious gift of entrustment on the part of a birth parent and is not second best to having a birth child. When you come to terms with infertility, and all of its losses, then and only then, can an adopted child be seen for what they really are - not a substitute for another child, but a precious gift in and of themselves.

Russell Webb, MA, RPC, is an Instructor at Medicine Hat College and a Counselling Therapist at www.insightcounsellingservices.ca in Medicine Hat, Alberta.