Making the Transition from Infertility to Adoption

by Joni S. Mantell, LCSW

There are both emotional and practical aspects to deciding whether adoption is for you. As a psychotherapist with a specialty in infertility and adoption since 1993, I have found that for most people making the emotional decision to adopt is the hardest part of this journey. Once the emotional decision is made, you can learn the practical aspects of adoption more easily!

Most people find that making the decision to adopt is a multi-layered experience and knowing when you are ready to begin isn’t always clear. Many people report a mixture of feelings like:

  • Confusion – Considering adoption as a ‘second choice’ family building option
  • Sadness – Mourning the loss of a biological child
  • Fear – Of the adoption process or what being an adoptive family will be like
  • Relief – That medical treatments and infertility is now a thing of the past
  • Certainty – A very strong wish to be a parent NOW!
  • Uncertainty – Do I want to be a parent enough to pursue adoption? Is this really for me?”
  • Excitement – This will work! I/We will become parents at last!
  • Overwhelmed – By all of the information about adoption and all the choices of methods and agencies and attorneys.

Adoption raises many feelings – some that may make sense to you and others that may seem incomprehensible. Many people feel an unsettling mix of all or some of these feelings. So don’t be surprised or disappointed if you lack the same sense of excitement that you have when you made other big decisions in your life.

Remember you are grieving.

You are grieving the loss of a biological child-one of the biggest disappointments imaginable-and this painful experience needs to be fully absorbed. Like the layers of an onion, you sometimes have to get through one layer before you can see the next layer of what you are feeling. And you will be processing your feelings over time.

Given this reality, it’s not easy to start anew with the process of adoption. Adoption is a new language, a new system and requires new professionals to work with. It takes work and emotional energy to learn all the nuances and options. But people do it and move on to build beautiful and loving families. The question is: how did they make the shift from infertility to adoption?

Face the Grief: Without truly having faced the grief and mourned the loss of a biological child it is too easy to jump quickly into anything that will help ease the pain. Making adoption choices to escape pain tends to shift your focus to speed or encourages you to make fear-based decisions without thinking through the short or long term implications of your actions.

Facing grief instead of running from it will center or ground you. This allows you to move forward with the ability to make better adoption decisions.

Be clear about the choices: There are many choices to make and none should be made without research and consideration. Think about what is required of you to pursue these choices and the long term implications of the decisions you are making. If you enter this process in an uncertain and emotional place, you run the risk of letting an agency or attorney seduce you into signing up when they tell you what you want to hear.

Rethink the importance of speed: Don’t be pressured until all of the options are clear. Agencies or attorneys that push quick adoptions sometimes get less birthparent or child referral information. Or, they may withhold potentially disturbing, yet important information. Worse still, they might coerce you to throw money at a situation when it is unnecessary. Unfortunately, with adoption, if it is too good to be true, it usually is.

Think about the long term: It will help smooth out the process for you. Try to shift your focus from the immediate idea of getting a baby as fast as you can, to the long term goal of becoming a family for a lifetime. A counselor with expertise in adoption can help you make good and timely decisions that take into account the long-term family issues as well as the twists and turns in your adoption journey. Since adoption counselors do not do adoptions they can offer you a neutral opportunity to get educated and a safe place to grieve.

Learn all you can: about adoption-the process and the longer term issues. Surround yourself with support and information- meet adoptive families, attend educational workshops, or join adoptive parents support groups.

With some grief work and education behind you, you will make better adoption choices. And while you may not start the adoption process excited, there will likely come a time when you shift from ‘if we adopt’ to ‘when we adopt’-and that’s when you will feel the joy and anticipation about forming your family through adoption that you have wished for.




copyright 2005 by IAC