I’ve upped my intake of reading materials from folks who are dealing with infertility, medical interventions, and adoption. Hubs calls this “Matrixing” – essentially collecting a huge amount of information in a very short amount of time.
Certainly I’ve also spent a lot of time reading fact-based information, reports from private, non-profit, and government entities on the trifecta mentioned above. This is good info, and it rarely includes any information about what it’s like to start down the road of “alternate methods” of having a family of more than two.
So I’m just thinking out loud, here, sharing my own story of what it’s like to be looking at this from our unique perspective. Everyone’s story is different; I’ve gained a lot from reading about the paths others have taken, from their stories. Here’s a bit about mine (ours) at the moment.
Recently I read an illuminating post by Hannah Bunker, where she details the related yet distinct challenges of barrenness vs. childlessness. Barrenness is a physical inability to bear children. Bunker’s point, a meaningful one for me, is that no matter how you end up with children, this physical inability has deep-seated emotional weight. It’s the body failing at one of its basic functions.
Medical interventions sometimes allay infertility, but not completely. IVF for infertility is akin to insulin treatment for diabetes; it addresses the symptoms but not the body’s failure to do what it’s meant to do. And infertility treatments often fail; Bunker is speaking to the distinction between a body that is medically infertile or unable to conceive/be pregnant naturally (where medical interventions help) and a body that is barren, unable to bear offspring at all, under any circumstances (where medical interventions are useless).
Adoptive families speak to the distinction of “being pregnant” and “having kids” when they discuss adoption, post-adoption, and how adoption experiences intersect with infertility struggles. The same theme occurs everywhere: “I have no words for how incredibly grateful I am that we are no longer childless. AND there will never be a day that I do not grieve my inability to bear children.”
This thought, repeated over and over again in the first-hand accounts I’ve read, resonates deeply with me and our situation. Since last summer Hubs and I have spent a lot of time in thought and discussion regarding our childlessness. We both want kids and we both want a pregnancy. Separating those two wants was a huge part of our discussions in 2013 – we knew they were distinct yet related priorities.
It was difficult. We struggled (still struggle) with how to prioritize those wants. We had to (have to) separate a lifetime of thinking of those things – being pregnant and having kids – as the same thing.
I say prioritize because that’s another piece of the landscape that I’ve read about over and over again – the ways folks prioritize the “having kids” and “being pregnant” goals. Adoption meets the “having kids” need. Medical intervention meets the “being pregnant” need.
I’ve only encountered a handful of folks who are only concerned with having kids (ie: adoption only). I have yet to read a blog, article, or comments by someone who is only interested in “pregnancy” (ie: surrogacy, I guess?). The point I’m trying to make is that we are not alone in struggling to separate the two things as we plan for the future. I suppose this is why defining priorities, as hard as it is, becomes useful.
There are those who can’t or won’t participate in medical interventions; they tend to start with adoption. Most, though, seem to begin dealing with infertility via medical intervention (MI). For a lucky bunch, MI works swiftly and well and thus meets the needs for both “being pregnant” and “having kids”. Everyone entering the realm of alternative family-making hopes this is them. For many it’s not.
If “being pregnant” is the priority, working through multiple rounds of MI is often the story. These folks may never move to adoption. For them, having kids is absolutely linked to being pregnant. Here there are considerations like what type of MI treatment to start with (shots, IUI, IVF), self or donated eggs/sperm, how often to try, when to stop.
And for some, having kids is synonymous with passing on genes. That’s another part of the priorities equation that shapes decisions. This one adds surrogacy to the many MI decisions that must be made.
Those who prioritize “having kids” tend to end up adopting, eventually. Medical intervention is only a means to an end for the “having kids” crowd. So if MI doesn’t work (and it often doesn’t) those folks explore other ways to have kids. Adoption involves considerations like domestic or international, ethnicity, age, gender, sibling groups (?), health issues, etc…
Ultimately, all these groups want a family. It’s the path they take to get there (directed by their priorities) that dictates what decisions they will make and how their experiences differ.
There’s another priority, of course, that doesn’t often get mentioned in the anecdotal world – that of mental health and the well-being of a couple’s relationship as they move through the “alt family” landscape. All alternative processes take a huge toll on those who experience them. Financial, mental, emotional well-being are all challenged and affected. “Well-being” as a priority almost always includes decisions about boundaries, about how much is too much, about when to stop.
Sometimes it includes the decision to accept childlessness.
This part of the process doesn’t get mentioned for a reason. It’s the scariest, the most lonely, the most terrifying outcome of all when starting down the “alt family” road. A finite, life-long NO KIDS, after weathering the storm of every possible alternative to having kids, is intensely frightening.
But after watching (and reading about) so many folks wrecking themselves on the “kids no matter what” priority, childlessness isn’t quite as scary as it once was for us. Decades filled with emotional turmoil, financial instability, and sheer desperation doesn’t seem like a great option.
It’s a lot to consider. We’ve talked and talked, marinated, investigated, ruminated, explored, probed, questioned. There have been a few hard conversations, some frightening realizations. And we’re at a point where our priorities are straight. We have a map.
Time to start moving.