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Why Grieving Infertility is So Important for Hopeful Adoptive Parents

Infertility can be a debilitating diagnosis. For people who have dreamed of nothing more than holding a biological child in their arms, finding out natural conception and pregnancy aren’t possible for them turns their whole world upside down.

There are lots of family-building alternatives for those coping with infertility. Many hopeful parents choose adoption, ready to commit to a child who isn’t biologically related.

But, before you do that, there’s one thing adoptees need you to do: fully accept and move forward from your infertility diagnosis.

Grieving Infertility Takes Time

When hopeful parents are faced with the reality of infertility, it can be tempting to jump to the option of adoption. Knowing that a biological child isn’t possible for them, they look for the best way to have a child — and adoption often tops the list.

But infertility is a big deal. It takes time to grieve the dreams of a biological child and the pregnancy experience. These losses don’t just “go away” with time; they require active soul-searching and healing.

Think of how long you’ve dreamed of a biological child. Does a goal you’ve spent years working toward really go away just like that?

While time is not a luxury every would-be parent has, taking a few months, or even a few years, after discontinuing infertility treatments can give you the space to grieve and move forward from your losses. Jumping from infertility treatments to adoption may not, and you may bury the pain and grief you feel in the excitement of the new journey.

But, if not grieved properly, infertility losses will reemerge and make life harder for you and your future children.

For Many, Adoption is the Alternative

There’s nothing wrong with or unethical about wanting a biological child. Why do you think so many people around the world grow their family through traditional conception? For many, there’s an unexplainable draw to seeing themselves reflected in a tiny human.

Many adoptive parents harbored initial dreams of biological children. But, when that became near impossible, they chose adoption as an alternative family-building method.

If you’re in this situation, the child you adopt will know about your infertility journey — and that your first goal was to have a biological child. They won’t fault you for that.

But, if you don’t pivot from seeing adoption as a “second” or “alternative” option, your adopted child will know, and it will impact their relationship with you.

Why Adoptees Sometimes Feel Like the “Second Choice”

It’s tough being adopted. Even with birth and adoptive parents who love and celebrate their adoption story, an adoptee may struggle with self-identity and self-worth. Being adopted instantly separates a child from the “normal” parenting experience, and they may have plenty of reasons to feel “othered” in a world that focuses on biological relationships.

They don’t need to feel like “second-best” to their own parents, too.

A recent Reddit thread explored this very topic, asking adoptees if they had ever felt like they were the “second choice” for their parents.

“I don’t know what feels worse: being your parents’ plan B (or C, or D), or the fact that they will barely acknowledge it by responding with ‘I love you like my own’ as if it’s some kind of door prize,” one adoptee commented.

The feeling is amplified in families who have both biological and adopted children. Sibling rivalry is natural but, when an adopted sibling is always comparing themselves to someone who shares their parents’ DNA, it’s tough to win.

If an adoptee has heard for years that “DNA doesn’t matter,” your adding a biological child to the family can confuse them. This is why families of adopted and biological children must celebrate each child’s differences equally. Talk to your adopted child about how wanted and love they are, and remind them that you wouldn’t change your family’s makeup for anything. Each member plays a special role in who your family is, and you couldn’t imagine it any other way.

These challenges are just another reason why parents should never begin the adoption process until they are ready to fully embrace it as not a second-best option — but as an equally valid and exciting way to grow their family.

Language to Watch For

We all know appropriate, positive language choice goes a long way when it comes to adoption and infertility. If you plan to adopt a child, you need to be extra careful. As the thread above shows, a small misstep in phrasing can stick with an adopted child forever.

Adoptive parents should never use phrases like:

  • “Like my own child”: There’s no need to compare your adopted child to a “child of your own.” They are your own child, plain and simple. Phrases like this suggest that your child will never live up to the dreams you had of a biological child, who you would consider “your own” from the start.
  • “You fit in so well with the rest of us”: Comments about an adoptee’s physical similarities to adoptive parents are a lot to unpack. An adoptive parent should celebrate an adoptee’s appearance no matter what it is, but congratulatory statements (either from the adoptive parents or others) can make an adoptee feel like “blending into” the family is the ultimate goal — rather than being celebrated for who they uniquely are.
  • “It’s hard to tell you’re adopted”: While there are many adoptees who don’t claim adoption as their primary identity, there are just as many who don’t have that luxury (especially transracial adoptees). Adoptive parents may be able to “forget” or “pretend” that a child isn’t adopted, but an adoptee will always remember this thing that makes them different.
  • “The past doesn’t matter; what matters now is your family”: Adoptees, no matter how they’re brought into a family, are not a blank slate. They will have their own birth family connections and relationships, and adoptive parents need to honor that. Phrases that minimize that history can imply erasure of what makes their adopted child unique.

In addition, when you talk to your adopted child about your infertility history, avoid becoming too emotional or emphasizing the grief you went through. It’s awkward for your child; they can’t do anything to solve it, and they are an everyday reminder that you couldn’t achieve what you once considered your preferred family-building method. Best to be short and to the point; explain that infertility led you to adoption, but it also highlighted that adoption was actually the right choice for you.

Remind them that without your infertility journey, you wouldn’t have ended up with them as your child — and that you couldn’t imagine a life without them.

Still struggling with infertility grief and loss? Please reach out to an infertility counselor or another competent therapist to talk through your emotions. Your infertility diagnosis was unfair, but it is now your responsibility to heal from it and be the parent that your adopted