Adoption: Not Second-Best

Adopted-Subway-BoyIn my last post, I wrote about infertility and IVF, but this is only one of many options. I was reminded of this in a brilliant comment by Ruth, who argues that adoption/fostering is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian; and worth considering before, (or alongside), other treatments. She’s very kindly allowed me to share some of her own experiences; and offers wise advice on how to relate to others in this situation.  Thank you Ruth.

She writes:

“It saddens me deeply that in the multi-million pound industry that fertility treatment is, adoption is often not considered until fertility treatments options are exhausted. And this is reflected in the way Christians speak about undesired childlessness and the assumptions that are made about what to do for those who find themselves in this situation.

As my painful season of trying to conceive and deliver a live baby (but failing) drew to a close, the world’s seven billionth person was born. The irony of all the resources (emotional, financial, time) that are invested in fertility treatment alongside the thousands of children needing fostering / adoption (as well as the levels of poverty experienced in other countries) stood out to me in a profound way. If we follow Jesus, it must make a difference in every area of our lives including how we allocate resources to the pursuit of trying to become a birth parent.

It would be wonderful if more Christians (not just those who are infertile / childless) thought about adoption / fostering and if this included a generation of Christians for whom adoption / fostering is the first step in growing a family. As John Piper eloquently expounds, adoption is at the very heart of God and the gospel and is fundamental to our identity as Christians. The church community is not yet known in UK as one for whom adoption / fostering is common place….

A new charity, ‘Home for Good’, has made significant progress in helping many churches to see how supporting people to adopt / foster makes a huge impact, not just for the children who are given families and the chance for a positive future, but also for opportunities Christians then have to share the reasons for the hope we have in Jesus with those who would usually not listen.

To date our own experience of forming a family through adoption has been exhausting but deeply joyful in a way that is difficult to even begin to describe. Adoption does not resolve the pain of infertility – in some ways it hides it further as childlessness is no longer – it is a different and completely valid path to parenthood that I long for more to experience for the benefit of precious, vulnerable children made in God’s image and for God’s glory.

Alongside infertility treatment comes a soul searching, heart wrenching series of decisions. We hold the same perspective as Emma, (see yesterday’s post), on when life starts and our decisions throughout fertility investigations and treatment were consistent with this view. I agree it’s wise to be prepared for difficult ethical questions. However you cannot anticipate every eventuality – without going into specifics, we certainly encountered complexities along our journey that were impossible to anticipate beforehand. Talking and praying through some of the decisions we needed to make with trusted godly friends was helpful.

Finally, it’s good to recognise that although everyone who enters the door of a fertility clinic has something profoundly sad in common (i.e., undesired childlessness / inability to conceive / bring a baby to term) those who exit the fertility clinic are in 2 very distinctly different groups. Most well known / promoted in clinic marketing are those who go on to welcome birth children to their family and less obvious are those who never do. There is a very big difference between infertility that is a ‘season’ in someone’s life that ends and infertility that is life long. Inevitably most people who speak about infertility are in the first category, that is, those who do end up with birth children. It is possibly easier to talk about infertility when it is not a forever situation but sadly this can lead to further misunderstanding and grief for those who never become birth parents.

Some thoughts (from Ruth) on relating to others who face infertility:

* People who speak of ‘God answered our prayers’ can be quite unhelpful – what they mean is, ‘God answered our prayers in the ways we wanted them answered’. God listens to and answers all prayer – it’s just not always the answers we want!

* God does NOT promise that everyone will have a baby / be a parent. Don’t tell the infertile person that you know God will give them a baby – this is a lie. It doesn’t matter how good they are with children, God may or may not have parenthood in his perfect plan for them. Telling them this confounds their grief / pain.

* Encourage the infertile person with the hope of the gospel (same as for everyone), not the hope of a baby.

* Realise that all the ways God intervened in the Bible to give infertile women children are miraculous. They wouldn’t be miraculous if it was widespread that God eventually gives every infertile person a baby – they would be common place. For every Hannah, Sarah, Elizabeth there would be thousands of unreported nameless permanently infertile women which make Hannah, Sarah and Elizabeth’s cases miraculous and important parts of God’s unfolding plan of salvation.

* Adoption is RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT in God’s eyes – caring for the vulnerable. Infertility treatment is fraught. Godly Christians disagree as to whether or not certain elements are sinful or not. It’s refreshing in adoption to be moving down a path to parenthood where there is so much Biblically that affirms it.

* Jesus experienced some form of being an adopted son – he was conceived by the Holy Spirit, so technically Joseph was not his genetic father but was his earthly father (so kind of adopted).

* Adoption is pretty much guaranteed parenthood, infertility treatment is not. Of course adoption assessment is gruelling and it’s a very deliberate decision to become a parent but the government is pushing authorities to accept, equip and support, not turn away prospective adopters. Think about how much energy / time to invest into a path that may or may not lead to parenthood (infertility treatment) vs a path that WILL lead to parenthood (adoption).

* Those who become parents through adoption have different experiences in bonding / attaching to their child / children. It happened quickly for me, took a bit longer for my husband but we met people during preparation who had felt like long-term babysitters rather than parents for eight months after children joined their family. In the rare moments I have to stop and reflect, I do feel sad that I didn’t carry my son and daugher, give birth to them and nurture them right from the moment they came into existence. But I am grateful for the present and for the future that we have to enjoy together.

* Parenthood is not all about me / fulfilling my need to be a mother. It’s about selfless love for children and bringing God glory through this. God has given me resilience and many blessings (relational, spiritual, material). In the context of infertility, it seems downright sinful for us people gifted with children to not at least CONSIDER adoption as a way forward.

* Any child is a gift from God – they do not belong to their parents – they are entrusted to us for a time to raise and to love unconditionally. I feel more conscious of this through adoption than I think I would have been through being a birth parent.

* Infertility treatment feels like a form of gambling – potentially addictive. As the chances of success diminish, the desire for success can increase so that it is very difficult to stop. The ‘prize’ is priceless but in reality the number who walk away empty handed is large. Don’t lose sight of this!

* Don’t disconnect from families / babies / children as painful as it might be to engage. Engaging will serve and encourage them and also keep you grounded in the reality of children and give you an appreciation of some positive elements of being child free (ability to be spontaneous, sleep in, go out easily etc).

* If you have experienced a time limited season of infertility be very careful about what you say on the subject – remember for some (not you), infertility is a painful life long reality. One of the worst things I have ever seen published in a Christian magazine was an article on ‘the joy of infertility’ by a mother of four children, the first two conceived from IVF and the next 2 naturally. Made me want to write in as a happily married woman and offer to write on ‘the joy of singleness’ based on my early 20’s for an audience in their 30’s and 40’s.”

6 thoughts on “Adoption: Not Second-Best

  1. Thank you Ruth and Emma for this. Our experience of adopting before we tried for birth children has been very positive. I say that knowing that the disturbed nights are lasting longer than ‘normal’ for our gorgeous 8 year old who has special needs, knowing that I may be changing his nappy for the rest of his life and wondering what happened to my dreams of a nice family trip to a national trust attraction! What we gain is a family, a son, a boy who has hope, siblings who know that family is more than who grew in my tummy.

    We are lucky, we are blessed and we see more of the tender-heartedness of God. There’s nothing that has shown me the love of God more profoundly than being an adoptive parent. He adores us!

    Our adoption agency – adoption matters, were excellent and very supportive of our faith. They are also partnering with Home for good. I would highly recommend them to anyone based in the northwest. x

  2. Thank you Alice. I read your blog posts a number of years ago before my husband and I had decided to put ourselves forward for adoption assessment. What you have shared in these (and your situation as a family with your eldest child adopted prior to birth children) remains one of the most encouraging things I have yet come across in the area of adoption.

    I was at the Home for Good conference last month and there was an announcement of a new partnership enabling Christians who want to adopt to be assessed by a team who are ‘faith literate’. It sounded promising and I think it is opening up to people across the UK, not just the north west. I’m sure there’d be more detail on the Home for Good website or by contacting them directly for anyone interested.

  3. I have to say, I found this article quite hurtful. My husband and I talked about adoption at every step of our journey to have our first child – before we even started trying, before we went to the doctor to find out why we were not conceiving and after we found out we had a serious fertility issue and were advised to try IVF. I don’t believe adoption does guarantee you a child. We were put off first when we went to a council open morning about adoption where we were treated rudely and patronised because ‘we looked young’ – we had been married four years, owned our own home and had been trying for a baby for two years. We contacted another adoption agency when we were advised to try IVF and were told that if we didn’t try it we would be grilled at every point of the adoption process as to why. I was very concerned about the adoption process. I know of people who have been turned down for silly reasons and I know of people who have pulled out because they have found it far to intrusive. I was also unwilling to use contraception (a requirement of the adoption process even if you have no chance of conceiving) since it has a negative impact on my body and wellbeing. In the end we chose IVF because, despite being a needle-phobe, I felt it would be less emotionally draining than the adoption process. By the grace of God we concieved a son first time and I am so glad that He allowed us to start our family with a birth child because my son has taught me so much about being a parent and I have been able to learn and make mistakes on a child who is secure and happy in a way which wouldn’t have been fair on an adopted child. Adoption is not something I would rule out in the future but I would need to know that I was in an emotionally secure place and that I was prepared for it to not work out.

  4. Hi L

    Thanks for sharing this: I’m sorry that your experience of the adoption process was so painful. You make an important point – that each individual situation is different; and that there are no easy or guaranteed solutions. However, I don’t think Ruth is suggesting that adoption is guaranteed or even always ‘best’ – and as my own experience has been with IVF, it’s gotten more air-time on the blog than other options. Ruth’s post, (although challenging), does – like your comment, and mine – express one part of the picture. And I think we need different voices to reflect what is a painful and complex issue.

    Congratulations on your wee son – I’m thrilled that he is such a blessing to you both.

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