In 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.
“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.”