If treatment was unsuccessful, one of the options couples sometimes considered was adopting a child, either from the UK or abroad. Here we discuss people’s attitudes towards adoption, including those who felt that adoption was not for them, the experiences of couples who started exploring the adoption process and those who went on to adopt.
Some of the people we talked to made it clear that they would not consider adoption; there were various reasons for this including a very strong desire to give birth to their own baby. Brian said that he felt annoyed when people said, “You can always adopt” because this meant they didn’t understand that “I want my own children or I don’t want children”. Couples did not always agree – sometimes one was willing to adopt but the other was not. Joanna said that her husband would have been content to go for adoption rather than fertility treatment but she felt she “needed to do it”. Looking back, she could see how relationships break up in the process. 
Mary was eventually successful in having her own child with IVF, but during her treatment she had been very open to the idea of adopting from abroad. However her husband had not been keen on the idea, worried that he would not be able to love the child as much as his own. Carol and her husband Tim were still in treatment and considering their options. They felt they would prefer to use donor eggs rather than adopting.
Couples sometimes started to research the possibility of adoption even while they were still having fertility treatment. They found it helpful to have another plan up their sleeves if treatment failed. Naomi and Martin stopped treatment for a while and started adoption proceedings. They found it gave them some breathing space, and in the end they went back for one last try at fertility treatment and conceived twins with donor sperm and eggs.
Couples who went on to adopt described the relief they felt at being able to do something positive after unsuccessful fertility treatment. Fiona, who now helps counsel prospective adoptive parents, said it was a massive relief to be moving on, closing the door on IVF and focusing as a couple on what was important to them, “With adoption you are working together, with IVF you are not”.
After her fertility treatment failed Sarah had some cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). She was told that she had to wait a year after her last fertility treatment before she could be considered for adoption.
The adoption process involves several stages; home study, social worker assessments, training in the legal issues and checks including medicals and criminal records (CRB) (see Those who want to adopt a baby born in the UK often have to wait for a long time, even once they have been approved. A couple is unlikely to be able to adopt a UK baby (but can adopt an older child) if one of them is over 45 years of age. 
The approval process was sometimes nerve-wracking, although adoption agencies stress that they are looking for ‘good enough’ not ‘perfect’ parents. Joanna and her husband adopted two girls but found the adoption process very difficult.
Not everyone who wants to adopt is able to, and the assessments can be difficult even for couples united that this is what they really want to do. Fiona and Janine said that they felt they were lucky to have been able to adopt and hoped that they loved their children as much as if they had given birth to them.
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Fiona has often wondered if she loves her daughters as much as if she had had her own, but she’ll never know. She feels that she has had to work extra hard at being a parent to her three adopted daughters, but they have surpassed all she could ever have hoped for.

Last reviewed July 2017.


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