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Adoption

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.
 

Marine describes how she was always keen to go straight for adoption, but her husband had wanted...

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Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 33
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I had always thought that if I couldn’t have babies, kids, I wouldn’t even try IVF I would just try straight to adoption. I had a lot of prejudices against IVF. I didn’t think it was right in a way. I don’t know, I didn’t know what it was and I just thought that it wasn’t for me to do that. Okay. I just thought it wasn’t for me basically. And I just always thought that there was enough children to kind of… you know, I suppose I was a bit naïve about the whole thing actually. Not realising how important it is, for many people, to have your own, as such, although obviously adopted children become your own once you have done that. 
 
And also for me there was a certainty in the adoption that I would get a child in the end, and for me I didn’t care what child, as long as there was a baby. And I think I still feel like that actually, although I’m really happy that I had her. I still think that if we hadn’t gone through the IVF I would have had another baby that would have been fantastic and lovely, that I would have loved, so, whereas for my husband it was more important to do the IVF thing. He wanted to try and exhaust that route completely and he would even consider donations, whereas that was, that was my line. I would not do that. Yes, I thought IVF was really hard work, really tough, and I know adoption processes are hard too, but at least there’s no way they would have rejected our application. I just know it, because we both have stable jobs and blah blah blah, so… yes. There was that certainty I think. 
 
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”.
 

Fiona described how she needed to wait a year after stopping treatment before she could start of...

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Age at interview: 41
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 33
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The adoption agencies themselves. My Mum had already told me that because she knew through these friends who had had a very similar experience. And then they put it out in their, if you, if you do phone them, they always ask you when your last fertility treatment was if you have had it, and if you are not within a year then they say come back when. Because I think there again they just know that you are not ready. You know, you could easily just be jumping from one thing into another, which you could be forgiven for doing at the time. But not be ready, that is one thing we look out for on the courses we do now, the preparation. I can spot somebody who isn’t ready. Because they cry very easy and they get very... you think actually they are still too immersed in, so it is quite interesting. So yes, I am glad they did, I mean with hindsight again, you don’t want to have to wait, but you do need that time. You really need to get your head sorted out, because then, adopting children is a whole new kind of board game and you are re-focussing, you are not going to get a baby, you’re not going to get, you know, your own child. You’re not going to get anything, you know, your own child, you’re going to get anything that you were originally intending. So you have to really think and re-focus on what you are going to get.

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.
 
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Sarah was excited to be starting classes towards her adoption from Guatemala, but was told she...

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Age at interview: 36
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 33
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So they let us get started and we went to class preparation classes, and we got us references from the medicals and all that and we felt like really quite positive, because we thought at last something is moving in the right direction. This is something we can actually control. We can work on this. And we can make it work.
 
And then when the medicals were forward to the adoption medical adviser I just got this call that I had been turned down for mental health reasons. And basically it took out a lot of probing to find out exactly what they had decided. But their medical advisor who had never met me, never spoken to me, never spoken to the referees, never spoken to the therapist, never spoken to my GP had just made this decision that because I had had cognitive behavioural therapy that must indicate that I have got a mental health problem. So therefore I couldn’t carry on with the home study until a year had passed from the date of the last session because that is the date at which I achieved psychological closure.
 
So I mean I spoke to him on the phone and it just sounded like a nonsense to me. And I said to him, “Well what would you do if people had not seen a therapist? How would you assess a date of psychological closure?” Not like it arrives in an envelope like, like a Premium Bond, you know. And this has made me so mad, because it is just such poor quality medicine and I think it has got no evidence basis at all. And he didn’t even, even if he had made that decision after he had collected enough information, I still would have been mad, but the fact of the matter is, it just seems like he had made it on a whim and he didn’t have enough information to decide about that. And also it is quite, you feel quite stigmatised. I mean somebody implying that you are not mentally fit to be a parent, you know, and I think really I deserved a bloody medal for what I have been through. I don’t deserve to be being criticised for being in some way inadequate. So this has made me so cross. I can’t get this… that basically you take pro-active steps to try and safeguard your mental well being after you have been through the most stressful thing that has ever happened to you and then you are kind of… so the… basically the thing what is it, is part of the adoption people is, you are better off not kind of owning up to any kind of mental health problems, and you are better off probably not getting help and not seeing people because then you are rubber stamped as being somebody who has had mental health problems and then you run into problems with the adoption. 
 
But then as it has turned out we wanted to adopt from Guatemala and then this December basically the government has issued a statement that all adoptions from Guatemala have been suspended indefinitely for some concerns about financial irregularities and stuff. So, in some ways, it is good that we didn’t get on sooner or else we would have done even more work and it would have all have been in vain. So it really does just feel like it is one thing after another. Like you feel you are making some positive progress towards your goal and you just kind of again are disappointed in new and, you know, different ways. 
 
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 www.adoptionuk.org) 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. 
 

Fiona and her husband found that the adoption process did them the world of good, helping them...

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Age at interview: 41
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 33
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It was, well the point when we really started to feel that we were focussed again was actually when we went for adoption and that is partly because the course makes you focus on you as a couple and then you have lots of what they call home study, the social worker comes to the house and makes you look at your relationship and takes you back through everything you have been through from childhood and everything. 
 
So it makes you start to re-evaluate what you have got and that did us a world of good. I mean even if we hadn’t gone on to adopt, I would have said that was a really useful experience. Because you had to then write about it, and me being a reader and a writer I loved doing that and it made us look at each other again really, and re kind of like say re-focus on where we were going and what we both wanted out of life, and we often, I mean with adoption what they are saying to you is once you have started on the home study it is not a clear and cut thing, but it is actually to make you look at and see whether you are suitable and whether you are right place for adopting. And often couples find that they are not when they starting go through the process which is why they put you through it.
 
And yes, we found that actually, that, I remember the social worker saying as a couple, he said, “The eye contact between you,” he said, “You constantly look at each other.” He said, “There is something very strong there”. Which we had probably forgotten about and he said, but so you know, so it is quite refreshing to see a couple who are so close. And we were like oh oh that is really nice, you know, and it kind of re-awakened a lot of things for us that I think also obviously, because one of our kind of like goals in life as a couple was to have a family, and we wouldn’t have felt complete if we hadn’t have managed that. So we were putting our energies into the new ways that we could have a family. Working together again. 
 
And I think [with] adoption you are working together, with IVF you are not, it is kind of the female having all the attention and the drugs and everything and the male just doing a bit. And adopting is much more balanced. You have to look at both of you, you’re both parents you’re both coming into it, much, much more level and so again you are given plenty of time to come to terms with things, to look at things. They make you go through your loss. They make you go through your experiences. They did have concerns about me because I was not the healthiest at the time. But also then they said, you know, you are working through it, you have got the support. We will support you as well. Which I am eternally grateful to them for, because they could have turned round and said, “We don’t think you are fit at the minute,” and you know. So that for me I was lucky really that they were willing to support us so well. 
 
So I think that is what brought us back together.
 
 

Fiona reflects on how different the adoption process is from IVF – you are no longer a number but...

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Age at interview: 41
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 33
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Just think that you are much more, when you are going through IVF you are much more, almost like a number on the page, kind of right, so it is number one first this morning, then its number two, then its number three, whereas when you go for adoption, you are two people with a name. You are [name] and [husband] and, you know, whatever. And the relationship which you build with the person who is dealing with you is much more personal, therefore, I think I just felt so much more valued.
 
Whereas with IVF they are giving you a service and they are with adoption in a way but it is a much more personable service. And I think, I don’t know how this sounds, but again at the end of the adoption process there is a much more tangible outcome. So, you are aiming for something that is very different and that for most couples is going to be a definite outcome. It might take a long time and it might again be a bumpy ride but you are going to have children at the end of it. 
 
Whereas with your IVF the uncertainty. And the doctors and nurses, you know, I have to say, they were very pleasant, but it is a case of you sit there, your name is called, you go in a room, you lie on a sofa, you open your legs. It is all horrible stuff, you know, with people that you don’t particularly know. And it’s all very invasive in a physical sense. 
 
An adoption process is invasive obviously in a kind of you know, the emotional into your lives and everything, but you see again I don’t think. People say, oh is it incredibly invasive. They ask questions about your sex life and this that and the other, but that doesn’t bother me. I don’t think that is invasive. I just think, well that is what they need to know. I don’t find that overly intrusive. 
 
And yes, they are coming to your house, but, you know, so do lots of other people. It doesn’t really, it never bothered me like that. But I always felt that the whole process of IVF was very clinical and didn’t like the clinical, you know, side of things. And physically it really, really takes it out with you, whereas again adoption wise, it is nothing to do with your physical make up. 
 
So, it is like, IVF is people doing things to you. Whereas adoption is people doing things with you. That is how I always found.
 
And yes, the IVF people want you to have a baby and they want the best outcome, but it has to be a clinical procedure and you have to be dealt with as one of a long line.
 
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.
 
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Rachel describes the day of the adoption panel as very traumatic. Once they were approved she...

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Age at interview: 48
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 41
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But going through panel, it is very traumatic in the sense that you go into a room and there is all these people sat round and they ask you questions about why you want to adopt and why did we want to adopt a sibling group? Because we always said that, because I would have quite liked three but we said, two or three, we were assessed for two or three. 
 
And so they ask you why you want a sibling group, you know, why do you want to adopt?
“Why at your stage of life, when you could be out, you know, enjoying yourselves?” And I said, “Well we have done all that.” And really things like, you know, going off on exotic holidays and all that sort of stuff, it’s not compensation for not having a family. And, you know, I felt and I think that [husband] did, that something was missing in our lives. You know, there is this child centred space that we just didn’t have, and for someone who has worked with children for over twenty years, you know, that was, I found very difficult was going to work and being with, being with children, and it actually had a tremendous strain on me to the point where I decided to leave, and I left before… we had gone to panel, and I left following that. Once we had been approved at panel, even though I knew that we might have quite a wait for the children, because I knew that I couldn’t keep going back into work every day, it was tearing me apart seeing all these children. And specifically with the kind of job that I had got, where there were children, who were, you know, coming from very difficult family backgrounds and things, and you know, knowing that I couldn’t do anything other than put support in for that, and it was really, really difficult. 
 
So that was why I gave up work, because I just felt I just couldn’t do it, because emotionally it was just tearing me apart. And after I had done that I actually felt a lot better about things. And my energy started to come back as well, because I was feeling very tired and that sort of thing, because the whole thing makes you tired, both mentally and physically. And it does put a tremendous strain on a relationship. It really does. 
 
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.
 

Janine no longer wishes she had been pregnant or had children genetically hers.

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Age at interview: 44
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 32
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Well actually I don’t have any sadness at all about never having been pregnant. And that went away a long time ago, and I don’t have any sadness at all about not having children that are genetically ours. Because again that went away ages ago, and we decided to go down the route of donor eggs, and actually we talked about donor insemination at one point. So it was never… it was once about being pregnant and giving birth and that, that’s gone away. It was never having little [own name] and [husband’s name] running around. But there’s something about the feel of a baby in your arms, and actually I’ve been doing interviews with adoptive parents and one of the women that I interviewed who adopted, her children are grown up now, in their twenties and she adopted them when they were tiny babies, and her son has just had a child of his own, so it’s her first grandchild and she was talking about being in the hospital and this tiny baby being presented to her and having it her arms and bursting into tears, and she said I don’t know what’s wrong with me, you know, and she said you know, I’ve never held a baby this small. And so for her, it’s a similar thing, you know, sort of there’s something very emotionally powerful about holding a tiny baby in your arms and, or not, not being able to, not be able to have that experience. So I don’t know why it comes back or why that’s the powerful thing that feels like its missing but it is. 

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.
 

Fiona rarely feels upset by her infertility now, her three adopted daughters are more than she...

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Age at interview: 41
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 33
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Has your previous experience with all your IVF affected your parenting?
 
That is an interesting question. I have no idea. Possibly. I have had to think about parenting and being a mother and everything, a lot more, perhaps than your average person. It has made me question how I was parented. Which is a really interesting issue as well. I don’t know actually.
 
I feel that I’ve become through having adopted children I feel like I’ve had to work extra hard at being a parent, but I feel I’ve had the chance to really try out lots of different things. I have had to do all kind of things to support them. I have had to go into school with them every day sometimes, and sit with them, you know, whereas another parent might just drop their child off. Because my children are so scared about who’s going to come and pick them up at the end of the day, that you know. 
 
All those kind of things you have to kind of work extra hard at. But I think perhaps then, this is occurring to me as I am saying it to you, you have wanted to be that mother so much that you will go to those lengths to do it, because you really want to be the absolute perfect… I wanted to a perfect mother. 
 
So I think it probably has actually. Because you are so grateful in the end that you got the chance to be a mother that you will do an awful lot.
 
I did beat myself up a lot about being a perfect mother, because I couldn’t handle the girls at first how I thought I would be handle them. And you realise that you are not as patient as you thought you were or that you want. And I used to think at school I can be infinitely patient in a classroom, but here with the children I can lose my temper really quickly and it comes as quite a shock to you, because you want to be, and especially to these children that have had a rough time of it, but I have learnt, you know, that is not what it is about. And I have learnt to say to the girls, you know, nobody is perfect. I make my mistakes I am sorry I did that wrong or whatever. 
 
So I am much more settled with that now, but again I think it. I suppose anybody has their ideas about being a parent don’t they, how they want to be, and the thing I kind of…I don’t know whether I comfort myself with it now, or whether it is a realistic thing, but I say basically, if I had had my own birth children, who knows what they might have turned out like. We may have had health issues, we may have emotional issues, just because they are not mine from birth doesn’t mean to say that I might not have had, you know, a bumpy ride. So it is true really isn’t it?
 
And have they allowed you to move on from the infertility?
 
Yes definitely. The only time the infertility upsets me now are well times like this when I have to talk about it. Not that I have to talk about it, but I think when you do start talking about it, you realise it is still in there, but for the most part I don’t give it a second thought and I can make a joke out of it now. I can laugh about it, I can, you know, I can deal with babies quite happily. All of that definitely, because I have got my own babies now. 
 
I have fulfilled that need I had. Which I was worried about when we adopted, because three for me was a bit old, I wanted younger, but actually they were such big babies that I didn’t miss out on any of their, and they still are, you know, everybody still needs the love and the mothering kind of thing, don’t they, whatever age they are. So I don’t, you know, I feel that they have more than kind of surpassed what I was hoping for. And they are just beautiful.


Last reviewed July 2017.
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