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Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Haxification of "Just Adopt"

Carolyn Hax had two interesting questions and answers today in the Washington Post. The first was a couple who went in for preliminary fertility testing and learned that the wife needed a hysterectomy "ASAP" (the husband's term). Carolyn cautioned him to get a second opinion and, moreover, told him what not to do--minimize her grieving--and what to do--admit that he is mourning alongside her.

The second question relates to one of the pieces of advice Hax gives in the first answer: "don't try to minimize [the loss of your ability to reproduce] with, 'It's okay, we can adopt.' Everyone knows about adoption. There will be a time where it's appropriate to signal your willingness to explore it, if you are in fact willing, but don't present it in a way that suggests you see it as a mitigating factor."


I've noticed that you frequently say, "Everyone knows about adoption," which is why you never advise bringing it up or advise it yourself.

But the thing is, everyone knows about second opinions, too, and that didn't stop you from advising one. Your refusal to recommend adoption signals that there's something wrong with talking about it, when in reality adoption is a wonderful thing that should be discussed.

"Everyone Knows"

Actually, I don't see the two as an apt comparison. Everyone may know about second opinions, but people in the throes of an upsetting diagnosis sometimes do lose that thought in the storm. Also, the recommended treatment involves a hysterectomy "ASAP." They can't proceed, wait till the dust has settled and then remember the option of a second opinion. It's now or never.

The adoption conversation, on the other hand, can wait until the couple is in a better frame of mind for it, at which point they will think of it themselves, without the assist from well-meaning spectators.

I have the benefit of seeing what people have posted here for almost a decade, which is that the "Well, you can always adopt" comment is perceived by couples who are struggling with infertility as unnecessary at best, and at worst offensive.

People don't like even the perception of being judged on their reproductive choices, and stating the obvious about adoption makes couples feel judged either as too dense to have thought of it themselves, or as too close-minded or genetically self-absorbed to be interested, which is how a lot of people really do (unfairly) view couples who rule out adoption. Yes, adoption is wonderful; it should be discussed -- by the people who'd be adopting.

Your thoughts on Hax's response?


Barb said...

I think her responses are supremely well worded. Though I think it's ok to bring up adoption with someone very close to you if they are past some of the initial diagnosis and if it's in a gathering info manner ONLY. For example: I've had close friends ask what we think about adoption or if we've discussed it as one of our options and how we feel either way. I really don't mind when it's posed like that. good find!

Elizabeth said...

I love Hax, I don't know how she does it. It does sound like she's built her response on having listened to people going through infertility.

My word verification weighed in:

Carole said...

I have to say she's right on. I think that anyone that's ever said "Just adopt" should have to read her response a hundred times. Okay...maybe that's too much...but she was so right on this.

Jitters said...

Well said. As an infertile turned adopter, I can add that they are two distinct paths to create a family. One is not a substitute for another and a side by side comparison only is impossible.

The inability to reproduce needs to given some time, rather than masked by another option, which in this context is applied as second best.

Bea said...

Good response. I agree that adoption is not like second opinions. People forget, or are afraid to exercise their second opinion option. It's easy to see your doctor as infalliable and just get caught up in the devastation of your new diagnosis and swept along a treatment path - especially when you hear those words, "ASAP". There's also a lot of built-in waiting time for fertility treatment, which a lot of other branches of medicine don't have.


Lori said...

I've heard it said that adoption is not a cure for infertility.

Also, there needs to be time for the couple to come to terms with IF --to fully grieve and then open up again -- to be ready for adoption. This is for the child's sake. No child should come into the home as second best.

That said, I personally did not find the comment "you could adopt" offensive or insensitive at all.

Fertilize Me said...

Well versed. When I was green on this infertility world, I said many times over, if this doesn't happen, I will "just adopt". Semi-referring to this as a last resirt option. I know think very differently and wish I could have shushed'd the incrediblity stupid ideas,things I have said

Heather.PNR said...

I think Hax is spot on. Going for a second opinion is a logical response to a serious medical diagnosis. But adoption is not a response to infertility. Many people arrive at adoption by way of infertility, but adoption and infertility are separate beasts. You can grieve the latter while in the midst of the former.

When someone is struggling with/facing the loss of their fertility, suggesting adoption just ignores the issue at hand.

Geohde said...

The A word is difficult to discuss, and there's in all probability an optimal way to do it for each person. One size, I suspect, does NOT fit all.

What works for one couple may horribly upset another,

Hax was tactful.


Pamela Jeanne said...

I am in total agreement with everyone here. I'm amazed how often people drop by and after reading a handful of my posts weigh in with, "gee, have you considered adoption?" Got another one of those just today. I think people suggest it often to make themselves feel better -- like, "well, I've done my part here as a problem solver." Next! Any further thinking is too hard for them to wrap their heads around...

Aurelia said...

Yes, Hax is bang on. Frankly, I as an adoptee get offended by the idea that I'm supposed to be a cure for a disease. I know almost no one ever adopts unless they are infertile, but geez, could we at least try to acknowledge that a baby can't make up for the loss of a major organ, and maybe it's asking too much of a baby to solve the emotional issues around that.

I am REALLY glad that she suggested a second opinion on the hysterectomy. It is widely known that hysterectomies are done far far too often in the U.S. and the resulting sexual dysfunction, infertility, pelvic floor dysfunction and nerve damage are rarely worth the benefit.

If she has fibroids, she can get a myomectomy that will preserve her fertility, endometriosis and adhesions can be taken off with a laser laparoscopy, and cancer can be treated with chemo, and still let her have a baby.

No Doctor would lop off a man's penis as cavalierly as they seem to lop off women's sex organs. Kind of worth a second opinion, I think.

Samantha said...

I think Hax is completely right on with her points about how the husband should react. And I think she is correct in recommending not discussing the adoption option at this point in time. What it ends up sounding like is that someone is trying to minimize your pain over infertility. It's akin to stating, "I'm sorry your son died. Well, at least you can have another." We all can agree that's a pretty callous comment!

I do think adoption and fertility treatments have some relationship to each. Both are methods that help people build families. But adoption is not a cure for a hysterectomy. I think it is good to know that there are other options for building a family available besides needing your own uterus, but right after finding out such devastating medical news might not be the best time to explore that option. It really depends on where the couple is. In this case, the whole experience is still such a shock, to go in for an initial analysis and be told such news would take a while to digest. I think about in my case, it was after two years of trying to build a family through more conventional means that I felt ready to think about adoption. Other people may have reached this goal earlier or felt like the option was right for them from the start. I think it is an individual decision, one that shouldn't be pushed onto to couples from the outside world.

Anonymous said...

Both of Hax's replies were great. I gave a little cheer.

For a lot of people, the verb "could" comes across like "should." I've had numerous people ask us about adoption in a way that is perfectly mild, and others sound more assertive.

Ellen K. said...

Two days in a row of hitting the "publish" button too soon. The above anonymous comment, again, is mine.

Erin said...

I may have to tape that response to everyone's presents this holiday season.

Anonymous said...

Oh that more people were as sensitive and common sense-itive as Carolyn Hax!!

I belong to a childless-not-by-choice board, full of women who are trying to rebuild their lives after going through some pretty difficult situations & difficult decisions -- infertility, pregnancy loss, medical & marital problems -- & it's amazing how many people drop by to ask whether we've "considered" adoption (and if not, why not). "Gee, it never occurred to me! Thanks, I'll get right on that!!"



SarahSews said...

I'm so glad she gets it right. I love her columns and would be sad if this was an issue she fumbled.

I cringe whenever I hear someone suggest adoption to me or to other infertiles facing a tough diagnosis. Not that it isn't a perfectly nice way to build a family, but um, if I can't bear my husband's child, I'm allowed to grieve, right?

I do hope that woman and her husband get a second opinion, ASAP. Losing your uterus is serious business, even if you didn't still want to use it for stuff.

SaraS-P said...

Second opinion = advice

Just adopt = advice or invalidation depending on the person

They are not the same.

Dianne/Flutter said...

I loved her response. Especially the portion about the couple coming to that decision on their own. Thank you for sharing.

mama2roo said...

and just to add another thought here that I didn't see touched upon: you could "JUST" adopt makes it all sound so simple, doesn't it? It simply trivializes all that goes into an adoption: the decision making on many levels about many things, the cost, the emotions, the ethical implications and the implications for every party to the adoption throughout generations. Adoption is bigger than "JUST"

Schatzi said...

Occasionally, I get asked "Have you thought about adoption", or "you could adopt". (First of all... Gee, I hadn't even thought of adoption... what is that?) I don't believe these comments are said with any bad intention... but to me, they do minimize the struggle associated with being infertile.

As if the fact that there is this whole other separate process one can go through to "get" a baby means my right to be disppointed and heartbroken is severely curtailed. As if I have no cause to mourn or pursue advanced treatments. As if adopting would wipe away the 6 years of struggling. As if it fixes being infertile.

squarepeg said...

Chiming in with everyone else - her comments are spot on.

Just another take on the "just adopt" advice: I really think that the family and friends that propose this "option" fall into a couple of camps: those that genuinely love you and don't want to see you hurting, and those that genuinely love you and don't want to see you hurting AND are scared of facing IF themselves one day. Both feelings for the infertile couple drive the well wisher to invoke adoption as a "solution" because they want your hurting to end and to know that infertility isn't "so" bad.

Generally this form of advice giving is a self defense mechanism on the part of the giver: if they can propose a solution to your pain. they can help end it, and by translation they can move beyond the uncomfortable reality of their loved one's pain.

That was long winded and probably confusing ... I hope it made a little sense.

Kelly said...

After my third miscarriage, my doctor told me I would never carry a child to term. She then said, oh so casually, but you shouldn't be upset. You can adopt. This from a women with five healthy children. My dh and I did go on to adopt and my son is the light of my life, but we took the time to grieve, to heal, to decide. It is not for everyone and IT IS NOT A CURE for infertility. I changed doctors because of how insensitve I thought this doctor was to me and the impact of her words. She told me something that changed everything about the way I felt about myself as a woman. Adoption is not a cure for that. Turns out she was wrong about the never carrying a child to term thing too. I now have a biological daughter 12 months younger than my son. I now have to deal with all the idiots who tell me it happened because I adopted. No, it happened because I sought out a second opinion and got on the right medications. Duh!!!

Starfish said...

As I wrote in a recent post on my own blog:

Everyone knows adoption is a wonderful thing. But it is not a decision to be made lightly. To adopt means we must come to terms with the end of our treatments, and this is no small thing. There is a grieving process (which I poo-pooed until I found myself sobbing uncontrollably during the social workers first visit). There is also a readjustment into "normal life". We must try to regain some of what we were before in order to start a new chapter. To suggest adoption trivializes the process we must take to get there, and assumes we haven't been gearing ourselves up for that possibility in the first place.