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Politics, culture, and American life — from the family perspective.

Things We Control


If you’ve never been infertile, you simply can’t comprehend the unique pain and anguished complexity that comes every month — like a bill in the mail you don’t have the emotional currency to pay. So women struggling through fertility treatments frequently confide in friends who simply don’t understand. There are smiles and understanding nods as the months pass and the money is spent, masking the unspoken question.

“Why don’t you just adopt?”

This is the rudest question you can ask a woman struggling through infertility, according to most magazines, etiquette experts, and common sense.

However, when Ruth Padawer chronicled the surge of twin killings (or “reductions,” to use abortion-industry lingo) in the New York Times, fertility treatments were once again critically examined. The article details the extreme measures to which couples resort in order to conceive — one 45-year-old spent six years in fertility treatments. When the doctor implanted several “fertilized eggs,” she became pregnant with twins. However, she didn’t want to have twins. When she asked a doctor to insert a needle into her abdomen, aiming at one of the unborn babies in order to “reduce” it, she rationalized her decision: “We created this child in such an artificial manner — in a test tube, choosing an egg donor, having the embryo placed in me — and somehow, making a decision about how many to carry seemed to be just another choice,” she told the Times. “The pregnancy was all so consumerish to begin with, and this became yet another thing we could control.”

Get that? Another thing we control.

Although it is incredibly rude, inappropriate, and seemingly insensitive, I feel compelled to ask women who are going through all of this infertility treatment to please consider adoption.

Disclaimer: I’ve never been infertile, so I know I can’t understand the complex anguish you feel. Not only have I had the blessing of giving birth, I’ve done it twice. One was a girl, the other was a boy. Both have grown to be healthy, energetic, joyful children.

But I’ve also recently had the opportunity to adopt. And now my husband and I have a third child — a healthy, energetic, adorable toddler struggling to speak the language and to lie down on her cot at pre-school.

What kind of kid would we get? Would she be musical? Athletic? Good with numbers? Shy? Feisty?

These things were not things we could control, yet we forged ahead with great trepidation into the boring “paper pregnancy” of adoption.

But here’s the secret no one tells you. Both giving birth and adoption were incredibly emotional, heart-wrenching, terrible, wonderful experiences. Yes, they were different. One involves passing on your genes and seeing your own blue eyes gaze back at you over the dinner table. The other might mean African hair, oil, picks, silk scarves at night, and other ethnic mysteries. Two years ago, as I filled out the paperwork, I would’ve laughed if anyone would’ve told me that adoption could even remotely approach the emotional intensity of childbirth. “How could it possibly?” I would’ve asked as I got my forms notarized — in triplicate.

But after my four-person family sat in a remote African village with my child’s biological grandmother, talking to her (through two translators) about her hopes and dreams for her granddaughter (whom she could no longer afford to feed), we left as a family of five. It was even possibly more joyful than labor, as we boarded the plane with a child that almost certainly would’ve starved without intervention. It was possibly more painful than labor — and no one offered an epidural.

My friend wrote about adopting her second child from Russia:

Today I’ll be carrying a confused kid out of an orphanage. A kid who doesn’t know me well. A kid I already love. A kid who can’t understand what I’m saying. But who will be clinging to my shirt. Wish I could explain it better — It’s a sacred moment. Are you getting the picture yet? It’s a tiny glimpse of God, friends. You’re seeing it, right? So, you’re the kid. You’re confused. NOTHING seems like it’s going the right way. You feel pain. You’re thinking you really just want to go back to what’s familiar. This food you are eating — it’s different. . . . Who cares if it’s more nourishing? You’ve never been in a car before or on an airplane. Lots of fear. But there is this lady and this man. And they keep feeding you. They woo you. They are stubborn about always being there. . . . It’s a very slow, painful, exhausting, deliberate process to get to Home.

What did her child control? Nothing.

In spite of the temptation through modern medical technology to have life exactly on your own terms, there’s a lesson here for all of us.

— Nancy French is the co-author of Home and Away: A Story of Family in a Time of War and Bristol Palin’s Not Afraid of Life.


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