By: Phyllis Lowinger, LCSW
Published in Resolve for the future and beyond, Winter 2013
When adoptive parents contemplate returning to medical treatment, it is not unusual for conflicting feelings to reemerge. They ask themselves, “If I truly love my child, why do I still care about having a birth child?” The answer can sound quite simple: “Adoption is a solution to parenting; it is not always a solution to infertility for everyone.” But the emotional process of resolving infertility is not at all simple.
Resolving infertility involves dealing with a complex set of feelings and reactions. Infertility is an assault on one’s self-esteem. It impacts one’s feelings about sexual identity. It can evoke feelings such as anger, blame, guilt, envy, and jealousy. Infertility is a major life crisis because it involves accepting many losses: the loss of pregnancy, birth, and breast feeding experience; the loss of genetic connection and the loss of control over crucial aspect of one’s life.
There is nothing wrong in itself with wanting to have a second child by birth after adopting. The feelings that arise in this situation should be looked at as a challenge and opportunity to reexamine what brought you to want to adopt and which particular losses are still causing pain and why. First, you have to accept that adopting a child can never take away the losses that infertility brings. At the same time, you must examine the issues behind your desires to have a child by birth, since these reasons are usually not sufficient in and of themselves to ensure bonding to another human being. For example, pregnancy and childbirth can be a wonderful experience. It can be an awful experience. In addition, pregnancy lasts only nine months. Even if it is a wonderful experience, can it sustain the sense of love and commitment that a child needs for a lifetime? There may also be a fear of loving a birth child more than the adopted child who is already in the family. You may love your children differently because they are different people, but the fact of how they joined your family should not affect either the quantity of the quality of the love you have for each of them.
As well as examining your motive for wanting a second child by birth, you should be aware that having a family by adoption and birth can bring up a variety of issues for both parents and children. For example, all adoptive families must deal with the curiosity adoption engenders. In families where all the children are adopted, this challenge can be met as a unit, by developing strategies for fielding questions about birth parents or the circumstances of an adoption. However, when a family has children by adoption and by birth, such questions do not remain entirely social and outside the family. The issues are brought inside the family circle. The day will inevitably come when an acquaintance, learning that you have children by adoption and by birth, will ask, “Which is your real child?” Often this question will be posed in front of one or both children. The preferred answer, “They are both my children,” may satisfy the outsider but inside the family you will have to deal with the feelings this type of question brings up in your children and yourself.
In his book Shared Fate, David Kirk’s major premise is that bonding between an adopted child and the adoptive parents comes about through the acknowledgement of their mutual losses. In exploring your readiness to adopt, did you decide that you will be able to accept your child’s desire to know more about his or her genetic roots and possibly to search for his or her birth parents? This is a key issue in accepting the basis of bonding in the adoption relationship. Indeed if you are able to accept your child’s need to know about his or her genetic roots, then you may be able to accept your own feelings of wanting your own biological child. However, your birth child may not understand or accept an adopted sibling’s need to know and will need your guidance and patience in such a circumstance.
These are the kinds of issues that may arise if you are successful in your quest for a birth child after adopting. The major question here is not love. One can absolutely love a child by adoption as one can love a child by birth. If you have examined your motives carefully and feel comfortable that you are prepared to raise a family with adopted and birth children then you can pursue your desire to have your own biological child.
Phyllis Lowinger, LCSW is a clinical social worker in private practice in New York City for over 25 years. She specializes in infertility, adoption and third party reproduction.