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IVF versus adoption: Why 'just adopt' is not the answer

Yesterday, Dr. Wendy Walsh wrote about her belief that couples who want children but can't conceive naturally should adopt rather than use IVF technology. That struck a nerve for blogger Julie Robichaux of A Little Pregnant, who has chronicled her struggles with infertility. Here, she responds to the notion that adopting is the better choice for parents and for the planet.

By Julie Robichaux

I'm open about the fact that my children were conceived through infertility treatment, so I hear one particular question frequently: Why didn't you just adopt? Sometimes – rarely – it's asked in the spirit of sincere curiosity, and in those cases I'm happy to talk about our choices. More commonly, though, the question conveys an implied judgment, an expectation that I should justify myself: Why didn't you do the simple thing I'm sure I'd have done myself?

I'll admit it; I get defensive. I bristle at the suggestion that my reproductive choices are a matter for debate or persuasion. It really is the question, one examined and re-examined by anyone who's even briefly considered assisted reproduction, and we don't take it lightly. You name an angle, and we've examined it. At length. Ad nauseam.

Wendy's article gives me the opportunity to do it one more time.  Seven years after our initial decision, I still feel good about our choice to pursue assisted reproduction instead of adoption. Every person's reasons are different, of course, and highly specific to her situation. Here are some of ours.

For us, cost was an issue, but not in the way Wendy suggests. IVF is indeed expensive, and several cycles can be necessary to achieve an ongoing pregnancy. But there are times when IVF may actually make more financial sense than adoption: women on the younger end of the spectrum, who can reasonably hope for success within three cycles, may well spend less money on treatment than they would have adopting. Depending on your clinic – our first one charged about $8,000 per cycle – and whether you have insurance coverage, as most do not, several tries can still be less expensive than adoption. And while success depends as heavily on diagnosis and plain old luck as on age, it's entirely sensible to consider those factors, look at the numbers, and decide, as I did at age 31, that ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology) is a sensible use of your family-building dollars.

It wasn't just the financial cost we considered, but the savings in time as well. Most people don't consider infertility treatment until they've already tried to conceive for a year or longer. The reality of adoption is that even under the best of circumstances, it can take years to bring a child home. And there's the possibility of even further delays – a birth mother deciding to parent, a country closing international adoption unexpectedly. IVF can shorten the timeline considerably, a very attractive prospect when yet another year has passed without children in your life.

There was more to it than that, though, since we were always clear that adoption doesn't – mustn't – produce children for the convenience of waiting parents. There are others involved, after all, full-fledged people with complicated needs: birth families and children, who aren't simply a "hungry mouth." I couldn't ignore the fact that even the most open, straightforward, ethical adoptions – adoptions that are successful by anyone's definition -- can still entail a tremendous sense of loss. That concerned me deeply. And that's just one example of adoption's numberless complexities. There really is no "just adopt," and we're not all equipped to take the issues on. That doesn't make us unworthy of parenthood, but it can mean that adoption isn't right for us.

What didn't come into play in our decision was any idea that we should "save the planet" or "rescue the orphans" or any of the other constructions that reduce adoption to an act of charitable do-gooderism. Wendy writes, "Parents who are facing infertility may be given a wonderful opportunity to help the planet a bit." But don't we all have that opportunity? Don't fertile people have the same chance to adopt a child in need? That's a shared obligation, and when infertile people are singled out to bear it while others excuse themselves because conception was easy for them – well, it rankles. And that's without taking on the problem of putting adoption on par with riding a bike instead of driving a Hummer.

But my pique there is purely emotional. So was our most powerful reason: I had a compelling, persistent desire to create a life, to bear and raise a child knowing that the one reason he exists is because our love brought him into being. I wanted to take part in what I think is one of the defining experiences of being a modern-day human: having children because we want to, solely because we love. It's the same drive initially felt by many people who eventually adopt successfully, and the same urge Wendy had, I'm sure, when she conceived her own two children. If that's wrong, then we're all wrong together. But when we've been lucky enough to reach parenthood, why debate the ways we got there?