You think you’ve got problems

I have a young relative who has been trying to get pregnant for a long time.  When we were struggling I was sure that she would announce her pregnancy any minute.  I can’t believe that I had a baby before she did, because she’s at least 10 years younger.  She is now in the very frustrating time that is the beginning of seeking treatment, where you simultaneously find out that there are serious physical obstacles  (cysts, endometriosis, male factor, whatever) but that the process leading to IVF, and hopefully a baby, is agonizingly, month-after-month-slipping-away, slow.

I reached out to this woman via a letter a while back, told her about our situation, offered to commiserate, offered my research on the clinics in the area (she is sort of close to a good one).  I would have loved an offer like that when I was first starting out.  But… nothing.  No reply.  When I saw her she didn’t act weird, so I didn’t feel like it was a big deal for her.  I hear about her through her grandmother, who hears about her through her mother, so this woman doesn’t have a lot of privacy within the family.  I fretted about this woman’s rebuff, until a friend pointed out to me that there might be things going on in her marriage or her private life that make it hard for her to talk to me.  Like, maybe she and her husband aren’t on the same page about seeking treatment.  Maybe she’s in agony because it’s her equipment, or his, that is “the problem.”  Maybe she’s so angry about it that she just can’t talk about it without cracking her pretty, nice, upbeat public persona and I’m not safe enough for her to do that with.

I’m hoping she decides to talk to me, but not holding my breath.  But it’s making me think, today, about what I wish I could say to those who say we infertiles should “just adopt.”  I have pointed out before that suggesting someone “just” do anything is almost always going to offend.  “Just” is such a belittling word, isn’t it?  The difference between “Can’t you just exercise?” and “Can you exercise?” is infinite; one question is gentle and considerate, and the other is loaded with judgment and condescension.

So for anyone who has been confronted with the “just adopt” question, the questioner needs to be reminded that decisions of this nature are personal, and there are many reasons why a couple cannot, or will not.  Many of those reasons are none of the questioner’s business, but let’s point them out anyway.  (Parentheses address the inevitable Christian follow-up comments about how “God can do anything… have you prayed for blah blah blah” which generally add insult to injury.  In my opinion).

1. My spouse doesn’t want to, and I do; it breaks my heart every day.  (Yes, I DID ask God to change his/her heart; while I was doing that, and God did not change his/her heart, we got old enough that most agencies and / countries won’t accept us).

2. One of us has a criminal record.

3. One of us has a BMI over the limit imposed by certain countries.

4. Our combined age exceeds the limits imposed by some countries and agencies.

5. We would love to, but one of our parents would never accept an adopted child, and it breaks my heart every day.

6. We tried, and the agency rejected us.

7. One of us has a chronic health condition that makes us ineligible.

8. One of us is being treated for mental illness.

9. We don’t have the thousands of dollars it would take, and we don’t have much hope of saving it because of XYZ financial issues.  (and we ASKED God to provide, but God just doesn’t provide exactly what you ask for, sometimes).

10. We were well on our way, and one or both of us got laid off; our adoption fee savings have gone towards the  mortgage and the COBRA payments and we don’t know when we’ll ever recover financially.

11. We KNOW that there are drug-exposed babies, Downs babies, older children, children of a different race, and other children out there who need homes.  But we don’t have what it takes to take on those children.  We KNOW that we would love them.  We KNOW that parents who give birth to or end up with these special, wonderful children, say that they are “a blessing.”  But we don’t have the emotional, financial, or other resources these special children would need.  Please respect that we know our limitations, rather than insist we take on a burden that most of you, the “why don’t you just adopt”ers, would / did not.

12.  That young, pregnant girl who lives on your street and wants to give her baby up for adoption will choose adopting parents who are younger, richer, and prettier than we are.  Even if she does choose us, there is a significant risk that, after we have fitted the nursery with matching everything and after our friends have had our longed-for baby shower, and after we’ve finally let ourselves fall in love with a child that is really ours – that high school girl will decide she wants to take her baby back.

It’s ironic that most of the folks who are insisting that you and I should / must / ought to adopt, did not.  While most of the folks I know who DID adopt provide inspiration and joy with their examples – and all I’ve seen are happy ones – they are the ones who say “adoption is NOT for everyone” and I’ve never heard one suggest that someone else should / must / ought to.

The extreme suckiness of these situations is breathtaking, even without annoying questions.  Foremost for me is the long list of conditions that disqualify would-be adopting parents, which don’t apply at all to the fertile.  Also heartbreaking is our current economy, which piles on layers of misfortune (layoffs, on top of criminally high health insurance costs, on top of profiteering adoption agencies and very high fees….) and so many more problems that I’m not even aware of are out there.

We didn’t agonize much about adoption; it was out of the question due to more than one of the reasons listed above.  But I watch adoption stories around me with interest, and I know now that the failed or neverstarted adoptions are as sad as any fading beta or canceled cycle.  And a lot of that sadness is hidden behind closed doors and unanswered letters and I guess that’s just the way it is.


I was too concerned with things like: me, my pregnancy, and my new furniture to even know that today is Blog Action Day, where I could be posting something about poverty, today's topic.  This speaks to my own emotional / spiritual poverty, perhaps, but that's for another day.

So go here and read what other bloggers are saying about it.

At first it was interesting to read about recent efforts of the Mauritanian government to encourage women to lose weight.  See, in Mauritania (West African country in the Sahara) they like their women fat.  Hmm, I thought, how refreshing.  But no.  According to an article in the NYT, to which I can’t link, because the NYT is just that way:

For decades, the Mauritanian version of a Western teenager’s crash diet was a crash feeding program, devised to create girls obese enough to display family wealth and epitomize the Mauritanian ideal. Centuries-old poems glorified women immobilized by fat, moving so slowly they seemed to stand still, unable to hoist themselves onto camels without the aid of men’s willing hands.

Girls as young as 5 and as old as 19 had to drink up to five gallons of fat-rich camel’s or cow’s milk daily, aiming for silvery stretch marks on their upper arms. If a girl refused or vomited, the village weight-gain specialist might squeeze her foot between sticks, pull her ear, pinch her inner thigh, bend her finger backward or force her to drink her own vomit. In extreme cases, girls died.

Gross.  So now the women are turning up with strokes and diabetes and heart attacks, and the government is airing public service announcements. The article featured a handful of women on a walk around the public stadium, trying to drop the weight that was forced down their throats when they were too young to even know the consequences. 

It’s ironic.  These women wear the mufala, head-to-toe Islamic covering that looks to my western eyes like a pretty, colorful version of the Afghan burka.  Part of the reason why they like their women fat is because no one can really see their bodies well, and the skinny ones look like "a stick wrapped up," one of the local men says. 

As I approach my yearly beach vacation in agony over the ten new pounds I bring along, it comforts me / breaks my heart to think that there is yet another way for women to feel wrong and ashamed about their bodies.  That there is yet another way for women’s bodies to become a thing to be manipulated, fetishized, covered up and still found wanting, and for the women inside those bodies to be simultaneously tortured and ignored. 

Here I sit with my gold-plated health insurance, loving husband, fridge full of organic food, ingesting thousands of dollars worth of fertility meds in preparation for a procedure that costs thousands more; the worst thing that happened to me this week was that my portable DVD player died.

Fertility isn’t such a great blessing for women in the developing world, and I was horrified to read about the prevalence of fistula, which in short is a tearing that happens to women in labor.  The tear goes unrepaired and the women experience leaking of urine and feces.  Instead of finding medical treatment for this repairable condition, these women’s families and husbands often shun them because they smell.  Medical treatment, when available, is often prohibitively expensive.  Today I read about the Fistula Foundation, specifically formed to address this one aspect of maternal health, as well as the Edna Adan Hospital in Somaliland, where they seek to train midwives and provide good obstetric care, and maybe a little more dignity, to some of the world’s forgotten women.