The Towering Infertile: On “Just Adopt!”

Just as surely as Tuesday follows Monday, any time infertility is mentioned in an article on the Internet, a “why don’t people just adopt? JEEZ.” comment (or a dozen such comments) will appear.

I am capital-I-Infertile. I don’t have a uterus. I would like to explain why these comments make me, and those like me, a combination of furious and hurt. Contrary to popular media representation, adoption is not as easy as dropping by the local cabbage patch for a free orphan.

Cabbage patch with sign that reads "Cabbage Patch Free Orphans!"
Not a real thing.
Charles Ingalls and two of his passel of orphans, from Little House on the Prairie
Charles Ingalls regularly found orphans by the side of the road.

First, the assumption that infertile individuals should be solely responsible for scooping up all the world’s unwanted children is offensive to both infertiles and the children you want us to adopt, because you’re treating both groups like leftovers.

Second, you’re not taking into account all the barriers between prospective parents and kids who need homes. We’ve come a long way, but if you think it’s simple for someone who is gay, transgender, an atheist (or even just non-Christian), single, poor, disabled, or, in some cases, fat, to adopt in the heartland, you are mistaken.

Third, the assumption that all it takes to “fix” a troubled kid is love and lentils is just wrong. Love can’t undo the effects of abuse and neglect, any more than it can cure cancer. Not every person is equipped to parent a child with intensive needs, the system isn’t set up to provide the kind of education and life-long support said families need, and adopting a kid with special needs for the wrong (as in, self-serving) reasons is crueler by far than not adopting at all.

Fourth, adoption is much more complicated, for both adoptive families and adoptees, than is portrayed in our pop culture. International and interracial adoptions require a lot of cultural fluency on the part of parents to help adopted children remain connected to their culture/race. Domestic U.S. adoption has come a long way since the days when all records were sealed and young moms were giving birth in maternity homes, but treating it as though it’s always positive for everyone involved erases the voices of adoptees, birth moms, and adoptive families who don’t see it that way.

I understand the instinct to jump on the adoption bandwagon. Before I was one of The Infertiles (be sure to catch our next single “I Am Not Ma Ingalls”!) I had no idea how much this kind of comment could hurt. Privilege is invisible. I don’t want to start a fight with anyone who’s made these comments in the past. (Unless it’s with marshmallow guns. Marshmallows are delicious.) I just wanted to point out some tidbits that might not immediately jump to your mind if you’re not on this side of the fence.

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[E] Selena MacIntosh*

Selena MacIntosh is the owner and editor of Persephone Magazine. She also fixes it when it breaks. She is fueled by Diet Coke, coffee with a lot of cream in it, and cat hair.

5 thoughts on “The Towering Infertile: On “Just Adopt!””

  1. As an adoptee, can I say I agree heartily? My adoption was domestic, not international, and not evidently transracial, so it falls into the “simplest” type of adoption category, and it’s still extraordinarily complicated. Adoption is not a simple solution to accidental pregnancies or to infertility. It’s not simple at all — it is sometimes the best possible solution to the concurrent problems of a child without a family and adults who wish to be parents. But it comes out of loss — of the natural family of the adoptee, and the heritage and genetics that come with that, and out of the natural family of the adoptive parents (sometimes, not always).

    The people who throw around “why don’t you just adopt?” as though it’s a pat and easy thing do not have any knowledge of adoption as a lived experience for any of the parties whose lives are affected by it.

    And if I can counter a point, infants are also affected by the trauma of adoption — a newborn recognizes the biometrics of its mother — heartbeat, most strongly — and will never be able to articulate what that loss the loss of that person means, not even as an adult, three decades and much therapy later.

  2. I think the “Throw left overs together!” feeling bugs me most. Everyone here involved is human, it isn’t puzzle pieces you can keep trying to slot together. There are choices and decisions that have to be made and even the most eager adoptive parent won’t say yes to everything (I presume).

  3. It is literally impossible for me to agree with this more. Getting approved for adoption is difficult for most, impossible for many, expensive, and most important, part of a tragic, tragic chain of events for the children involved. Not only that, to a certain degree ALL children adopted after infancy are special needs children; they will mourn their losses for the rest of their lives, in different ways as they grow up. “Love and lentils” (brilliant description) won’t change that. Any adoptive parent can tell you that there is an enormous about of blood, sweat, toil, and tears required.

    1. I hear this. A friend at work’s daughter just finalized their second adoption. Both times they have lived in terror. After a month or two of bonding with their new child, it could end at any moment if the biological parents show up at the hearing and change their mind. The process is expensive, both financially and emotionally. How do you feel like you can breathe if you never feel like you have the room to hope it will all work out?

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