The Pain of Infertility and Why I Won’t Adopt
by JS LEE
Like every story about a woman who tries to have children and can’t, mine is deeply personal. It begins with my own adoption. I arrived from Korea at six months old, expected to be one of those clean slate babies with no memories or trauma. The family I was adopted to had two kids of their own, and eventually four more. I’m not going to get into all the ways my adoptive family failed me, or all the situations I’ve survived. I’ve been through it extensively and no longer need my truth validated by repetition. But for the sake of the subject, I’ll share a few relevant stories.
My adoptive mother would tell you that when she did the right thing by gifting me a Korean baby doll, I loved it. I named it Baby Jessica because I’d never seen another Asian child, and my juvenile mind decided we were all Jessicas. When her pacifier was removed, she wailed violently. It was horrifying and made me anxious. Perhaps on a subconscious level, it reminded me of the orphanage in Korea where I was surrounded by babies crying out for their mothers. Or perhaps it tapped into my feelings of vulnerability and helplessness. But even as a three year old, I knew to pretend that I loved Baby Jessica because she was a special gift and I couldn’t disappoint my parents. I wanted to love her, but I resented her. Nothing I did, aside from shoving the pacifier back in her mouth, soothed her–and even then, it only shut her up. It made me feel I was incapable of loving her well enough. Now I see how my relationship with that doll mirrored the relationship with my adoptive mother. Not being able to effectively bond with or respond to me, she silenced me.
Life with my mother was always difficult and the relationship with my father was no better. At best, he enabled her cruelty. At worst, he made me deeply uncomfortable with being a girl–and specifically, an Asian girl. Partly due to my dysfunctional family home, I got engaged at twenty to an older domestic adoptee who was suffering from his own adoptive family and adoptee issues. He wanted to have children right away, but I wasn’t ready. His rage left him punching holes in walls and throwing furniture into the air. It wasn’t a safe place to raise cats, let alone a little human. And his meanderings over how difficult it would be if one “had a really hot daughter” made my skin crawl. Given my past, I thought all men had uncontrollable and inappropriate sexual urges. But thankfully I wasn’t prepared to bring a child into our unstable environment. Realizing we were both in over our heads, I was divorced by twenty-five.
I spent the following several years convincing myself that I didn’t want kids–but really, I didn’t trust men to father, or myself to mother. I let myself stay in subsequent unhealthy relationships because I had no timeline or plans, and no understanding of what healthy was. Being told all my life how lucky I was to not be dead or worse off, I internalized that to mean I didn’t deserve much else.
But because life isn’t always cruel and unfair, I met the person who is now my husband of five years and partner of ten. We’ve had to work through our individual and joint issues, but it’s a mostly peaceful and healthy life. We loved and lost a dog together. We have two adorable cats. After much therapy and support, I found myself wanting to have a child with him. I used acupuncture, Chinese Medicine, and other supplements to better our odds, given my later age. Due to my other health issues, insufficient health insurance, and financial constraints, we decided against more aggressive medical intervention. And just when I thought it wasn’t possible, we succeeded. I was pregnant. I could hardly believe it. But it didn’t last long, and never happened again.
I cursed myself many times for not starting sooner. Society loves to hate on older women who decide too late that they want to make a family. In one article and blog after another, I’ve read how selfish we are for making kids a last priority. Empathy is reserved for those who always wanted children, started early, and tried for decades. And maybe they’re more deserving and their pain is worse. But I like to think: pain is pain. I try not to compare mine to others.
Of course I wish I’d been able to sort through my adoption trauma and childhood abuse and teen rape and everything that followed much sooner, to get to a healthy place to try to have children faster. But life didn’t go that way. And maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference. I’ll never know. I’ve struggled with so much loss–my birth family, foster mother, adoptive family, and the miscarriage of my one chance to understand natural family. I still don’t have the heart to read through and delete the blog I kept for our unborn child that I’d hoped to reveal when they were eighteen so they’d know without a doubt, they were loved. I haven’t yet fully processed that loss. But maybe because of all I’ve survived, I know I can live without having the things many others consider birth rights. Because as an adoptee, I never had any. My adoptive parents were entitled to another child, but I wasn’t ever really entitled to a mother, family, or even knowing anything about how I came to be. And I don’t feel entitled to a child–mine or anyone else’s. I’m working on other ways to nurture, love, and fill my life with meaning. I don’t mean to shame those who’ve adopted but to offer a different perspective.
I often remind myself that we don’t always get what we want in life. I try to do what I can with what I have, and not dwell on what I don’t. Sometimes it’s much easier said than done. Everywhere I look, every day and even more so on holidays, I’m reminded of what I’ll never have. I don’t resent anyone for having what I can’t.
And I also don’t want to contribute to a system that takes from the underprivileged rather than giving them what they need to survive together. Adoption doesn’t fix infertility, and there’s no way to replace a parent or child. I know some who’ve adopted and also have a biological child who are honest enough to agree that it’s different. I do believe one can love a child that’s not biologically theirs, but love is not enough. Food, shelter, and good parenting is not enough. Being a good adoptive parent is a lot more complicated than being a good biological parent, if you want to do the child right. Throw a different race and culture into the mix, and the complexities multiply.
So there’s no misunderstanding, I don’t think poorly of everyone who has adopted. If completely necessary and with the right people, it can be beautiful and healing. If adoptive parents are cognizant of the responsibility and work hard to support their child’s needs, I wish them the best. I think we all do what we think we need to at the time. I hope adoptive parents today commit to doing better because the tools and resources are there for them now. I hope the system improves to include more vigorous vetting and post-adoption monitoring. Too many are abused and/or die at the hands of their adoptive parents and that’s all too often overlooked for the sake of the happy narrative. Contrary to popular myth, not all adoptive parents are wonderful people. If a second chance at family is needed, society should ensure the family is worthy and capable of providing it–not just financially, but emotionally, culturally, and beyond.
I hope someday in the near future, adoption becomes limited to only the truly orphaned kids who have no healthy living biological family. In order for that to happen, we need more social services that work toward family preservation. There’s no reason for poverty, social stigma, or lack of resources to be breaking up families. People often raise funds to adopt, and I’d rather see funds raised to keep families together. Another option is legal guardianship, which allows the child to be cared for while maintaining their identity and allowing their birth families to maintain rights, should their situations change. I also had a client who fathers long-distance by funding an African family’s kids’ schooling. He builds the relationship via video conference mentoring, emails, and visits, while the kids remain with their family and culture in Africa. If only the truly orphaned with no healthy biological families were allowed to be adopted, I think you’d find there really isn’t the need to rescue as many children as society believes. It’s the families that need saving; not just the children.
And that is why I’m not interested in adopting as a way to build a family and fulfill my desires to be a mother. I hope you’re able to understand that it’s not because my heart’s not big enough, and not because I don’t know the pain of infertility and the loss of a life-impacting dream. While I don’t believe all adoptions are bad, the adoption industry is not something I support.
If you are struggling with infertility or miscarriage; trauma from being adopted; or grief over giving your child away because it felt like the only option–my heart goes out to you. I only hope we find ways to be whole without hurting anyone else.
April 9, 2021 @ 12:22 pm
I am an infertile adoptee. It’s hell. I think it pleases my A mother. You have such grace and insight. Thank you.
April 14, 2021 @ 7:38 pm
Thank you. Sending you <3.
May 27, 2021 @ 10:37 am
Omg, this page is a godsend thank you Kyrie and JS. I had thought I was the only infertile adoptee. As I couldn’t find anything. It is absolute hell as I’ve been going through all the advanced treatments multiple times with no luck as of yet. I’m tired, but I want the biological connection I never had. Love to you all!
Jessica Sun Lee
May 27, 2021 @ 6:34 pm
Love to you too, Ashley. <3 Wishing you well.
February 26, 2021 @ 11:02 pm
Adoptions = one Universalized legalized fraud ring,and thats really insidious .
February 26, 2021 @ 10:59 pm
I agree 110% with this author ,I have seen WAY too many adoptions FAIL! Did you all know that MOST adoptions are illegal AF because if the DAD not knowing and or signing off the kid? Yep,it’s one dingy scam !
March 1, 2021 @ 1:07 pm
Thank you, Judy. <3
December 9, 2019 @ 8:16 am
Could you elaborate more on you and your husband’s struggle with infertility and the transition to a childless life? I think it’s important for those in the adoption community who haven’t experienced it and gone down that path to better understand it.
If you aren’t open to sharing because of the pain that came with it I get it. I wish you the best moving forward.
December 9, 2019 @ 10:58 am
What I’ll say is that it’s not easy. Every day, there’s a new occasion for people to share their children and wax poetic about how they’re the only thing that’s truly healed them or given their lives meaning. As an adoptee, seeing other adoptees share heartfelt stories about what having their own flesh & blood has done for them, is sometimes torturous. Every holiday reminds me that I’m parentless and childless, therefore an exercise in grace. I know, as I age, it’ll only get harder—with what I witness and what I lack.
However, I don’t see my decision to not adopt much different than not stealing from wealthy neighbors. I recognize the systems of privilege and corruption, but playing or cheating the game doesn’t make me any better. There are more and more stories revealed every day about the amount of human violations that go into feeding the adoption industry. Living without children is hard, but I know it’d be harder for me to feel I contributed to the mess. I know many adopters who are wonderful people, but since being awakened to the truth, live with daily guilt.
As I mentioned in the article, I look at it like this: Life’s seldom fair. We don’t always get what we want in life. I’m tasked with making peace with that and trying to fill my life in other ways. No, nothing will ever fill the hole of my losses, but finding ways to appreciate what I have is my choice to survive.
December 9, 2019 @ 11:47 am
Thank you for replying. I know this is an adoption blog and that’s where your focus is but I find your perspective interesting. As someone who went through infertility and ended up childless I can relate to that first paragraph. I can’t imagine going through it on top of being adopted. I appreciate you being open sharing your perspective and apologize for my unfair assumption of you and your motivation.
I wish you the best moving forward.
December 9, 2019 @ 3:11 pm
Thank you. Wishing you well, too.
April 13, 2019 @ 4:30 pm
So well put. I am an infertile adoptee, now 64; you have put to words my sense of being — or not being. Being adopted made me feel like I didn’t really deserve what I did have, and that it would be taken away for reasons I could never fathom or anticipate.
The fraud and graft perpetuated by the legal system, clergy, politics — not to mention actually living life as an adoptee — have repercussions still not fully understood.
I had a microbiology professor in college who said that mutations are “viable cells that grow in the wrong place,” and “therefore can’t reproduce. From then on I’ve thought of myself as some a mutation.
I’ve lived a very fortunate life in many ways; I’m well traveled, fluent in 3 languages, highly over-educated, happily married to a man whose true value was completely unknown to me 32 years ago — and now my body is consuming itself with RA. It seems ironic or appropriate or just or something, I don’t know what. Yes, just another pity party.
I became a teacher, to help children in whatever ways I could. The end of each school year was an agony for me; I dreaded saying goodbye to my students. Retirement put a seal on what I perceived as my purpose in life in a way I never anticipated.
Thank you for your profound writing.
April 15, 2019 @ 9:45 am
Sending love to you, Marla. <3 Thank you for sharing some of your life's challenges with me. I understand much of it. I'm glad that my words have helped you feel somewhat seen or recognized—as you and all of us should be.
March 8, 2019 @ 2:05 am
Thank you for your wisdom. I too am an adoptee with infertility. Every day seems worthless and is truly torture for me to live through, but I would never break up a family (not that it would fix my infertility).
I hope you have found peace and happiness. It eludes me.
March 11, 2019 @ 11:57 am
I’m so sorry for your pain. The grief and healing is different for everyone. And I believe some pain we just live with and work through each day. <3
January 24, 2019 @ 6:45 am
“If only the truly orphaned with no healthy biological families were allowed to be adopted…”
December 26, 2018 @ 8:19 am
Hi. New follower here and white adoptive mom of Chinese boy. Thank you for sharing your story and allowing people like me to learn from you. I’m genuinely mourn with you for the hardships you’ve faced
December 31, 2018 @ 2:22 pm
Thank you, Meg. <3
November 14, 2018 @ 1:47 pm
We have very similar experiences in so many ways and I share your views entirely. You’ve articulated my thoughts so eleqountly so thankyou. The energy it must take you to write this stuff is not taken lightly and you must know that by doing it you are enacting the beginnings of change and that is big. Respect and love to you. And all these comments are smart, insightful and honest. Adoptees are warriors and should be the leaders on adoption policy (and just generally)
November 19, 2018 @ 1:55 pm
Thank you, Sarah. <3 Much love and respect to you, too.
January 8, 2019 @ 12:09 am
I don’t know how to reply or certain things but I’ve been searching adopters with feritility issuues and statics and all and feeling quite alone to say the least and found this….until now I never even heard a s story like mine…46yrs of life not connecting with a single soul … But I’m a dude. Only difference…
January 9, 2019 @ 3:13 pm
<3 <3 <3
June 22, 2018 @ 1:56 pm
So much love and compassion in your heart. The world needs more people like you.
I continue to suffer the loss of my daughter, 48 years. No one should think they can build their dreams on another’s loss!
June 25, 2018 @ 1:46 pm
I’m so sorry for your loss, Nancy. <3
May 31, 2018 @ 8:50 am
This 8s my fear as an adoptive parent. My baby was abandoned at an orphanage. I am so grateful for her. I knew I wouldn’t be able to have kids when I was 13. This my baby is a miracle yet a tragedy. I hope to honour her biological mother and hope to do right by her. She doesn’t belong in an institution. I hope she doesn’t feel otherwise.
May 31, 2018 @ 10:19 am
Honoring her biological mother and–as she grows–her curiosity about her past, culture, and history, are wonderful things you can do. From my experience and through speaking with other adoptees, your interest has to feel genuine in order for her to embrace it. I know a (white) man who adopted a Chinese girl with his (white) wife and their biological daughter. Instead of the Chinese girl only learning about her culture and language, the entire family did it together, which hopefully will help her from feeling Othered in her own family. I honestly think the best way to raise an adopted child is to learn from adult adoptees. The benefit of it not being so new anymore means many of us are speaking out about what we wished we had, and what could’ve made life easier.
May 31, 2018 @ 2:08 am
Thank you for a deep and wonderfully honest account of your situation. I am very touched by your profound observation that parenting adoptive children is a completely different process that parenting biological children. Many people, especially observers who know nothing about adoption, often attempt to tell us how wonderful our adoptive parents must have been. Little do they know. Many people know nothing of what it was like for adopted children to plainly see and feel the difference of how adopted parents treated them vs, how they treated their own children. I also like that you pointed out that adopting a child does not erase a couple’s inability to produce a child.
While I have known several people who were adopted into the most wonderful families who even helped and supported them in finding their biological families, I know many, myself included, who lived an entire hell. Nothing can erase that and we go on as best we can. Because of my horrible adoption experience, I made a conscious choice not to have children, as I had no positive experience of how to belong to a family.
So, it is always good to read the accounts of people who understand.
May 31, 2018 @ 10:12 am
Thank you, Raymond. I’m sorry that your experience was also a terrible one. The future you create for yourself is all yours. I hope you make it as wonderful as possible.
June 6, 2018 @ 4:31 pm
Before anyone struggling with infertility even thinks about adopting a child, they must first mourn and grieve for the biological children they did not have.
That may not have been relevant to Jessica’s adoption, but it is definitely a pertinent issue with many other adoptive families.
May 29, 2018 @ 8:50 pm
I had infertility issues I am adopted I would never adopt.not everyone should have kids I maybe one of them and that’s ok
May 29, 2018 @ 10:49 pm
Glad you’ve made peace with your situation.
May 30, 2018 @ 6:32 am
Please understand. While I agree some moms with reproductive problems are great. We are biologically made to love and long for our children forever. If you spared a mom extreme grief I thank you. There are many ways to get a baby fix. Part time child care, volunteering. Even social media has connections for moms. Trust me babies are extensive work. Someone might love you for it.
May 30, 2018 @ 9:13 am
I’ve been mentoring a local 12 year old for over a year now. It’s a wonderful and fulfilling experience.
May 29, 2018 @ 7:33 pm
The desire to conceive, the bear, and to raise a child is in consequence to produce progeny to ensure the survival of one’s lineage.; to pass on the enes/DNA of one’s ancestors just as they were passed on to you. It is those genes which make you, you and me, me; those strands of DNA which have crossed millennia from the first couple who are our hominin ancestros., and that which serves the main purpose of hominins -to survive. To give to our children better than what may have been given to us.
For adoptees who have suffered great trauma, there may be great difficulty in procreation, just as non-adoptees may have the same difficulties. No one owns the tragedy of spontaneous abortions or the problem with true infertility-not adoptees, and not non-adoptees. and for some., there may never be a child born -or one who could survive… again this can be the fate of either the non-adoptee or the adoptee. But of this is the case, we must not take another’s child to call our own … not for long-term nor short term. All children are linked to their parents by the genes passed to them, the genes that rule their lives-all of it.
And for the adoptee, the child who comes to them may well be the first human to look like them; the first human to be like them. My two children were the first to resemble me that I had ever encountered before them. Unfortunately the first child lived barely 4 months. It was 40 years after her birth that I discovered that she looked like her maternal aunt-my sister from whom I was separated-and her grandmother, the mother who abandoned us when we were very young . My grandson looks like his great, great grandmother and his grandmother (me). I had many spontaneous abortions ( wrongly called miscarriages by some) before and after the births between the two.
Only in the west are adoptions encouraged. In Islam they are forbidden as they are in other religions. A nd where a child is taken in by those not its parents, the names many not be changed nor can inheritance or heritage be taken from the child.
As children we were indeed victims-of society, of agents, of adopters, of those who only thought about themselves; but as adults, we are not, nor should we allow ourselves to be victims any longer. If we continue to encourage the very agencies that harmed us as children, then we are no better than those who are enablers or who were the enablers of the adopters-and that includes what we know as social services… the bain of many an adoptee’s misery.
We must start at the very beginning, taking one step at a time to change the systems which cause such upheaval to vulnerable children. the buck, as they say, stops here-in each of our hands and heads. it takes a village to raise a child., and the world to protect that child.
Thank you for sharing your perspective.
May 29, 2018 @ 10:46 pm
And thanks for sharing yours. I’m sorry for your loss of your first child.
May 29, 2018 @ 1:53 pm
Such a thoughtful post, Jessica! As an adoptee who does not have kids, everything you wrote here rings true for me.
I think that for most adoptive parents, adoption is a second-best: The second choice after not being able to have a child of their own. And that, by itself, complicated things.
May 29, 2018 @ 2:32 pm
Well put, Michele. Thanks for adding that.