People choose adoption for a variety of reasons, but the main one by far is infertility. It’s estimated that about 20 per cent of Canadian couples experience some form of infertility, which is generally defined as the inability to conceive within one year of regular unprotected intercourse.

If you’re like most people, the news comes, at best, as an unwelcome surprise and, at worst, as a cruel joke. After all, for years you probably did everything you could not to get pregnant.

And now that you’re ready to start a family, you find out you can’t. What’s worse, the longer you’ve waited to have a child, the harder it is to conceive one.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to accept about infertility is that it goes against one of our oldest, most deeply held assumptions about life — that one day we’ll be parents.

From an early age, we’re all conditioned to believe this. It’s the reason girls play with dolls and boys tease each other about love, marriage and one day winding up in a baby carriage.

Getting pregnant is just one of the things that’s supposed to happen. So when it doesn’t, it’s devastating.

Upon hearing the news, most couples simply deny it: “There must be something wrong with the test, it can’t be me.”

Once the initial shock wears off, other emotions set in — anger, fear, guilt and so on. There’s a tendency for one partner to protect the other or to turn inward and hope that somehow the problem will work itself out.

But the world is no longer the same place anymore. Nothing seems certain, or at least as certain as the way it used to.

For men, infertility is, among other things, a blow to the ego, shattering all their notions of what it means to be a man.

Bottling up their emotions, they keep the news to themselves, too embarrassed to discuss it with others. For women, the news cuts even deeper. Weaned to be caregivers, they face the prospect of having no one to care for.

Whether the infertility is their “fault” or their partner’s makes no difference. In their own eyes — and, they believe, everyone else’s — they have failed to live up to their role in society as wives, mothers and nurturers.

With infertility comes feelings of helplessness, loss of control, and low self-esteem “Inadequate” “defective” and “not normal” are just some of the adjectives that get tossed around when couples are asked to describe themselves.

Infertility colours your world, everything you see and do. Suddenly, everywhere you look you see babies, pregnant women and people pushing strollers.

You feel envious but mostly you feel angry, particularly when the mother happens to be an unwed teenager or you hear about a pregnancy that’s unplanned. Inevitably, you’ll ask yourself, “why me?

Why is it that everyone else can have a child and I can’t?” Convinced that your infertility must be a kind of punishment for sins committed in the past, you’ll wrack your brain searching for an explanation.

But no matter how hard you look, no matter how far back you go, you’ll never find one. Cheating on a math test in high school or getting caught speeding just doesn’t cut it. Truth is, there is no explanation. And even if there was, it would never satisfy you.

Getting Help

Some couples, cutting their losses early, go directly to adoption. Most, however, take a more circuitous route. Adoption is, after all, a huge leap, and not everyone is prepared to make it.

Typically, one partner (usually the female, in adoption circles typically known as the “dragger”) will push for adoption, while the other (usually the male, known as the “draggee”) will want to explore other possibilities on the medical front.

Ironically, one reason some couples turn to adoption is because they believe it will cure their infertility.

By now, you’ve probably come across the story of the couple who, having been told they could never have children, adopted a child — only to get pregnant on their own immediately afterwards.

If this scenario happens, it doesn’t happens that often. Or at least as often as most people think. As far as we know, there’s no medical evidence linking the adoption of a child to a couple’s ability to subsequently conceive one.

While it’s true that adoption can help remove some of the pressures of not having a family, it’s not a cure. Nor should it be perceived as one. Adoption is an alternative to infertility, plain and simple.

If you want to become a parent, adoption is for you. If you want to have children that physically resemble you, it’s not. A lot of couples initially undergo infertility treatments with an eye on being parents.

But somewhere along the way they lose sight of their goal and the emphasis gets shifted toward getting pregnant. What they don’t understand is that not everyone can do it.

Some waiting parents find this out the hard way, after years of getting prodded, picked and poked at. In some instances, there may be a simple solution to their problem. But often, despite all the infertility specialists they’ve seen and all the treatments they’ve tried, there isn’t.

When it comes to starting a family, adoption is generally viewed as a fallback position — “second best” or simply “a last resort”. Much of this has to do with the misconceptions surrounding adoption and the coverage it receives in the mainstream media.

Thanks to stories like the”Internet Twins”, it’s no wonder people think twice about exploring adoption as an alternative. But the reality is that there are a lot of happy and successful adoption stories out there. Problem is, you never hear about them. All you hear about — and remember — are the ones that went wrong.

Some couples, realizing that time is passing them by, will move on to adoption, and at the same time continue with their infertility treatments.

What they don’t realize is that searching for a child is a huge commitment — emotionally, mentally and financially — and it can be very draining to go down both roads at the same time. But this is something they have to find out on their own, in their own time.

The Infertility Treadmill

Eventually, a couple may come to the conclusion that adopting is the route to go. By then, however, they’re so tired, so beaten down, drained and discouraged they don’t have the will, energy or patience to explore the options thoroughly, the way they should.

Everyone talks about the financial costs of infertility treatments, but rarely do you hear about the emotional and physical costs, which are just as great if not greater.

Just because infertility treatments worked for Celine Dion doesn’t mean they will work for you. Each case is unique. Before committing yourself to, say, invitro fertilization, you owe it to yourself — and your partner — to weigh the benefits and the risks.

It’s important to consider factors such as your age, the state of your health, your particular diagnosis, the treatment’s success rate, the short- and long-term effects, the clinic’s track record, and the costs — emotional as well as financial.

For instance, it’s a known fact that a woman’s fertility drops dramatically by the time she reaches her mid-thirties. That may not change your mind, but at least you’re going into whatever you decide with your eyes open.

Some waiting parents will overlook the red flags or not ask questions for fear of what they may find. Others, on the other hand, will have such a strong desire to start a family that they’ll let themselves be talked into things they normally wouldn’t do.

When exploring a treatment, it’s important to take your time and get all the facts — and the right ones.

That said, getting accurate information can be a challenge, even under the best of circumstances.

In choosing a clinic, most waiting parents will focus on the success rates since that’s what the clinics themselves tend to focus on.

But numbers can be deceiving. Infertility is a big business, and the competition is stiff. Some clinics will dress up or skew their statistics in such a way as to create a misleading impression.

For instance, one clinic may use a fetal heartbeat as a yardstick for its success, while another will use a live birth. There’s a huge difference between the two, but many hopeful parents don’t know that. When comparing clinics, you’ll need to be sure you’re comparing apples to apples or in this case, embryos to embryos.

So rather than get swayed by the glowing statistics or feel your heart get tugged by all those smiling baby pictures pinned to your specialist’s bulletin board, concentrate on the issues that really matter.

Read up on all the literature. Speak to recent clients, successful and not. Attend an information seminar and check with your Ministry of Health to find out if there are any outstanding complaints on record.

Don’t do anything until you feel completely comfortable. And even then, be aware that there are no guarantees. A certain procedure could have a 99 per cent success rate, but you could be among the one per cent for whom it doesn’t work — and vice versa.

Similarly, when your specialist tells you that a new treatment has a 100 per cent success rate, make sure that more than three or four people have undergone it.

Most specialists you’ll meet will be kind and compassionate. But remember, their future and their clinic’s rides on success rates. Or at least the public’s perception of their success rates.

You’ll find that there will never be a shortage of new techniques, procedures and protocols that your specialist be anxious to share and try out on you. Keep in mind, however, that for all the advances in medical science, there are limits to what even he can do.

Speaking to some specialists, you’d never know this. Doctors can’t perform miracles, nor is it fair for us to expect them to. Bottom line, if you really want to get off the infertility treadmill or roller coaster or whatever you want to call it, you’re going to have to do it yourself. Don’t count on your specialist to make the decision for you.

Moving To Adoption

Moving on to adoption requires a new way of thinking, a complete shifting of gears. It will force you to redefine your concept of family and confront issues that you may never have thought about like heredity and bloodlines, nature and nurture.

That’s the fun part, though — never taking anything for granted and never knowing the kind of person your child will blossom into. Because there’s no genetic link between you, anything’s possible. You may be the bookish type, but your child may grow up to be a star athlete.

The other good news is that while many waiting parents emerge from their infertility treatments empty handed, the chances of building a family through adoption are quite high — so long as you meet the criteria and you’re willing to stick it out.

What’s more, you’ll find that far from tearing you apart, your difficulties to conceive will actually bring you and your partner closer together. As the saying goes, if you can survive infertility, you can survive just about anything.

The key is to be in tune with your partner’s feelings and to keep the lines of communication open. If one of you says that this is absolutely the last treatment you’ll go through, the other shouldn’t be talking about beginning another one just because he/he has a hunch it might work.

Moving to adoption means going public with your infertility “problem”, and that can make for some awkward moments, particularly in the early stages if you’ve kept it a secret.

Some people, when they’re young, have fantasies about being adopted. They think that their parents aren’t really their parents, and that it’s just a matter of time before their “real” parents — the king and queen of some faraway country — come to get them.

Most people, however don’t grow up fantasizing that they’ll be an adoptive parent or that they’ll have adopted children. Those adjectives — “adoptive” and “adopted” — simply aren’t part of their vocabulary. And they may not be part of yours, now.

But the more times you say them, the more real they’ll become. Eventually, you’ll find the words will roll off the tip of your tongue as naturally as your name.

When announcing your plans to adopt to the world, it’s important to know where to draw the line. Keep in mind the difference between privacy (telling a few select people) and secrecy (telling no one).

There are, of course, practical reasons to get the word out. In order to adopt, you need to find a child. And in order to find a child, you need help. In most cases, people will be happy for you, and they may even offer to help you.

But you’ll still want to keep something to yourself. Whatever you decide, at the end of the day you need to be comfortable with it.

Remember, too, that adoption is as much about finding parents for children as it is about finding children for parents. As you go through your adoption journey, you’ll feel a wave of conflicting emotions wash over you.

On the one hand, you’ll need to demonstrate to your adoption practitioner, licensee (and perhaps a prospective birth mother) that you’re 100 per cent committed to adoption and confident of your decision.

At the same time, you’ll have to protect yourself emotionally from all the things that could — and sometimes do — go wrong.

Be sure that you and your partner, if you have one, are in sync. Adopting can put a strain on even the strongest of relationships.

When sharing your plans with others, be patient and understanding. Remember, not everyone will understand what you’ve been through or what you’re going through. After all, they haven’t walked in your shoes.

Then again, think back on your own life: A few years ago, did you ever imagine you’d be reading this? In discussing your situation with others, you’ll run into people who will wonder what all the fuss is about.

“Why don’t you just go ahead and adopt?” is one of the more typical responses you’ll hear, as if adopting is as easy as taking a trip to the corner store.

Another common reaction you’ll encounter is: “Adoption? That’s great. I just hope the baby’s mother doesn’t come back for him one day.”

Truth is, most people will mean well, even if they don’t always say the right thing.

To sum up, being infertile doesn’t mean that you’re “bad” or that there’s something “wrong” with you. It simply means you’re different. And adoption just happens to be one of the more rewarding ways to celebrate that difference.

Ten Common Mistakes Waiting Parents Make When Experiencing Infertility

  1. They convince themselves they’ll never have children.
  2. They think that because they can’t have children, they must be useless.
  3. They blame themselves.
  4. They focus too much on the problem and not enough on a solution.
  5. They put their lives on hold.
  6. They wait too long to seek help.
  7. They’re afraid of asking questions or making demands.
  8. They bottle up their feelings.
  9. They don’t know when to stop treatments.
  10. They think with their hearts, not with their heads.