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Monday, June 28, 2010
Should women considering adoption be warned about secondary infertility?
Advertisements designed to lure women into giving up their babies often ask them to think of the needs of infertile couples, to give the joy of parenthood to others. Ironically, the ads do not tell expectant mothers that they may suffer their own infertility after surrendering their child although this is a real possibility.
Well-behaved women rarely make history reports on a survey of first mothers in Western Australia (WA) which found that 13 to 20 percent of the mothers did not have other children. The study did not compare these numbers with the population at large. However, according to the Pew Research Center, in the 1970’s (when it’s likely the women in the WA survey gave birth) the childless rate in the US (likely similar to WA) was 10 percent for all women.
Although the WA study did not analyze individual cases, it did find that 60 percent of the respondents said that adoption impacted their decision or inability to have other children. This is consistent with what I have heard from birthmothers who did not have other children. Some attributed it to the inability to conceive but most said that they just didn’t feel right having another child or that they simply avoided sex.
Whatever the reason, women considering adoption should know that the surrendered child may be the only one they will ever have.
On a personal note, I remember reading in teen and women’s magazines before I gave up my daughter Megan in 1966 about birthmothers who did not have more children. I got the idea – I’m not sure how – but I think it was embedded in the magazine articles -- that subsequent childlessness was due to selfishness; these women refused to have other children.
The morning after Megan was born, one of the doctors stood at foot of my bed and commented in an off-hand way, “I hope this experience doesn’t discourage you from having more children.”
“Oh, no!” I exclaimed. I was not going to be (or at least appear to be) one of those self-centered girls who refused to have more children. (In retrospect the conversation reminds me of the line “Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play.”)
Upon reading Wake Up Little Susie: Single Pregnancy and Race Before Roe v. Wade the doctor’s comment and the magazine articles were put into context. According to the author, historian Rickie Solinger, the US government promoted adoption in the post World War II era as a way of increasing the white population. Social engineers encouraged single white girls to gave up their babies and then to have more children thus producing enough white babies for two families. (At the same time, policy-makers worked hard to discourage black women from having any babies.) White women who obstinately failed to have other children were thwarting an important goal of adoption.
I did go on to have three more daughters. While having more children did not make up for the one I lost, I believe it did blunt the pain.
I did not have any other children other than the daughter I surrendered in 1966. Because I wanted a career in a traditionally male-dominated field--daily newspaper journalism--the times largely made that impossible as children and career did not mix easily way back when. Though had I married the young man I was in love with prior to the relationship that resulted in my daughter, I think I might have been able to see a different path, as he wanted children or at least, a child, and was also totally supportive of my having a career, even having no issue with my keeping my own name, rare for the times. However, that did not happen.
I also felt in the deepest reaches of my soul that I could not give one child away, and keep another. It seemed too cruel to the child given up. How could I keep one child, abandon another? I know that is faulty reasoning, but it is what I felt to be true. Whether that was an excuse to keep me from having another child to pursue my career or not is something I will never know.
However, soon after I surrendered my daughter to adoption, I met and subsequently married someone I should not have married, and was adamant about not having another child. I'm not saying this proves anything, but I would have to be among those counted for secondary infertility, as would Linda, who has blogged here in the past. I wrote about this in greater detail in my memoir, Birthmark.
As a post script, after my daughter was relinquished, I was super vigilant about NOT getting pregnant again; the one time I was a few weeks late I was checking with a clinic to get an abortion ASAP. I was frantic. But it turned out I was not pregnant. However, I would never never have considered going through the pain of relinquishing a child again; without question I would have chosen an abortion. Your doctor, Jane, instinctively seems to have understood the sorrow that you were going through--and would encounter for the rest of your life. Which is more than I can say for a lot of people who are so against mothers who search.