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Nov 10, 2015

by Jillian Burden

I’m one of those people who will absolutely gush if you ask me about adoption. My husband, John, and I adopted our son, Arie, from Moscow three years ago. He was two and a half when we brought him home, and having him in our family has been absolutely amazing. We love our little boy! He makes us laugh with his adorable quips, he melts our hearts with his tenderness, and he fascinates us with his creative mind. It’s been three years since we brought him home, and we have no regrets. 

John and I started talking about adoption before we were even married. We wanted to have a few biological children first and then adopt a third and maybe a fourth. When we started trying to conceive, however, we were battered with the surprising pain of infertility. That first year of infertility was devastating. At the end of that year, we both began seeing a fertility specialist and researching adoption. Through much prayer and council, we decided to pursue adoption first.

For us, pursuing adoption wasn’t saying “no” to fertility treatments; it was saying “not yet.” Because we already knew we wanted to pursue adoption, it was fairly easy to turn our plan on its head and adopt before having biological children. 

The relationship between infertility and adoption is often complicated. For some adoptive families, there is no connection; adopting was just something they wanted to pursue, regardless of fertility. For others, adoption and infertility are closely linked as the experience of infertility serves as the catalyst to adopt.

I find common ground with both groups, but I write to the second group now. I often get questions from couples—women in particular—who have experienced infertility and are considering adoption. Most of the questions are about the emotional side of adopting after infertility.

How did you know it was time to adopt?

What has it been like?

Did adoption heal your infertility? 

In response to these questions, I like to share my experience which may be surprising but it is honest:

Adoption did not heal my infertility. Adoption redeemed it. 

I make a distinction between healing and redemption this way:

Healing restores a person to their previous, uninjured state. Healing “undoes” the damage.

Redemption doesn’t “undo” the damage, but it “turns” the damage and uses it in a way that brings life and light to the broken. 

Adoption did not heal my longing to experience pregnancy and childbirth or my feelings of grief over my broken body. I believe it is possible to find peace after the pain of infertility, but I also recognize that it was never my son’s job to bring me that healing. The highs and the lows of his adoption have been their own distinct experience.

I believe it is okay and even healthy to acknowledge that adoption in itself might not heal the grief we experience in infertility. I can celebrate the joy I’ve experienced through adoption while still grieving the loss I’ve experienced through infertility. 

While adoption did not heal my infertility, it did redeem so very much of it! Most obviously, adoption redeemed my unmet desire for motherhood. Adopting my son made me a mother; a title for which I had absolutely ached. I remember when I met my son for the first time—I could not stop touching him. He was 2 years old, and we met him in his Russian orphanage. As we played with toys together, I kept reaching out to rub his back, hold his hand, and caress his cheek. Not wanting to scare him, as I was still a stranger, I held back as much as I could, but I longed to scoop him up and hold him close, to look over every inch of him as a mother does with her newborn. I was enamored with this little boy who was—incredibly—my son! Adoption redeemed that mothering ache inside of me. 

Adoption redeemed the time my husband and I lost to infertility. Every month we spent trying to conceive that first year felt like time being sucked into a vacuum; time we’d never get back. When we made the decision to adopt, that time we lost didn’t feel “wasted” anymore. It felt purposeful. It had been leading us to our son, even when we didn’t know he existed. In another way, as we walked through two years of infertility treatment after our son came home, parenting brought us joy and meaning even in our hardest times of grief and loss. I can’t tell you how many times my husband and I would say with tears, “I don’t know how we would get through this without our little boy!” 

Finally, adoption redeemed the pain we felt with infertility. So much of infertility feels meaningless. Why can’t we get pregnant? Why do I have endometriosis? Why aren’t my eggs any good? Why did I have to miscarry? There are no easy answers. Adoption redeemed our pain not by taking it away, but by giving it meaning. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say that God gave me infertility so that I would adopt, but I will say that it was worth every moment of pain in infertility to bring my son home. I wish it didn’t have to happen that way, but it did. And the joy of watching my son thrive and grow in our family redeemed all the struggle we went through. Like the redemption of “wasted time,” adoption redeemed the pain I felt with infertility because it gave that pain meaning when it brought me to my son. 

After bringing our son home, my husband and I endured two long years of infertility treatments including three cycles of donor embryo IVF. We are now excited to be expecting twins through embryo adoption. It’s been five years altogether since we started trying to conceive for the first time.

The experiences of infertility and adoption have changed me. There were times on our journey when I felt overcome by grief, but looking back through those five years I can say that my faith has matured, I’ve become more compassionate, and I’ve realized how much strength the Lord provides in our times of greatest need.

If I could be healed from the past five years and go back to the person I was before, I wouldn’t. I’d much rather claim my redemptive experience. 

If you are considering adoption after infertility, your journey will be your own. Your experience will not be exactly the same as mine. Only you will know when you are ready to move forward. Here is my word to you: it’s okay to be sad about your infertility even as you experience the joy of adoption. Infertility is a big loss. As you move forward with adoption you won’t go back to the person you were before infertility, but you can experience a redemption of your loss. And maybe, just maybe, that’s the better thing. 

Jillian Burden blogs about adoption, infertility, and faith at addingaburden.com.