Infertility and adoption are tough subjects but those experiencing them are not alone. Know that these experiences can strengthen a marriage.

Infertility to Adoption: Keeping a Marriage Strong

Though more people are adopting for reasons that stem from reasons not related to fertility, there are still many who adopt to build their family that have had issues conceiving or had unsuccessful IVF treatments. Though we did not have fertility issues prior to adopting our daughter, I’m no stranger to medical issues that make having a baby difficult. In talking with several couples and women who struggled with infertility, I’ve learned a lot about this struggle. No matter how you choose to build your family, many conversations from finances to how you will parent can cause difficult conversations that can add stress to a marriage. Infertility and adoption are no exception. However, going through things like this together can help form a stronger bond.

The Facts About Fertility

Though it may seem that only you and your spouse are struggling with infertility, that’s simply not true. In fact, when I started to talk to people about it in preparation for writing this article, there is still a level of shame that some people have when it comes to this topic. Fertility and conception are very private things but know that you’re not alone when it comes to struggling with fertility. 

In fact, according to FertilityAnswers.com, one out of every eight couples have trouble getting pregnant. In fact, they state that the “natural fertility rate is only about 20% per month for a healthy, fertile, 30-year-old woman.” This may seem low, but there are a lot of factors at play including ovulation, sperm count, etc. that have to be considered. Though FertilityAnswers.com states that less than three percent of couples actually need IVF, they do note that as a woman ages to 35 years old, the chances of becoming pregnant are more difficult, but that with scientific advances, IVF treatments have increased from 5% effective to over 45% effective and that “since 1978, over 8 million babies worldwide have been conceived via IVF.”

However, as we know, IVF is expensive. The New York Times notes that “the average IVF cycle can cost anywhere from $12,000 to $17,000 (not including medication). With medication, the cost can rise closer to $25,000.” That is a considerable sum per cycle, particularly when Nice.org.UK states that IVF is about 20-35% effective per cycle, but three full cycles “increase the chances of a successful pregnancy to 45-53%.”

Despite all of these statistics, the truth remains that every couple is different. Though one couple may find success with one cycle of IVF, others go through several cycles and still don’t become pregnant. 

This undoubtedly can take a toll on a marriage. Many couples don’t see eye to eye when to stop IVF and go on another route but luckily, doctors know when the medication is creating issues and can likely advise a couple when it’s unwise to continue to try. Many couples I spoke to had created a budget and had already decided how many times they would try before going another route to building their family in order to prevent arguments about when to continue. Some of them stopped sooner. 

The CDC explains that “among women aged 18-44, those with current fertility problems (3.3%) were approximately four times as likely to be seeking to adopt a child as women without current fertility problems.”  However, it is advisable not to just immediately move from IVF treatments to seeking to adopt but instead to take a beat, spend some time with your spouse not worrying about becoming a parent, and rationally talk about your next steps and finances. 

If you’re considering adopting following infertility, here are some things that you should consider first. 

Infertility, Adoption, and Finances

When it comes to infertility and adoption, one of the trickiest issues is the financial aspect. Neither of these options is cheap. In fact, many couples who seek to adopt have already spent a lot of money on IVF. (Many families can spend up to six figures on this endeavor.) There are grant programs to help offset the costs of both IVF and adoption but you’ll have to prove financial stability to adopt. Though it can be hard to prepare for this, it’s something you have to try to take into consideration. 

Infertility and going through the adoption process are stressful and can cause stress in a marriage. But Mic.com notes that over half of couples fight about finances and money. Throw added stressors into the mix and this can become difficult for many. If you don’t already have a financial planner, it’s a good idea to find one that can help you assess your financial situation. Many couples choose to have fundraisers, get second jobs, or start side work that they can do from home to help cover the costs associated with adoption. Read more here about getting help with adoption costs. 

According to American Adoptions, the average cost of adoption in the United States is $49,000. If you’ve already spent a lot of money on IVF, this is when things can become even more expensive. Are all adoptions that expensive? No. It depends on the agency, whether you choose domestic or international, and if you’re adopting out of foster care, an infant or an older child, etc. There are a lot of factors at play that you have to research to decide what is best for you and your family.

Though, as I mentioned, fertility was not my issue, I still carried a large amount of grief and sadness when it came to not being able to carry a child. The reality is that that I was grieving for a child that I would never have. (And later, I would grieve when other people who I considered friends would isolate me because I “didn’t know what it was like to be pregnant” like they were.) My biggest sense of sadness came from the thought that I was disappointing my husband and my family by not being able to carry a child.

I am glad that we took the time to research adoption agencies so I could work out these feelings. Now, I can’t even imagine having any other child in our family other than my daughter but not being able to see into the future means that you have to deal with these feelings and emotions by discussing them with your spouse and working through them together. 

Many couples choose to see a professional whether it be a social worker or therapist to talk this through before moving on from the stress of infertility to adoption. From personal experience, I can tell you that adoption has its own set of heartbreaks, struggles, and costs, so understanding what you’re feeling is normal and dealing with your grief before moving forward is best. 

Read more about resolving infertility grief prior to adopting here. 

For another story about adopting after struggling with infertility, click here. 

The Stress of IVF and Adoption: How it Affects A Marriage

As previously mentioned, both IVF and adoption come with their own set of stressors and it can weigh heavily on a marriage. Many couples have gone through that route and come out on the other side with a strong marriage and children. 

Becky Fawcett, mom by adoption and co-founder of Helpusadopt.org has always been candid about sharing her story and how these struggles influenced her to start a not-for-profit and share her story and others to make adoptions more affordable by offsetting the cost of adoption through a grant program. Becky and her husband went through multiple rounds of IVF before seeking to adopt. Between the disappointments and costs, there was a lot of stress on the couple.

“There were points in our struggle to have a baby that were very stressful on our marriage,” says Becky. “We went through five rounds of IVF, three miscarriages, and then two adoptions.”

Becky notes that they were open and honest with each other about how hard all of it was for them. “We didn’t pretend it was fine because it was not fine. We tried to make things special for us,” she says.

For instance, Becky and her husband treated themselves to special vacations and getaways, dining out, and making their house a home for when they did have a child joining their family. “Not all of this was easy while balancing the IVF and adoption budget,” Becky says. “But we did our best and we kept our focus on the family that we would have someday.”

Becky and her husband will be celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary in September and are the parents of two children through adoption. Click here to read more about Becky’s story and how it impacted her decision to co-found helpusadopt.org

Read one woman’s true story about going from infertility to adopting

Be Each Other’s Biggest Supporters

Though sometimes you may have different opinions, it’s important to know that you are on the same team and often, you may only have each other to lean on. Not everyone will understand your struggle and many people will want to input their own opinions on “what you should do,” but no two situations are the same and this can be problematic.

I know that I stopped sharing any information with people when we were going through the adoption process because people, many who had never adopted, liked to offer opinions that were hurtful. One of the most devastating things that I have heard is when you go through the adoption process and someone says, “Watch, now you’ll get pregnant.” If you’re reading this and this is something you have said, remember that you don’t know what people have dealt with prior to adopting. Maybe they’ve been told they can’t or in my case should not carry a child. 

I don’t think people (for the most part) intend to be anything but helpful when they make statements or tell you what they think you should do, but it can be tough. I felt like I could always laugh about or commiserate with my husband when those things happened because only he and I truly knew our situation and what we were going through.

Is it stressful? Absolutely. But, frankly, so is a lot of parenting (particularly those of us that are enjoying that little journey during a global pandemic!). Being in each other’s corners and supporting one another is preparation for all that life can and will throw at you as you raise your child or children.

Knowing When to Take a Break

In talking to couples who have gone through IVF and even those who have gone directly to adoption, one thing is consistent in what they say: Know when to take a break. Whether you set a deadline on how many IVF cycles, etc., it’s important to know when you need to press pause and regroup for your own mental health and in some instances, your physical health as well.

After our second failed adoption, I knew I needed to take a break for our mental well-being. I didn’t honestly know how much more I could take and felt like I needed to sit and think through the potential of life without a child. (To my surprise, we got a call a week later to come and pick up our daughter!) Knowing my own limitations and those of my spouse was important.

Many couples choose to focus on a financial number that they are willing to spend before taking a break, cycles of IVF, an amount of time waiting to be matched through adoption, etc. There is no right or wrong answer and you may be the type of people who don’t need a break. But you must have the conversation to alleviate any stress that this might cause.

Though infertility and adoption are journeys that many of us go through independently, we can lean on our spouses (people we have chosen to do life with because of our compatibility) to work together and stay strong. 

Is it easy? No, it isn’t. But is it worth it? Always.

Julia K. Porter

Julia K. Porter

Julia K. Porter is an educator, writer, and cultural competency consultant. She began her career as a high school English teacher in Brooklyn, NY, and has taught college courses since 2008 and has done nonprofit work. Currently, she is the project manager for Celebrating Cultural uniqueness at Tiffin University.