Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Themes of Hope and Healing: Infertile Couples' Experiences of Adoption

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Themes of Hope and Healing: Infertile Couples' Experiences of Adoption

Article excerpt

Despite significant social changes in the role options afforded to women and men in North American cultures, parenthood continues to be an important life goal for most adults (Ireland, 1993). However, for approximately 17% of couples, the desire to produce a child is impeded by infertility. Although recent advances in reproductive technologies are helping more couples than ever before to achieve their procreative goals, for an estimated 30% to 40% of infertile couples, adoption is their only option for becoming parents (Corson, 1999). The caseloads of most mental health professionals who work with adult women and men are likely to include infertile couples who are considering adoption or have recently made the transition to adoptive parenthood. It is important, therefore, to understand the needs and experiences of couples during the adoption process and to be aware of the unique challenges they face in realizing their dreams of becoming parents. This qualitative study focused on the adoption experiences of 39 couples.

Most of the studies of adoptive parents have been quantitative research efforts aimed at comparing the parents' transition and adjustment to parenthood with that of couples whose efforts to procreate have been successful (e.g., Borders, Black, & Pasley, 1998; Brodzinsky & Huffman, 1988; Levy-Shiff, Bar, & Har-Even, 1990). In particular, researchers have attempted to identify variables that mediate couples' adjustment to adoptive parenting and impede or enhance the adaptive functioning of the adoptive family system. These include the length of the waiting period prior to adopting; preadoption expectancies versus postadoption realities; the degree to which couples have resolved their feelings about their infertility; levels of openness in the adoption; the age of the parents and the child; the couple's ego strength, self-concepts, coping styles, and marital adjustment; the couple's sense of entitlement; and the couple's perceived levels of social and familial support (Brodzinsky, 1987; Brodzinsky & Schechter, 1990; Cohen, Coyne, & Duvall, 1996; Derdeyn & Graves, 1998; Deveraux & Hammerman, 1998; Grotevant, McRoy, Elde, & Fravel, 1994; Kressierer & Bryant, 1996; Levy-Shiff et al., 1990; Reitz &Watson, 1992). It is interesting that much of this research seems to support the sometimes superior adjustment and adaptation of couples and their adopted children (as compared with the experiences of biological parents), especially when the children are young at the time the family is formed (Borders et al., 1998; Levy-Shift et al., 1990). On the basis of a review of research using nonclinical groups of early-adopted children compared with groups of nonadopted children, Bartholet (1993) concluded that they "reveal no significant disadvantages of adoptive as opposed to biologic parenting, and some significant advantages" (p. 185).

Indeed, adoption has been found to help ameliorate the negative impact of infertility (Fleckenstein, 1990) and can afford couples and their children the "potential for transformation and rebirth" (Bartholet, 1993, pp. 44-45). However, the results of the limited literature examining couples' preadoption experiences suggest that the process of adopting a child can be filled with unique challenges as involuntarily childless couples work through the decision to pursue adoptive parenthood and cope with the vicissitudes and uncertainties of the adoption process. Couples must deal with the "structural factors inherent in the adoption process itself" (Daly, 1989, p. 82) and with the power imbalance between themselves and the physicians and adoption agency personnel to whom they turn for help in becoming parents. The adoption process frequently involves an invasive assessment to determine whether couples are fit to become parents (Hartman & Laird, 1990). If approved, they must wait an indefinite period, sometimes years, to be selected by a birth mother or matched by an agency with an appropriate child--years during which their future parental status remains uncertain (Sandelowski, Harris, & Holditch-Davis, 1991). …

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