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When Infertility is an Act of Love

By Patricia Irwin Johnston, author of Adopting: Sound Choices, Strong Families

When a partner chooses infertility, it may be an affirmation of love and commitment.

Often it is difficult for couples themselves-let alone outsiders-to understand the significance of the fact that infertility is a couples issue. While in about 30% of cases both partners are subfertile (infertile when paired with an equally infertile partner, but fertile when paired with a normally fertile or super fertile partner), in the majority of cases of infertility one partner's reproductive system is flawed and the other partner is fertile enough to reproduce given a more fertile partner. This dilemma is the root of much angst on the part of less fertile partners-particularly for those who personally feel a strong reaction to the idea of losing their genetic continuity or the pregnancy/birth experience. Such people, while grieving, may test their spouse's commitment to them by suggesting divorce, by insisting on plunging into the use of donor gametes, and so on-suggesting these not necessarily because they sincerely want them, but instead to create challenges which dare the spouse to bail out.

In truth, fertile partners of infertile people most often see themselves as infertile as well. Having made the commitment to a person they chose as a life and parenting partner, fertile partners, too, grieve the loss of their dreams and expectations. Even when they recognize immediately that they retain the option of expressing their fertility with a different reproductive partner (surrogate, semen donor, egg donor), fertile partners of infertile people must seriously address all of infertility's losses, recognizing that in choosing an option which will prevent themselves from losing genetic continuity, the emotional and physical gratifications of a pregnancy experience and the parenting experience, they will still give up a dreamed for, jointly conceived child.

Concerned about their spouses' battered self esteem, the majority of fertile partners indeed choose to render themselves infertile, too, electing to become childfree or to adopt when they come to understand how important this loss of fertility is to their partner. And the majority of infertile people fail to recognize the significance of such a decision and such a sacrifice, which, when acknowledged, might be the greatest self esteem restorer of all.

What is most important here? Sometimes we forget that it was the partnership that came first and the love we felt for each other that led us to decide to try to add children to our family of two. Vision tends to blur when you're bobbling along on that out-of-control conveyor belt. Get off! Recommit to one another before deciding how to proceed.

© Copyright 2008 Pat Johnston

Pat Johnston is a well regarded publisher, prolific author, and adoption advocate. This article is excerpted from her book, Adopting: Sound Choices, Strong Families, a thoughtful guide to adopting after infertility. (Perspectives Press, 2008)
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