Stolen children in Guatemala and China placed for adoption, and babies secretly created abroad via donor egg, donor sperm, and surrogacy for adoption in the US--it wasn't exactly been a "feel good" week in the infertility and adoption world. A judge in Guatemala recently ruled that an adopted child living in the United States be returned to her birth parents in Guatemala years after she was kidnapped and placed in the Guatemalan foster care system. According to the birth mother, she searched for her daughter for years but was not allowed by the Guatemalan government to investigate orphanages or foster homes in her attempts to find her daughter (more here). Whether or not the order is valid in the United States or will be followed is unclear at this time. In another news story, abuses of the family planning officials in a poverty-stricken province of China were described. Allegedly, government officials took children away from poor families unable to pay exorbitant fines and bribes, and placed them for international adoption. Presumably, they received a share in the donations Chinese orphanages receive for completing the international adoption (more here). In a third news story, a prominent adoption and third party reproduction attorney pled guilty to charges of fraudulently presenting several babies carried by a surrogate as available for adoption because their original intended parents backed out of the situation. These "original intended parents never existed". Rather, the babies were created at the request of the attorney in the Ukraine using donor eggs and sperm. The prospective adoptive families then paid $100,000 to $150,000 to assume the surrogacy costs and adopt the babies (more here).
All of these news stories are in their own ways shocking, horrible, and tragic. I cannot imagine the pain of parents having their children taken from them, and then finding that the government is either complicit or unhelpful in finding them again. Likewise, for the adoptive parents of the Guatemalan girl, I can only imagine their pain at being faced with the possibility of giving up their beloved child. Further, the adoptive parents of the babies of the surrogacy ring must be coping with many feelings as well, among them betrayal at being misled about their child's genetic and legal origins.
In addition, stories like this make me worry because it seems to reinforce a stereotype of those experiencing infertility--that we are out of control, so crazy that we will do anything to get a baby, even if it means stealing, lying or paying exorbitant sums of money. And that somehow, because of that, all of the above cases are actually all our fault. If you read the internet comments on the above news stories, you will see that my fear is justified.
Of course, this perception belies all facts. In none of the three stories described above did an adoptive parent do anything illegal or immoral. In fact, they were defrauded and abused just like the birth parents, presented with a child legally cleared for adoption, when in fact they were the victims of kidnapping or created under false pretenses. The guilt, desperation, and greed all lay on the other side of the equation--corrupt or unresponsive government officials, and the legal experts who are supposed to help them make sure that everything is above-board in the first place.
Further, the above stories are exceptions. The vast majority of adoptions are done in a legal manner, and end up happily for the children and parents involved. But those wonderful stories, which happen every day, don't make the newspapers or the rounds on the internet.
I've worked with a quite a number of infertile individuals, and I myself struggled with infertility for a long time. Not once have I ever, ever heard someone seriously contemplating stealing a child or doing anything illegal in order to have a family. Someone might make an idle comment, in the same way we might wish to win the lottery, or be in Hawaii instead of Chicago during a cold February day. But I've never heard any serious intent behind it, even though the desire to have children was powerfully intense.
As for myself, at only one point did I ever have the urge to steal a baby. This occurred before I had my own children, when someone left their baby, unattended, in a corner of a restaurant in which I was dining for over an hour (the baby was awake, by the way). I had the thought that whoever left that baby by itself there probably didn't deserve to have that baby, and it crossed my mind to pick up the infant carrier and walk out of the restaurant. But of course I didn't do that. Instead I pointed out the situation to the restaurant staff, and I left the restaurant without the baby.
At its base, infertility is a medical condition. As a society, we don't perceive people with cancer, heart disease, or broken bones as desperate and depraved in their search for a cure. So it seems unfair that infertility is still frequently associated with such negative perceptions.
It is truly a shame that the bad actions of a few individuals cause harm to the lives of so many. Although international adoption is controversial, it also has provided love and happiness to many children who otherwise, in their birth countries, would have had limited chances of finding their own families. Yet news stories like this tend to make it even more difficult for these adoptions to occur.
Likewise, surrogacy and donor gametes have helped countless individuals and couples create their beloved families. When the normal standards that govern these situations are bent, this is all the general public tends to see.
The public perception that somehow these unusual situations are caused by the intense, out of control desires of infertile individuals creates numerous problems for those struggling with infertility. People often can feel more ashamed or embarrassed by their medical condition, and they are less likely to discuss the situation with others. Not only is this difficult for them psychologically, it also makes it harder to advocate as a group for important things like medical insurance coverage for infertility.
It is my hope that as a community, we can help to correct these public misconceptions about infertility. Frequently, public perception changes with one person, and one story at a time. It isn't until people meet someone and get to better understand their situation that their prejudices are called into question. Although discussing infertility is a sensitive subject, it may be that if others can better understand our situation by hearing about it from us, they will think twice next time before they say something unhelpful or untrue.