Saying Goodbye to Biological Parenthood

By Dr. Deborah Simmons
Published: June 8, 2018 | Last updated: August 3, 2020
Key Takeaways

The loss of biological parenthood isn’t something to just “get over.”

Most people yearn to have children the “normal” or “easy” way. You know, a good bottle of wine and lots of time to enjoy a cherished partner; do it one time with the best orgasm ever. Thinking about when you will get pregnant and how many children you will have? It’s simple, you just… (fill in the blank for every dumb thing anyone has ever said to you about getting pregnant).

The reality is that one in eight straight couples in the United States doesn’t have an easy story. That’s a lot of people. While lesbian, gay and transgender intended parents often see family-building options as a wonderful opportunity to have genetic or biological children, their efforts may also not result in having a child. Assisted reproduction—whether it be inseminations or in vitro fertilization (IVF) with donor sperm, the use of donor eggs, or gestational surrogacy—and adoption cost money, time, a heck of a lot of effort, and the kindness of other people.

Infertility and "The Big Fear"

Everyone who struggles with infertility has what I call “The Big Fear”: not being able to have genetic or biological children. Genetic refers to using one’s eggs or sperm. Biological refers to being able to carry a child to term. In this article, I am talking about saying goodbye to biological parenthood.

You started out with hope and access to enough cash to try to have a baby. Maybe you have been thinking This will work! When your cycle doesn’t result in pregnancy, you might calm yourself by reminding yourself, It doesn’t always work the first time. Next time will be the lucky charm! At some point, though, your enthusiasm or financing is wearing thin. Let us say that you have tried everything that you feel comfortable with to achieve a pregnancy, but you have not had success. The Big Fear has come true. Maybe you must now consider letting go of the dream of a biological or genetically-related child.

My heart goes out to you. This happens to other people, right? Why is this happening to you? Whether you have a medical answer to this question or not, the result is grief, deep and unfair and raw. You have had plans and dreams for your children and for yourself as a parent. You imagined how this child would resemble you or your cherished partner. That part of your dream may have come to an end.

Know That Loss Doesn't "Go Away"

One does not “get over” this loss. Rather, you must live in the hurt, as you learn to live with and find peace with this terrible reality. This is a time of transition to the next part of your life. There is no particular timeline for this transition period. You may be open to parenting in a different way, like using donor eggs, donor sperm, donor embryos, surrogacy, or adoption. All of these are excellent paths to parenthood. I hope that you will open your hearts and minds to these options when you are ready. Or maybe you are considering living childfree.

One does not “get over” this loss. Rather, you must live in the hurt, as you learn to live with and find peace with this terrible reality.

How do you start moving forward to explore these options? For now, working through the following questions can guide your process toward healing with some sense of peace and dignity.

Questions to Guide Your Healing

  • Who am I now? Who is my partner now?
  • Who am I/we without a biological or genetically-related child?
  • Have I done everything that I could to achieve the dream of a biological child? Has my partner done the same? (Remember, everyone will decide how much effort, time, and money are enough.)
  • When do I/we stop trying to conceive, with or without fertility treatment?
  • What is fulfilling in my relationship that can sustain me and us in the future?
  • What losses do I need to grieve in order to live a fulfilling life?
  • What are my dreams in life? How can I work toward those and new dreams?
  • How will I separate my ideas of femininity/masculinity from procreation?
  • What would I like to do with the love I have saved for the desired child?
  • How will I deal with any negative feelings toward others who have a biological or genetically-related child?
  • How might surrogacy/adoption/donor eggs/donor sperm/donor embryos work for me and my partner?
  • What is my role in my family?
  • Can I/my partner/our families bond with an adopted child?
  • What are the current and future issues that might arise related to adoption?
  • What is my comfort level with living childfree?

Listen to your head and heart, and know that you can get through this and have a fulfilling future.

Consider Incorporating Rituals

In addition, rituals can be helpful in marking the transition from parenting a biological or genetically-related child to parenting an adopted child, a child born through surrogacy, donor eggs, or donor sperm, or living childfree. Be creative in expressing your feelings. Ask for support and comfort from family, friends, therapy, and your faith. Open your heart to God (if you are religious) and your partner. Listen to your head and heart, and know that you can get through this and have a fulfilling future.

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Written by Dr. Deborah Simmons | Infertility and Pregnancy Loss Therapist

Dr. Deborah Simmons

Dr. Deborah Simmons has provided counseling for infertility-related trauma and pregnancy loss for more than 20 years. She received her Ph.D. in family social science from the University of Minnesota, a Master’s degree in public administration from George Washington University, and a double major in international relations and political science from American University. She is a partner at partners (in)fertility, and an active member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) and RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. Dr. Simmons consults with the Center for Reproductive Medicine in Minneapolis.

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