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Ask Mr. Dad: Infertility and adoption; sometimes bonding is hard

By Armin Brott Tribune News Service

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and desperately want to be parents. But after years of trying and tens of thousands spent on fertility treatments, our doctor is telling us that we should either consider using donor sperm or eggs or adopt. We’re considering those options, but I’m finding this whole thing rather emasculating and I’m worried about whether I’ll be able to connect with a baby who’s not biologically related to me. Will I?

A: Plenty of adoptive dads in your situation feel the same way. They often believe that the process of bonding and forming an attachment with a baby comes more naturally to birth parents than to them. That’s just plain wrong. Similarly, many men who became fathers through donor sperm (sometimes called donor insemination, or DI) feel inadequate or less than completely masculine, and worry that the lack of a biological connection will make it impossible for them to bond with their baby or that the baby will never see them as the “real” father. They may also feel some resentment of their partner because she has that coveted biological connection.

Studies of adoptive parents have shown that a majority feel some kind of love for their children right from the very first contact; it doesn’t matter whether it’s when they went to pick up the baby, when they first looked at a picture that had arrived months before, or right at the birth, if they’re lucky enough to be there. At the same time, “most infants, if adopted before the age of nine months will take to their new parents as if they were born to them, developing an attachment to them as they would have done to their birth parents,” according to adoption psychotherapists Judith Schaffer and Christina Lindstrom.

The prognosis is even better for DI dads. To start with, you and your partner aren’t biologically related (hopefully), and that hasn’t kept you from loving each other. And anyway, think about how involved you’re going to be during the pregnancy. You’re the guy who’s going to go to the OB visits, who’ll see the baby squirming around in the ultrasound, who’s going to help your partner keep her hair out of the toilet when she’s vomiting, who’s going to run out for ice cream and pickles at 2:30 in the morning, who’s going to pick out baby names, who’ll be there for the labor and delivery, and who’s going to cut the cord. In my book, anyone who goes through all of that is a real father – biologically related or not.

There are things, of course, that can interfere with attachment in these situations, the most common being those feelings of inadequacy, which can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. With adoption, there’s also the age and physical health of the child. If you’re adopting a complete newborn, it’s going to be a little easier to establish a bond. But a lot of adoptions aren’t finalized until the babies are a few months older. Realistically, this makes the bonding process a little tougher for all concerned, as babies and parents take a little time to get used to each other. But it’s by no means an impossible task.

And remember, in all but the rarest cases, the desire for attachment to a child can overcome even the biggest obstacles. Despite the image we have of parents bonding instantly with their babies, the truth is that 25-40 percent of new parents (moms and dads alike) say that their first response to their newborn is “indifference.” So just take your time. Don’t pressure yourself, and don’t think for a second that you’re less of a man than any other guy with kids.

Read Armin Brott’s blog at, follow him on Twitter, @mrdad

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