Jana Rupnow, LPC
November is National Adoption Awareness Month and today is World Adoption Day. I always get a little tongue-tied about this awareness month. I think it’s because it’s almost impossible to say something about adoption without writing a 200-page book. I think it’s easiest to start with my story of adoption and how it led to the work I do in donor conception today.
I started working in the adoption field back in 2007, helping families dealing with infertility. At that time, I was personally going through the challenges of secondary infertility, which was a lonely and life-changing experience for me. My husband and I adopted our daughter from China in November 2005, coincidentally, during Adoption Awareness Month. It was also the year I completed my master’s degree in professional counseling, but would stay home with my daughter for two years before going to work. The two years after we brought her home were extremely difficult. My daughter was 16 months old when we were matched by the Chinese government and as you can imagine, her adjustment wasn’t easy. She was traumatized and grief-stricken. As an adoptee myself, her grief uncovered mine and everything felt wrong. For the first time, I felt that adoption was wrong. I was devastated and felt completely broken, overcome with guilt and grief, while at the same time comforting my infant girl. I found community and understanding connecting with other families who adopted from China. We had a little play groups called the Fireflies and met as often as we could. We wanted our girls to see other families like theirs. I learned a lot about grieving, infertility and parenting a child with trauma, while working through my own loss. I did my own personal work in therapy and began the process of healing. I had already read every book written for adoptees, and now I devoured books about adoptive parenting. I attended presentations, feverishly scratched notes by renowned psychologists in the field, and began journaling my experiences and observations. Gradually, our family healed.
I began helping other families like mine through the adoption process, most of which had experienced infertility, until international adoption options ended abruptly around 2009. My fertility doctor in Dallas, who also adopted his son, knew about our story. He understood what it was like to experience infertility. He suggested I do third-party reproductive counseling, and that was the beginning of a new purpose.
I gradually moved into third-party reproduction counseling while still working with adoption. Working with clinical practitioners felt like a natural transition, given my background in healthcare at Baylor University Medical Center in patient education. I co-authored a book called “Leap for Life,” which was an extensive lifestyle patient education program as well as other publications on adult education and lifestyle changes.
I joined the ASRM in 2010, before they had much training available for counselors. I read everything available at the time, including the guidelines. I noticed that few practices were following the guidelines. There was one topic that came up over and over in our sessions – whether to tell their child how they were conceived. The answer from the prospective parents was usually, “No, we are not going to tell.” It was hard enough for them to even share this topic with me behind closed doors. Interestingly, the word “donor-conceived” wasn’t used then. There was no accepted common language yet. I wrote Three Makes Baby because there was such a gap in information available to parents and I saw so much secrecy and shame in the field. I knew there was so much the field of donor conception could learn from the history of adoption. I was adopted in the 70s when closed adoption was common, but adoptive parents were advised to tell their children the truth about their adoption. I don’t have a memory of being told I was adopted, I just always knew. I learned later, that my mom openly talked about my adoption story before I formed memory. I knew the consequences of not-telling a person they were adopted until later in life but I saw the same mistakes being repeated within the field of donor conception.
A couple of years ago, I heard rumors that people may not accept my work in donor conception because of my adoption story. Even though I started in the adoption field, I think it’s important to say that I understand the differences between donor conception and adoption. I’m very conscientious and careful to exercise professional boundaries. I learned how to be neutral with clients, even when they said they could never accept an adopted child in their family, because “it was someone else’s child” while simultaneously pursuing donor conception. So much education is needed in the field of donor conception. Even though my adoption experience informs my work, I remain dedicated to understanding the important distinctions between the two. I also remain dedicated to improving the field of donor conception for all families through education and sharing information.
At the time, I was not able to address the issue because it’s so layered and, well, personal. Once again, I found myself doing the work I needed to do to continue to show up. Being adopted is a lifelong part of your identity, but there’s so much healing that’s possible, and there’s so much beauty that can come from it. I believe that can be true for donor conceived people and their families too. Have you ever heard the saying “give until it hurts”? I never really understood that until I started doing this work. I’m glad for it. It’s made me stronger. I won’t stop helping others even if it means being misunderstood at times.