Natural Conception after Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Treatment

Today at work I was putting together a presentation on “What is correlation?” (I know, my work is full of excitement and such geekery 😎 ), and I came across an interesting example of ‘illusory correlation’ from the infertility world that I thought I would share with you all.  I was about using it as an example in my presentation.

Have you ever heard someone say

“Adoption increases the chance of an infertile couple getting pregnant naturally?”

Many people have heard or say this, and many can tell you a story of someone they know/know of that this happened to.  The rationale behind this can be hypothesised as:

Once the pressure is off and the couple is less anxious, it will happen naturally.

But how true is that?

Apparently it turns out there is NO empirical evidence to support such a hypothesis.  Research (from Resolve) has shown that the percentage of women who become pregnant without adopting is no different to the percentage of women who become pregnant without adopting.  What this means is that, while a small percentage of people who were having difficulty getting pregnant do not get pregnant after adopting a child, these are likely the same people who would have gotten pregnant after having difficulty, even without the adoption.  It has nothing to do with the adoption.

So why do so many people believe this myth?  Because many people can tell you of a story of someone they know that this happened to.  But the thing is, most people can only tell you ONE story.  And they don’t tell you all the stories they know about the infertile couples that adopted a child and didn’t get pregnant naturally afterward.  The examples of where it did happen are salient to them, perhaps because they remember thinking to themselves “This couple is going to have two babies within a few months of age of each other!”  What happens when something is salient – or when it produces a vivid memory – is that people tend to overemphasize the likelihood of its occurrence.  And they give it a lot of attention.

This is known as vividness bias.

The vividness bias is supported by what’s often referred to as an illusory correlation – the impression that two variables are related when in fact they are not.  In this example, because of one or two very salient or vivid examples, many people believe that there is a relationship between adoption and getting pregnant, when in reality, there is not.

(Extracted from: Intentional Interruption: Breaking Down Learning Barriers to Transform By Steven Katz and Lisa Ain Dack)

Similar to the case made for getting pregnant naturally after adoption, you may have heard a similar argument for couples who stop assisted reproduction and get pregnant naturally afterwards.  There is research that was published in 2012 that found that 17% of women who became pregnant, and gave birth, from IVF treatment, became pregnant again naturally (NB….within 6 years!).  For those women who were unsuccessful with IVF, 24% became pregnant naturally after stopping infertility treatment.

Other recent research has found that 16% of infertile women conceive naturally after stopping treatment (within 13 years!).  And by the way, let us not forget that a fertile couple’s chance of conception is 20-24% for every menstrual cycle!  So that 16% statistic still SUCKS.  In addition, the original cause of a woman’s infertility made a difference as to the chance of achieving a successful natural pregnancy after IVF – if the infertility was due to uterine, cervical or ovarian problems, endometriosis or infertility in their male partners, the women had a significantly greater chance of achieving a successful natural pregnancy after stopping IVF.  However in comparison, if the couple’s infertility was ‘unexplained’ or the problem was with tubal pathology, her chances of a natural pregnancy decreased 😦

So there are many illusory correlations out there in the infertility world.  And now you know how to respond to people that say to you:

“ohhh you will get pregnant naturally after adopting/stopping treatment, that happened to my friend/friend of friend”

you can reply

“……the evidence is contrary, my dear, and you are suffering from vividness bias”

It’s a whole lot politer, and factual, than – “F*#$ you”.

20 thoughts on “Natural Conception after Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Treatment

  1. My Perfect Breakdown says:

    Hahaha! Maybe i should add your stats into my answer when we get this. I’ve had soooooooooo many people tell me well get pregnant now that we have Baby MPB. My response always is “yup, we may. But I sure hope not since if we do get pregnant again my life could be at risk and we will lose the baby. So, we are actually doing everything we can to prevent another pregnancy.” Needless to say people look at me dumbfounded, but I’ve decided to be blunt/harsh in my response simply because I cannot stand the fact that people imply that we should have a bio child now. And every time someone says it, it makes me feel like they don’t think baby MPB is good enough – and that’s simply not okay.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Erin says:

    Ha! I laughed out loud when I read the last sentence!
    I’ve been wondering about this and it surprises me that those of us with unexplained infertility have an even lower likelihood of conceiving naturally.


  3. nicole norstrud says:

    Thanks for writing this! I can attest that even though we had our first son on clomid, it did not get easier (we did not get pregnant the second/third time without reproductive technology) and we did not naturally conceive the next child – like I thought we would. Stupid vividness bias!

    Liked by 1 person

    • thegreatpuddingclubhunt says:

      Did you have people say that to you? That it will be easier second time around? Or were people more understanding? Has anyone asked you yet about a third? It seems like there is an unwritten rule that it’s even more OK to talk about it when you are pregnant, well I guess, because you are pregnant! I have found people asking a lot about number two already and our first still hasn’t arrived 😦 grrrrrrr.


  4. Amy M. says:

    It always drove me nuts when people questioned our fertility treatments. Like, you don’t know the whole story, and I shouldn’t have to tell it to you, you should just be supportive and stop being a jerk!! Thankfully not many people used that horrible “If you just relax, it will happen” line on me, because I probably would have hit them! I wish there was a way for people outside of IF to understand what we all go through, and not say stupid stuff to us like this. I love this post, and it should be shared with the world!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. barrenbetty says:

    That’s so interesting! Drives me mad how many people say my body will have ‘reset’ itself now I have had a baby. No idea why I am infertile but full of confidence it will happen naturally now (it can’t). Even nurses who have had my notes after a mmc told me I just needed to try and relax! I’m going to remember some of these stats, although usually f*£! you is what immediately springs to mind!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. dubliner in deutschland says:

    I think I read that 24% figure somewhere. It was something along the lines of, if a couple do IVF after just a year trying naturally, they have a 30% or something chance of IVF working, whereas a couple who try naturally for a second year have 24%, so not that much lower. Something like that. It was basically saying that in some cases people are pushed down the IVF path too quickly. Obviously this completely depends on what the actual issue was in the first place.

    Liked by 1 person

    • thegreatpuddingclubhunt says:

      That is definitely one thing I wonder about. Did we do IVF too soon?…although doing IUI first and failing three times made me more confident that IVF was the right thing for us – and not being successful until third time. But even now being through all that, it is hard to accept because we are unexplained 😦 Clearly there are many cases where IVF is the only option, but with unexplained-ness it’s hard to get away from asking that question. Grrrrrrrr.


  7. circumstance227 says:

    We Ethiopian adopters in Austria were very closely networked for a long time, so I probably know, or know of, over 100 of the families. Five of these couples (that I know personally) ended up unexpectedly conceiving biological children after their adoptions. In two of the cases, they had been told by doctors that it was “impossible”.
    I never saw these cases as hopeful signs – once we decided for adoption, we stayed 100% behind the decision – it was never a means to an end. That would be sad: deciding to adopt because it might help one get to a “real” child . . .
    BUT! I have heard about studies on the hormonal effects of nurturing adopted babies, on women in particular. From my own physical sensations during those years, it seemed to me that there might be some truth there.

    Liked by 1 person

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