what I want you to know: adoption and assumptions


What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions.  It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here.


Today’s guest post is by Kathryn.

What I want you to know is that I’m tired of the assumptions people often make about us as a transracial adoptive family and the choices that we’ve made. Mainly, I’m tired of people assuming that we chose adoption because our "Plan A" – having biological children – didn’t work out for us. Adoption was and always has been God’s Plan A for us. Whether or not we can or can’t have children is irrelevant to the conversation, and I cringe to think of what my son will think when he’s old enough to understand what people (typically strangers) mean by the question, “so you adopted because you can’t have children?”

I want you to know how upsetting it is when someone tells me a story about a friend they know who got pregnant after adopting, and how that could happen to me, too. If I had a dime for everyone who said “Oh, just adopt, and you’ll get pregnant!” I would have… well, a lot of dimes. We did not adopt our son as a last resort, or as a Plan B, or in some weird scheme to get pregnant; and I never want him to have to hear this and think that we did. Assuming that we would rather have had a biological child instead of our beautiful, joyful, animated little boy implies that he was not part of God's plan for our family. It implies that if we were to get pregnant now, that child would be more loved or more legitimately our son or daughter than our adopted son. My little boy is my son, and I am his mother.

I want you to know that I’m tired of complete strangers assuming that it’s OK to ask us questions about our reproductive capabilities, or why we chose international adoption instead of domestic adoption, or how much our adoption cost (no, we didn’t choose international adoption because it’s “easier”, because we didn’t want an open adoption, or any of the other reasons people often assume). These are personal questions that people shouldn’t assume we want to share. This also goes for questions about our son’s history and his biological mother, as well. I’m still looking for that polite, yet firm, reply that communicates that no one should ever be asking these questions of an adoptive parent because it’s none of their business.

I want you to know that sometimes, I would like to go somewhere and meet new people and introduce my son and not have to talk about how he was adopted. I would like him to be able to go to a play group or a park or the mall and not have someone ask a question that then labels him as my “adopted son.” I would love it if people would look at him as just my son, because that’s who he is. I wish that he wouldn’t have to feel the weight of that label everywhere he goes as he grows older. That the history of his first six months before he came to us would be valued, but also placed appropriately in the master scheme of his life story.

I want you to know how discouraging and isolating it is to be in a group of women exchanging pregnancy and birth stories and talking about the first few weeks and months of motherhood, and to be completely left out of the conversation because of the assumption that I have nothing to contribute. I may not have a graphic pregnancy and labor story, but I did labor in other ways to bring my son home.

I want you to know how absolutely infuriating it is to hear someone refer to adoption as the “easy” route to parenthood over a traditional pregnancy. As if eight months of intense paperwork and intrusive home study visits added to nine months of interminable waiting just to see our son’s face, plus an additional four months of waiting and court dates (and failed court dates) all before we could even hold him were somehow easy or easier. I realize that not having had the option to refuse an epidural doesn’t give me much street cred in mom’s groups, but really – do people actually think that adoption is somehow easy?

There were days when I did nothing but cry out to God to move heaven and earth to bring our son home to us. Days when I was capable of nothing but of thinking of him and longing for him to be in my arms, and praying that he was safe and healthy and loved until I could go and get him. Days when just the sight of the crib waiting empty in his room was enough to make me burst into tears. Months that went by when friends became pregnant and had their children in the space of time while we waited just to find out who our son was. He wasn’t in my womb for nine months, but God placed him in my heart and mind and soul in the years that we waited for him.

And those first few weeks once our son was home? Even though he was six months old when we brought him home, we were essentially caring for a newborn because of his developmental lags. I’ve experienced the sleepless nights, the feedings every three hours, the waking up in a panic throughout the night just to make sure he’s breathing.

I wish people would ask me about my first few weeks and months with my son, rather than assuming that because we adopted him that he somehow arrived to us exactly as he is now. I would like to be able to share about how my husband and I learned how to be parents in another country, in a tiny hotel suite shared with another couple and their two children that they had also just met. How we managed to make it through our first week as a family with rolling electrical blackouts and no heat (yes, Africa can be cold), or a pediatrician to call, or hospitals with first-world-level care, or access to family members or friends or even Google for questions or help. How we flew almost 24 hours on no sleep, with flights full of witnesses watching our every parenting snafu, with a sick baby that we had only just begun to understand and parent. How we made it through our first few weeks of breathing treatments and atomic green poo and frequent bottles to make sure our tiny baby gained weight. How even when he was asleep, I had trouble sleeping because I was so worried about his health.


Maybe it’s conceited to think so, but I believe that this is our ‘labor story’. I believe it’s a crucial part of who we are as parents. But outside of our friends and family members who know our story, people rarely ask. Instead, they ask the intrusive questions - the questions about his birth mother, and why we chose international adoption, and whether or not we can have biological children. They often assume that because I didn’t give birth to my son, I have little or nothing to offer to a parenting conversation.

I want you to know that I’m not bitter about how people respond to us as a family, or the questions that are asked, or the stares that we get when we’re in public. I’m working hard to make every annoying or hurtful assumption become a gentle learning experience for the person who makes it. Before we began this journey I made many of the same mistaken assumptions, and I'm sure that I made hurtful comments unwittingly. I wish that someone who had adopted had communicated what they were going through to me so that I could have come alongside them and helped them bear the burden, rather than making things more difficult.

Kathryn blogs at Of Shamrocks and Pineapples

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