My friend Karen Walrond is an adoptive mom, and also a writer, photographer and author of the gorgeous and soul-nurturing book The Beauty of Different. A couple weeks ago she sent me this post she wrote when her daughter was young, to commiserate on the questions we often get as adoptive families. I asked if I could repost it here, and she agreed. I think she is pretty spot-on in hitting the observations that come a little too frequently for adoptive families. I read this nodding my head in agreement . . . and giggling at Karen’s moxie. Karen did tell me that 8-1/2 years later, she’s not nearly as angry. “For the most part, boneheaded comments have stopped,” Karen says. Can I dare to dream?
Okay, people, listen up: I know adoption is not an issue you run into every day. I know this. But this should not be an excuse to keep you from educating yourselves on how to behave when you come face-to-face with a real live adoptive family. ‘Cause some of you, and you know who you are, just ain’t right.
[photo by Maile Wilson]
Now, don’t get me wrong: we adoptive parents have no problem with being asked about adoption – frankly, sometimes it’s our favorite topic of conversation. It’s how you ask these questions and make these comments that make us twitch. So, ever the giver, for today’s public service announcement I thought I’d present to you the Top Ten Annoying Things People Say to Adoptive Parents That, Even Though They Mean Well, Drive Adoptive Parents Up a Tree. When appropriate, I’ll even present the right way to say these things – if even (with all due respect) it’s not your place to say these things at all. Please pay close attention. Feel free to take notes if you have to. But, on behalf of adoptive families everywhere, the boneheadedness must stop.
10. “You look like you could be her real mother.” Newsflash, people: I am her real mother. Not only that, in about 6 weeks I’m going to have in my hot little hands actual real-live, no-foolin’ court papers that say so. Nonetheless, the phrase I believe you’re looking for is “biological mother” or “birthmother.” And to respond to your comment – yes, I agree – I think she looks like Marcus and me as well.
9. “Did you get to meet her father?” Yup. In fact, I married him.
Please see Number 10, above, and re-word your question appropriately.
8. “That’s such a kind, charitable thing you did, adopting Alex.” Well, that’s sweet that you think Marcus and I are such angels (and funny you should mention it, we’re having our wings dry-cleaned as I type), but make no mistake: the primary reason we adopted Alex is because we wanted a child. It was not an act of charity.
So, now that we’ve admitted this, you think we’re selfish little pigs, don’t you?
7. “Oh, you had your baby the easy way.” Well, if by “easy way” you mean filling out enough paperwork to make “War and Peace” look like a comic book, undergoing background checks, home checks and some very personal interview questions in the hope that the social worker will actually fall for the ruse that Marcus and I are sane enough to raise a family, nervously meeting the birthmother, and then waiting while she gives birth, hoping against hope that she’s taking care of herself well enough so as not to hurt the unborn child, fixing up a nursery and picking out names, but then finally enduring 48 hours from the bowels of hell in complete and abject panic as we fervently expect that since the birthmother has now seen the beautiful little girl who came out of her body, there is no way on God's creation she’s going to place her child with Paranoid Me and My Crazy Husband, rendering Paranoid Me and My Crazy Husband helpless and powerless and back to square one again, then yes, I suppose we did get our daughter the “easy way.”
Don’t get me wrong: I’ve never given birth to a child, so I would never presume to believe that adoption is harder than childbirth. But don’t believe that adoption is “easy” – it was, in fact, the most excruciatingly emotional process that Marcus and I have ever been through in our collective lives, albeit with an unbelievably happy ending. And, relatively speaking, we were pretty lucky – I don’t even want to think of what adoptive families who deal with the nightmare of infertility on top of all of this must endure.
And speaking of birthmothers:
6. “You know the birthmother?! Wow. Aren’t you afraid she’s going to stalk you?” Wow indeed – you’ve obviously been watching waaaay too many after-school specials. No, we’re not afraid. Yes, we have a relationship with Alex’s birthmother – we speak on the phone, and I send her family photos of Marcus, Alex and I. And, surprise, surprise, the more we get to know her, the more comfortable she feels about her decision to place Alex with us. And this comfort, you’ll be relieved to know, has been scientifically proven to be one of the main suppressors of the Stalking Reflex. See how that works?
5. “Aren’t you afraid that your daughter may have inherited some of her birthparents’ less desirable traits?” No. Aren’t you afraid yours has?
Sorry, got a little bitter, there. But you get my point.
4. “So what’s wrong with her birthmother? Why did she get pregnant if she wasn’t going to keep her?” This question REALLY fries my egg. I have no idea why Alex’s birthmother makes the life decisions she does, but you know what? It’s SO not my place to judge her, nor is it really any of my business. All I do know is that Alex’s birthmother is a good person, and is trying to make her way through life the best way she knows how – pretty much like the rest of us on this planet are.
And that’s really all I have to say about that.
3. “Are you going to let Alex meet her birthmother?” Alex is adopted, she’s not in prison. We wouldn’t think of keeping Alex from learning anything about her life, including meeting her birthmother, if that’s what she wants.
2. “Are you going to tell Alex she’s adopted?” Nah, we thought we’d keep it a secret.
Of COURSE, we’re going to tell her. We’re going to tell her that we chose to adopt because we knew that her little soul was out there waiting for us to be her parents. And that we were there in the delivery room, desperately waiting to welcome her to the world and our family on the day she was born. And because she has the undying love that she has from Marcus, me and her birthmother, she’s a pretty extra-special kid.
Besides, if we weren’t going to tell her, why would we tell you?
And the Number One Annoying Thing People Say to Adoptive Parents:
1. “She’s so lucky.” Please. Not a day goes by when I don’t thank the Lord above for my amazing husband and our incredible daughter. Marcus and I are so-very-much-more the lucky ones.
And I bet if you ask her that when she’s about 13, she’ll agree.
You can check out more from Karen at her blog Chookooloonks.