This post was originally written on September 13, 2011. These are my thoughts on what I wish everyone knew about adoption. It is being re-posted in honor of National Adoption Month.
A few weeks ago I was at a friend's home attending a home sales party when my friend asked me how life was going since our return from Russia with our new son. This was a good friend and so of course she knew about our adoption adventures. And everyone who knows us knows that we wear our adoption badge proudly - in our trans racial family it is certainly no secret that our boys are not American by birth. I don't mind a friend asking an innocent question about my family. What I do mind is what happened next. Another guest at this party, someone I had not met until that evening, made the following comment: "Why didn't you just have your own children? Can't you have children of your own?" While I was processing these questions another guest followed up with the statement nearly every adoptive mother has heard a million times: "You know, now that you have adopted you will surely get pregnant." I then did something I don't normally do at these types of events. I accepted the glass of wine the host was pushing into my hands and I smiled as I responded through clenched teeth: "Oh, well, with two little ones at home I am not interested in getting pregnant!" (cue awkward laughter.)
Adoption touches so many lives that nearly everyone knows someone who has joyously grown their family in this way. It's time to set the record straight. I am sure that most of these comments are meant with no harm intended. After all, people are naturally curious. But it's not just the thoughtless comments that burn into the memories of adoptive mothers everywhere. It is also conversations we are not included in and assumptions that are made about our decisions and our families.
I don't enjoy being left out of conversations about pregnancy and birth. Just because I didn't carry my child for nine months doesn't mean I didn't do all of the things an expectant mother does. I planned the nursery. I worried about the health of my new child. I dreamed about counting fingers and toes. I wondered what my baby would look like and if he or she would be more like me or my husband. I shopped for clothes and would sit in the chair in my baby's room, looking at the empty crib, full of anticipation. I didn't wait for labor pains to hit; I waited for the phone call and the travel letter to arrive. And once it did, my labor wasn't over in hours or days. The time between notification of travel to meet my sons and the day I held them in my arms took months. So don't think I don't have anything to offer to your conversations about pregnancy or labor.
And your stories about caring for newborns? Don't leave me out of those discussions either. While both my sons were older when they joined our family we still had our share of "newborn" type concerns. My oldest son was fifteen months old when he came home but his sleeping habits mirrored those of a much younger baby. He was difficult to put down and then once asleep he would wake frequently throughout the night, screaming. His night terrors lasted for over a year. I may not have cared for an infant but I understand sleep deprivation. I understand feeding difficulties and worrying over how much, or how little, formula the baby is taking. I have thoughts to add to your conversations, but so often I am not asked.
I had someone comment once to me about how adoption must have been "easier" than a traditional pregnancy. Just because I may not have talked about every part of our adoption process doesn't mean it was "easy". If your obstetrician chose to meet with you in the waiting room of his office, ask you very personal questions about your finances, your marriage, your extended family, your health, your home, your career, your fertility, or lack of fertility, while everyone in the room listened in, how would you feel? If you had to welcome the fire marshal into your home and allow him to poke into every closet and check your fire extinguishers, just to have him tell you that they weren't placed exactly in the right spot, or have him wait, impatiently, while you ran around placing outlet covers in the outlets on your counters, because "babies climb, you know", as if you were completely ignorant of how children behave, how would you feel? How about having to take off your clothes in front of doctors (note the plural there) that you have never met, in a room in a foreign country while other total strangers milled about just outside the not completely closed door, and everyone in the room talked about you in a language you didn't understand? Or having to meet with a psychologist to prove that you are appropriate parent material? What if you went to the hospital to deliver your baby but was not guaranteed to bring that baby home with you? What if a judge held the fate of your family in his or her hands? After undergoing two rounds of invitrovertilization I know how invasive the pregnancy medical appointments and delivery must be. I am not saying that adoption is more difficult than traditional pregnancy and birth. But I am saying that just because I didn't receive an epidural doesn't mean that somehow adoption is the easier choice.
I need you to know how frustrating it is when I am told about women who adopted and then found themselves pregnant. First of all, no one knows the story of our fertility except us. When these types of comments are made so are a lot of assumptions. I may be able to have biological children. I may not be able to have biological children. Either way, our choice to adopt was not some convoluted way to conceive. It was not "plan B". And I never want my children to ever think that it was. It was God's plan for me to have my tender hearted, smart, music and football loving Chinese boy and my sweet, tough, dancing Russian boy. And we all know that God doesn't have a backup plan. There is no "plan B" where my boys are concerned.
I wish as my boys grow older they will be seen for the wonderful individuals they are. I hope that they will not be introduced as my "adopted" boys but simply as my boys. I have never once introduced my niece by saying, "This is my niece. She was born prematurely but is doing great now!" Sounds crazy, right? But that is how my boys are referred to every day. Every day. And while I write about adoption and adoption related issues frequently I do not push that onto my boys. I want the history my boys have from the months they lived before they joined our family to be cherished and remembered, but I also want it to be placed appropriately in the overall scheme of their lives. I want people to look at them and see just them.
I want the questions about my reproductive system to stop. I am not going to tell you how much it costs to adopt internationally. If someone is seriously interested in adoption I am the first person to share the joys and the low points of the process. I love love love to talk about growing families through adoption. But I will not answer a question that makes it sound as though I somehow purchased my children. Please stop reducing my family to dollars and cents.
So many people assume that our children arrived to our family just the way they are now. With a biological child you learn to parent as the child grows. The child learns the language you speak. The child learns to love you and bonds with you, never for a moment thinking that you might one day be gone. My children learned to sooth themselves because maternal figures came and went. They learned to speak, or at least to understand, in a language different from my own. And my husband and I learned to parent in hotel rooms and airports. When our son needed medical attention we didn't have the luxury of calling our pediatrician or running down to the corner drugstore for antibiotics. My tiny, underweight fifteen month old was treated at a hospital in a foreign country. He screamed as I handed him through a window, a window, to have blood taken. I could hear him screaming but could not hold him or comfort him. I tried to keep him clean as I watched parents wring out not just wet, but soiled diapers onto the concrete floor of the hospital waiting room, which was outside, so that the diaper could be used again. I struggled with the question of whether to give my new son the mystery powder with the unreadable label or just hope the bronchitis worked itself out on it's own. We didn't have the luxury of making our parenting mistakes in the privacy of our own home. We made our slip ups in public, in airports, hotels, and flights full of witnesses. Talk about feeling judged.
I don't think about these issues very often. It is important to me that you understand that. I don't dislike the way we are viewed as a family. I don't think that every kind smile or comment is a reflection of our adoption story. My kids are adorable and high energy; it's hard not to look. I get lots of great comments as well. One of my favorites came after I returned home with my youngest son. The entire month long trip had been difficult and the three day journey home, alone with a toddler, was difficult as well. My sweet friend Karen probably had no idea how much her words meant to me when she said "I have no doubt that your labor was much harder than mine." Harder, I don't know. But at least just as difficult, in it's own way. So there are great comments made. But there are also times when I just wish the world out there knew what I knew. So now, a few more of you do.