Monday, April 27, 2015

Talking about Adoption - a basic primer

I had an interesting experience recently, answering a child's questions about adoption.

It occurred to me that your child (or you yourself) might also have questions about adoption. Questions are good! But sometimes children are not equipped to give the answers, or are not ready to discuss their own adoption. Some adults are not comfortable discussing their experiences with adoption either. And that is okay. So the first most important thing I want to say is:

Pay Attention when Discussing Adoption. It is important to say from the start: it's okay to talk about adoption. Adoption is a wonderful amazing thing. BUT some people don't want to discuss it. And that is okay too. If you are getting signals that the subject is off limits - even subtle ones like avoiding eye contact or seeming nervous or attempts to change the subject... you need to drop it. There are lots of reasons why people might not want to talk about adoption. And there are just as many reasons why they want to tell you all about it. So looking for the cues is key.

Let's break it down:

Every Adoption is Different
There is no blanket statement or answer that actually covers every adoption scenario. And every adoptive parent has explained their child's adoption to them in their own way. Asking one person about their adoption will probably not answer questions about another person's adoption. Which means that every time you learn someone is adopted, you might have a lot of questions. And that is okay - but that does not mean you should ask them. Not everyone wants to discuss their adoption. Especially kids. Proceed with caution, and perhaps start by asking an adult rather than a child if you have questions.

Every Person who has had a Personal Experience with Adoption Feels Differently About It
It's true. Just as every person has their own special unique take on everything, the same goes for adoption. Some people are thrilled that they were adopted, some people are not. Some people are in touch with biological relatives, some are not. Some people feel comfortable discussing it, others don't. Some people know the story behind their adoption but a lot of people have no idea. Some people are in therapy to deal with issues surrounding their adoption, and for other people even bringing it up is a trigger.

Adoption is Private
The fact that someone is adopted, or that someone has given birth to a child who was then adopted, is none of anyone else's business until they make it your business. So asking prying or persistent questions is really inappropriate. I want to be clear: asking questions is not inappropriate - I am always down for a good talk about adoption - but if your questions are not being answered chances are that is intentional, and you should drop the subject altogether.

The Concept of Adoption can be Scary
For children, adoption can be a scary subject. The idea that anyone other than your parents could be your parents? Scary. The thought that you could be living in a totally different house with a completely different family in another country speaking a foreign language? Terrifying. So for children in particular, it might be best to keep the subject of adoption light and brief. Their imaginations can run wild and take them to a whole different place you never even considered. And if you leave them with unanswered questions, chances are good they will ask them at a totally inappropriate time. So remember to focus on love. Adoption is all about love.

You May Not Realize You Are Being Offensive
A year ago, I said something so totally insensitive and offensive that it still keeps me up at night and makes me feel terribly about myself. I assumed that someone's child was adopted, and I asked a question that was worded so badly that as soon as it was out of my mouth I wanted to reach over and grab it and shove it back inside me. I cannot even remember exactly what I said word for word, but I remember two things distinctly: what I asked was none of my business, and I - for some reason - thought that because I was an adoptive parent myself, I had the right to ask personal questions about their situation. I did not. It doesn't matter who you are - you could be the grandparent or the sibling or an aunt or uncle - adoptive or biological - but that does not mean you have any right to ask questions, or get answers.
Another time, I referred to someone's biological father as her "dad" and she corrected me - gently but firmly. Her dad was the man who had parented her for many years.

As I have said, every situation is different - so making assumptions, even one you think is totally politically correct and evolved - is wildly inappropriate.

Adoption is NOT SAD
It is not sad to be adopted. Adopting a child is like getting every single gift you will ever receive, all in one package. There can be sad circumstances surrounding the facts of the adoption (which is why it is private and some people may not want to discuss it) but being adopted is not sad. Being adopted is being loved just for being YOU. Being adopted means someone loved you so much that they wanted to take care of you forever. They didn't have to - they wanted to. That is a really big deal.

The best and most basic advice I can give you about adoption is this:
Adoption is all about love.
A parent does not become a parent because of anything they do with their reproductive system.
A mommy isn't a mommy with her tummy. A mommy is a mommy with her heart.
A daddy is not a daddy because of anything he did before the baby was born - a daddy is a daddy once that baby is in his arms.

Mommies and Daddies become Mommies and Daddies because of what they do for their child, with their child, and because of their child. And it takes all three of those, by the way. You can't just choose one of the above actions and label yourself a parent (or grandparent either.)
Family is not about genetics. Family is about love, and support and encouragement and acceptance and above all presence. Not presents. PRESENCE.

You have to be there, in the trenches, to be a mommy or a daddy.
And adoptive parents are ABSOLUTELY the child's "real parents" - they are the people loving and caring for and feeding and educating and otherwise PARENTING. Being a "real parent" has nothing to do with sperm and egg. Period.

And just because you have a personal connection to adoption does not give you any special permission to make blanket statements or ask personal questions. You do not speak for every adoptive parent, adopted child, or biological relative. And neither do I.

Please understand that all I have shared here is my personal take on adoption, and is merely written down to give you something to consider. I am simply adding my voice to what is, admittedly, a very crowded conversation.

If you have any questions that I have not addressed regarding adoption, or explaining adoption to your kids, please comment below or feel free to shoot me an email. I can try to find you an answer. :)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Lucy turns ten

You all know the story by now.

But the story behind the story, is how we came to terms with adoption.

When we got the very first phone call, when Lucy was still in utero, I was jacked up on fertility drugs. Sam was lining up syringes along the kitchen sink every morning, and watching me cry myself to sleep most nights.

Our responses to the question "are you interested in adopting" were different.

Mine was an immediate yes.
Sam was more "I don't know about this."

My answer was based solely on my desire to have a second child.
His answer was more about the reality of having an adopted child and a biological child, and raising them together, and whether it would feel different or forced in some way.

It took him about 5 seconds of holding Lucy the morning she was born to realize that was not going to be an issue.
It took me 10 years to come to terms with my immediate "yes".

The bottom line is that, in saying yes to adopting, I was acknowledging in some deep down part of myself that I would never have another biological child. It was something I knew. It was not a choice (there were plenty of reasons why I was not able to conceive a second time). It was, rather, accepting that I no longer had a choice.

No matter how badly I wanted it, no matter how far down I reached within myself for the strength to keep trying, I knew it. If I wanted to have another child, I had to look elsewhere. And it has taken me ten years to accept the truth.

Ten years to stop hating myself for giving up.

Ten years to stop discretely scanning the faces in the grocery store, wondering if one of them was Lucy's biological parent.

Ten years of secretly resenting the person who was able to grow this precious beautiful person that is so obviously my child.

Ten years of avoiding the questions about her ancestry for school projects.

Ten years of leaving her family medical history blank at the pediatrician's office.

Ten years of feeling guilty for saying she and Max get their blonde hair and blue eyes from their grandparents. I mean, maybe they both do. But I only know for certain that Max does.

Ten years of tiptoeing around the details in front of Lucy, and wishing them away.
Wishing I had been there to prevent them from putting erythromycin ointment on her eyes at birth, since she had an immediate reaction to it.
Wishing I had been there right from the beginning so that she hadn't spent any time alone in the nursery.

Wishing I could have looked her biological parents in the eye and thanked them.

Today, ten years later, the fact of her adoption is - in fact - not that important. She is so much our child that it is impossible to mistake her for anyone else's.

People talk about the miracle of birth, and the gift of adoption.
But in my reality, birth was a gift, and adoption was a miracle. And I am so glad I can finally see that.