The other day my daughter and I were playing on the playground after school. A kid, around 8 or 9 if I had to guess, came up to us and asked. “Are you her Mom?”
“Yep.” I said.
“Is she adopted?” he whispered with extra emphasis on the word ‘adopted.’
“You don’t have to whisper the word adoption. I’m her Mommy, she’s my daughter.” I answered.
Adoption isn’t a bad word… Adoption is just another way to make a family.
Let me preface this by saying this is OUR family’s story. Every family (blessed by adoption or not) has their own story. Our daughter knows she was adopted. We’ve been open about it with her from day one. I’m caucasian, my husband is of West Indian descent, and our daughter is from South Korea. She would have figured it out eventually. We’ve read “The Red Thread” as a bedtime story almost every night for six years. Once while we were visiting with a friend of mine who was expecting and I explained there was a baby in her belly that would be born soon; my daughter announced proudly to my friend, “I came in an airplane from Korea!” Our belief is that adoption is not an adjective. It doesn’t describe who our daughter is. In our family, adoption is a verb. It was an act of love that made our family complete. To us, adoption isn’t a bad word… Adoption is just another way to make a family.
But then there are the questions. Sometimes they feel more like interrogations. The following are all questions I have been asked: “Ohhhh, is this your daughter?” “Are you her real mom?” “How could anyone give up such a sweet girl?” “Didn’t you want your own children?” And my favorite (eye roll), “How much did she cost?” Y’all there were times I needed a moment to wooosah before I could answer.
I used to get defensive (my modus operandi was/is sarcasm) when people would ask those questions. On a good day, I might have reminded people that if you wouldn’t ask it about a boob job, don’t ask it about adoption. (Are they real? How much did they cost?) On a bad day, I may have answered a real mom question once with “Do I look real to you, lady?” and some side-eye. But then I realized that not every question was asked with a need to be all up in our business. The phrasing would be wonky, but most of the time the questions were coming from a pure heart and a genuine feeling of curiosity about the process. When I would take a breath, smile and relax my body language from defensive mode and share our family’s story, the ENTIRE story, people’s body language would start to change too. Often, they would become more open and engaged in our conversation. More often than not, the person I’m chatting with has an adoption story of their own, or knows someone who has been through or was currently going through the process. Sometimes it turns into a cliffs note version of International Adoption 101 where I’m able to introduce them to positive adoption language like “birth mom” instead of “real mom” or “adoption plan” instead of “giving up.” By being open and vulnerable with people, I made a real connection with them. And you never know when that can really make a difference to someone.
I’m pretty much an open book now. I’m happy to answer all the questions. I am happy to tell you about our experience with adoption; about the long, paperwork filled, emotionally charged journey that made our family complete. I’m ready to offer support and resources and be a voice for families like mine.
November was National Adoption Month. And while the focus is on awareness of children and youth in foster care across the country, it’s also an opportunity to talk about and bring awareness to all kinds of adoption. Domestic, foster care, international, family, open, closed… all of it. Let’s talk. Let’s connect. And let’s stop whispering the word adoption.