After my son’s adoption in 2008, a neighbor asked me, “Are you concerned that you didn’t connect with him since you did not carry him?” I was only briefly stunned by her question. I knew that I needed to think quick and give her an answer. After all, she asked me in front of a group of neighbors during our block party and I did not want to be standing in the middle of an awkward moment of silence. I replied, “No, not at all. Loving him is very natural…as if I gave birth to him.” All she responded with was “Oh”.
When I told my husband about the conversation, he said, “She didn’t carry or birth her husband. Does that mean she is not bonded or connected to him?” (Good point honey, good point) He has always had a great way of simplifying things.
Her question has stuck in my mind through the years. I really cannot blame her for her lack of knowledge about adoption. After all, she had only given birth to children. She had never experienced the incredible richness of becoming a mom through adoption. I am still not sure what she meant by the word connect. Perhaps she meant to say “Are you worried that you have not bonded with him because you did not give birth to him?”.
Looking back on our short conversation, I wished I would have said to her the things that have been revealed since becoming a mother through adoption. I have realized that my expecting was not in months, but years. My labor was not in hours, but years as well. I did not carry my children in my body. I carried them in my imagination, my prayers, my hopes, and my dreams.
I carried them in that quiet space where it is just myself and the Lord.
Foster and adoptive families usually get asked all kinds of random and often insensitive questions. When we were going through the licensing process to become foster parents, someone said to me, “You are not going to take one of those meth babies, are you?” Was that a question or a directive? I was not quite sure. The truth is that many newborns who come into protective services in the state I live in have been exposed to prenatal drug and/or alcohol usage. To call them “meth babies” though felt very cold and calloused to me.
Here are some more questions that I have been asked:
Are your kids “real” siblings?
Are you scared that their “real” parents are going to take them back?
Are you sure it is okay to tell them that they are adopted?
Do you plan on having your “own” child in the future?
Do you know their “real” parents?
I answered the first two questions with a “no” and a “yes”. No, I am not scared their “real” parents are going to take them back….that would be considered kidnapping. Taking them back is not an option. Adoption is legally binding and permanent.
Yes, I am absolutely sure it is okay to tell them they are adopted. It is a travesty for children to not know their history and to be lied to. It damages every ounce of trust and relationship built through the years. It also gives glimpses of the thought that adoption is something that should be kept secret, as if it is shameful.
As far as the kids are concerned, they are real siblings. Trust me, if you spend any amount of time in our home, you will notice that they fight like cats and dogs, yet are inseparable. There is nothing fake about their relationship as a brother and a sister.
The last two questions can be answered by this fabulous quote I found.
“Natural Child: Any child who is not artificial. Real Parent: Any parent who is not imaginary. Your Own Child: Any child who is not someone else’s child. Adopted Child: A natural child, with a real parent, who is all your own.” -Rita Laws, PhD
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One day while visiting the zoo, my kiddos started to engage in a conversation about being babies. My 3-year-old daughter said something to the effect of “when I was a baby, I was in mommy’s tummy.” In an instant, my 5-year-old son, said “No, when you were a baby, you were in your birth mom’s belly.” The conversation kept going from there and my son gently reminded his sister that she really was in her birth mom’s belly. My husband and I would acknowledge them from time to time, but also took the moment to try to gauge what their level of understanding of their own history is.
All of these deep thoughts from two preschoolers while eating ice cream at a zoo quickly caught the attention of a young couple sitting at the table next to us. I noticed they were trying to listen, but also did not want to make it obvious. Every once in a while they would grin at things my kids would say. I suspect perhaps they have never heard young children talk about birth mommies and adoption before.
Life as an adoptive family is different from biological families. The topics of birth parents and adoption pop up at various locations and times in our lives. Sometimes the questions and comments made by our children are random and occur when least expected. Other times, we will purposefully engage them in discussion about their unique stories as adopted children.
We try to take advantage of these teachable moments if we can. For example, my kids were playing with a baby doll one morning in our living room. My husband asked, “Did you adopt that baby?” My kids replied “Yes!” They were so excited to proclaim this. Adoption is exciting. It should not be something that is a hushed topic in the home. Children might just perceive it to be something shameful if adults act like it can never be talked about.
We are not experts on adoption. We are just two parents who love our children with everything we have. We want to make sure they appreciate their histories as much as we do. Honestly, sometimes we feel the need to have teachable moments as adoptive parents!
It scares me a little to wonder if at any time in their lives they will resent being adopted, feel insecure about who they are, or even about the love we have for them. The more we can grow their roots with love, honesty, stability, and grace, the better off they will be to face anything in the future. I know this is what parents strive to do for all children, but as an adoptive parent, I’m a little more sensitive to the need for this.
Recently, my daughter said to me “one day you will show me a picture of when I was in a belly right mommy?” Sadly, my answer was no. I do not have any pictures to show her of the time she spent in her birth mom’s belly. Sometimes, I wished our lives of mommy/daddy/children-hood were not so complicated. Sometimes I wished we didn’t have to talk about adoption and birth parents or any of that stuff; yet, I believe these things are also what make our family special.
I’m finding that the older they get, the more they want to know. This only makes sense. I wish I had a way to read their minds – get into their heads fully so that I could explain it all to them in a way that brings clarity and comfort. I try to take my cues from them. Often, I can sense where the conversation is going but that doesn’t mean my words are eloquent. My words, regardless of how well they are used to explain things, may never completely fulfill my children’s longing to know more.
Words may never fill in the cracks of their histories for them. How could my words do this when I do not even know all the necessary information to give them a complete history of their birth families? It does not seem fair that children who are born into the world, separated from their birth families, and adopted end up losing so much of their roots and family histories.
Then there’s my history to take into consideration when talking about their adoption. My surgery and inability to have children is obviously a part of the story. But, I never want them to think that the only reason they are my babies is because I could not have a biological child. I never want them to believe they are second choices…never. They are not. They are here in my life by the works of God and by the hands of many.
Perhaps I’m just over-thinking it all. I don’t know. All I can do is pray about it, learn from others, model honesty and grace to them and take it one day at a time.
…and…maybe just learn from them while they are sharing their deep thoughts at the zoo.
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