November is National Adoption Month and, as a mother who has adopted, I’ve been paying attention to the related news and there is a lot. National Adoption Month was initially created to raise awareness for the thousands of children in foster care without permanent homes. Over time, it has become more of an over-arching theme celebrating adoption via any route including domestic or international. Much of the news this year has been around a movement called #FliptheScript, in which adult adoptees are voicing their need to be a larger part of the conversation about adoption. So, there’s your basic background.
Let me begin with a story. This weekend, my parents took my husband, Ryan, and I out to a concert. Before dropping our son Isaac off at the sitter’s, we went for a quick dinner at a fast food restaurant. (We won’t here get into my foodie-snob issues with eating fast food because it would also delve into my lifelong issue with running late which is why we were there in the first place.) Isaac wanted to order for himself and he was wearing a winter hat that looks like a frog face, complete with pop-up eyeballs. He was (is) adorable. He made the cashier smile and she said,
“Did you adopt him?”
I immediately thought of the litany of blogs I’ve seen titled with some form of, “Things not to say to adoptive parents.” I’ve read these. I’ve related to some of the comments. However…
After I told her that yes, we had adopted him, (which explains the tell-tale melanin differences…) she said,
“I love seeing families like yours. He’s got such a better life.”
I immediately felt two things:
1. Compassion for this woman who meant nothing but kind regards toward my family, and
2. The complicated emotional onslaught of wanting to stick up for the family this woman was completely unintentionally degrading while also knowing that it would have been inappropriate to launch into this explanation. His first mother, with whom I had an unbelievably complicated and beautiful relationship and over whom, like with any family, you feel protective. (You know? Even that crazy relative who, in fact, you also feel driven crazy by? You’d defend them if someone outside of family was speaking ill of them.) I wasn’t mad at this woman in any way; I just felt like I was in some way betraying my son’s first family by agreeing with her statement. Does he have a SAFER life? Yes. Of course. But is there not loss involved in that? Of course.
What I said was, “Well, he has many people who love him.”
What I felt later was:
3. An ache that my child will be hearing this for the rest of his life, this categorical grouping into the box general society holds of adoption. After learning this part of my child’s story, many- if not most- will file it away into the drawer filled with all of the amazing characteristics of my child and they will not fixate on this. But my son will tell this part of his story over. And over. And over.
I want him to have the confidence and the voice to handle this. I want him to understand that his story has played a part in shaping him and his story is valid, but he need not be defined by how others interpret this. He will have to find answers to:
“How come your real mom gave you up?”
“What happened to you when you were little?”
“Why don’t you live with your real family?”
I am ill equipped. (And thankful for a Jesus who equips those who are so far from perfect. So, so far.)
I don’t know how my son will feel as he grows. I am doing my damndest to be honest, to tell the truth as far as it is age appropriate, to foster strong and healthy bonds with his first family, to let him know that he can talk about his story. I don’t know what to do, but I’m trying. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified by some of the emotions adult adoptees articulate about adoptive parents. I am listening to more than just the story general society tells me about adoption because I want all of the angles. I want to be as prepared as I can possibly be in raising a strong, confident man.
I am learning from voices like those in this video. (I have especially appreciated the voice of Angela Tucker, who speaks around minute 5:20 and is the woman at the center of the documentary Closure, which I continue be unable to say enough about.)
I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m trying to move forward with eyes and ears open. I cannot speak to what it feels like to be adopted, but I do know that it is a much more complicated journey that can be explained in an honorary month.
I can’t and shouldn’t explain all the nuances of my child’s background to the woman at the fast food checkout. I can, however, do my part to blog about it and tell you that, as a parent impacted by adoption, it is good and right to recognize that there is much more to adoption than for what we, on the outside looking in, give it credit.