Tuesday, November 5, 2013

What NOT to say to an adoptive parent

I've wanted to blog about adoption for a long time because it seems like a topic that fascinates many people.  And just like with Down syndrome, I'm happy to address questions related to adoption.  However, while I am not easily upset by politically incorrect inquiries or terminology about Down syndrome ("Downs baby" etc.), I am more likely to get my feelings hurt by insensitive remarks about adoption.  So I figured I'd start by sharing a few personal stories in helping to educate people about what NOT to say to an adoptive parent:
1.  Do not use the term "real baby"
It's no secret within the neighborhood (or anywhere else) that Josie is adopted.  We were at a neighborhood BBQ and a neighbor gestured towards Merryn and said "Is she yours?" I proudly put my arms around both girls and said "They're both mine!"  And she persisted "No, I mean, is she a real baby?"  I paused with a confused expression on my face and she clarified "Did you have her?"  At that point I realized what she was getting at. 
If Merryn is a "real" baby, does that make Josie a "fake" baby?  Because she seems pretty real to me.  The correct terminology is "biological".  Both girls are "real" and both girls are very much my babies.  Josie just happens to be adopted whereas Merryn is our biological child.
2.  Do not use the term "my own baby"
I have a dear friend who was talking about infertility issues and said to me "I know you and Travis adopted Josie and all, but we want our own baby".  I know what was meant by that statement and I know that it wasn't intended to hurt me.  However, I must clarify that Josie is our "own" baby, even though she didn't come from my uterus.  Once again, the term this friend intended was "biological". 
3.  Do not assume that all adoptions are the result of infertility and please do not ask about infertility issues.
On more than one occasion, I've been asked "Did you adopt her because you couldn't have kids?"  When we started our family by adopting Josie, we had never even attempted to have a biological baby.  We wanted to adopt.  Plenty of people love the idea of adoption regardless of their ability to have biological children.  Plenty of families have both adoptive and biological children.  And I speak on behalf of all of these families when I say that adopted children, are by no means, secondary to our biological children.  The love I have for my children is not weighted based upon whether or not their entrance into this world gave me stretch marks.  If it were, Josie would be winning by a landslide.
Regarding infertility questions, you don't really want a graphic explanation of what goes on behind my bedroom doors and what manifests from those efforts, do you?  Infertility issues are deeply personal.  Many people are comfortable sharing their experiences and if the individual openly initiates this conversation, go ahead and ask away!  But it really isn't appropriate to inquire about someone else's fertility because it could make them really uncomfortable. 
4.  I am Josie's Mom.  Travis is her Dad.  Merryn is her sister.  Period.
A woman was describing an acquaintance whose parents adopted a little boy with Down syndrome and this woman said "So I guess he is like, what, her half brother?  Step brother?"  No, he is her brother.  Just like Josie and Merryn are sisters.  I am Josie's Mom.  Sure, technically I am also her "adoptive mom," but I am still her mom.  Travis is her dad.  And it bears repeating that even though they aren't biologically related, Merryn and Josie are sisters.  Period.
In the "Frequently Asked Questions" section of the blog, I address the topic of political correctness as it pertains to Down syndrome by saying:
I want people to be able to ask me a question without fearing that I will snap at them over the proper phrasing, because doing so would only make them avoid discussing the topic in the future which doesn’t help to further societal acceptance and understanding.
I try to approach adoption-related questions with the same attitude even though it's a little more difficult for me.  I try to understand that people are innocently curious and not meaning to be offensive or hurtful.  I want to help people understand that our family is no less legitimate because it was built by adoption.  One of the most wonderful things I can hear is that our family has made someone else consider adopting and I welcome any and all inquiries related to that!


  1. I am an adoptive mom of a biracial kiddo, so we get lots and lots of questions about adoption and usually they are worded much like your examples. I appreciate this post! I wish that people all meant well, but after entering the adoption world I am not so sure...

    We also get a lot of questioning about her "real mom" and "how could she ever give her up"--talk about a lot for MY child to deal with as she ages. She may be 18 months now, but she is so smart and she will only become more aware. People really should be less nosy! Adoption is complex and personal and I agree that I only appreciate it when people are looking into it for their family. :-)

  2. What an informative post...and yet, I'm cringing for you because of the ridiculous things people have said to you. I don't understand why some feel the need to label everyone, much less why it's any of their business.

  3. What an informative post, and yet, I'm cringing for you at the thought that people have said such insensitive things...I don't understand why some feel the need to label everyone.

  4. Just posted on facebook. I hear this stuff FAR too often and I haven't even adopted yet!

  5. I dont normally comment on your blog but love to read the posts and this one hit home in so many ways. I am adopted, and most of the things your mentioned are the same for when speaking to an adopted child. As a young child I was embarassed about being adopted because no one knew what it meant and it made me different. I was teased on a few occasions with comments like "your mom didn't love you so she got rid of you." My biggest pet peeve is when people ask "dont you want to meet your real mother?", my response is usually oh my real mother lives in (the city) or my real mother is the one who I live with, would you like to meet her? They would look at me like I had two heads until I told them I think they meant my biological mother. Thank you for writing this post!

  6. I was adopted... one of the questions that bugs me the most is "are you going to try and find your real parents?" The answer is always, I am with my "real" parents. The people that raise you and help you to become the person you are today are your PARENTS.

  7. excellent....excellent...sometimes it's hard to believe the words that come out of people's mouths when talking about babies and such. When we were married for a few years but still no kids, we started answering "so are you gonna have any kids soon?" with "are you asking if we're having unprotected sex????" That bought us some more time.

  8. Its weird how ignorant people can be! Back in the day, when adoption was kept kind of secretive, I guess it would have been natural to be uninformed about it. But these days, families bring themselves together through so many different ways, and it is alarming that people might assume a child who was adopted is thought of differently from, or is considered less desirable than, a biological child!