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!