This guest post is by Ethan Brooks-Livingston, a hopeful adoptive parent.
Recently, my wife, Angela and I headed to our local small metropolis for an evening out. One of our stops was a store for supplies for some projects I’m working on for the Littlest Brooks-Livingston’s eventual arrival.
We encountered someone who noticed that we were buying baby-oriented items and in a friendly waiting-in-line-together kind of way, she asked what we were making, so I told her.
Anticipating this might propel the discussion into questions about pregnancy and/or our due date, as has happened before, Angela said,
The person we encountered suddenly brightened and congratulated us, telling us how exciting it is that we’re adopting.
We agreed, both of us giggly with the excitement of making such an announcement to a complete stranger – after all, we’d only been “officially waiting” for about a month.
As we turned to go, she continued, saying “I think it takes awfully special people to take in another person’s child. That’s just a great thing. Bless you for doing that.”
Halfway through that already familiar statement, I saw where she was headed, as did Angela.
One of us stumbled through a response — I don’t remember who — thanking her for her kind thoughts and saying that we’re very excited to be adopting.
What she said didn’t really hit us until we were back in the car, and then we had a 45-minute ride home to mull it over.
Misunderstandings about open adoption are common
From what I’ve read on forums and blogs, and from encounters I’ve had in with people in real life, folks involved in some part of the adoption triad face misunderstandings about adoption on a regular basis.
Some have been able to desensitize themselves to a point, and comments that are not openly offensive usually slide off, not unnoticed, but not necessarily dignified with a response.
Other folks, especially those of us who are new to the whole adoption scene, and for whom every comment matters -– well, we bristle, become angry and/or hurt, and are almost certainly defensive, though that doesn’t mean we always say something.
Whatever the reaction, controlled and patient or hurt and protective, there’s good reason behind it.
Adoption, the process, the people involved, the child(ren) – these are all very personal elements for those immediately connected to adoption.
Not so for those to whom adoption is primarily a topic from the nightly news or the closest familial connection is a cousin’s-first-wife’s-uncle’s-brother-in-law’s-stepdaughter.
If you’re not in the middle of it, there’s not a real push for you to understand the complexities of adoption.
Angela and I have encountered comments like those by the fellow shopper before, and I’m sure we will continue to.
The comments were not offensive, just based on old-fashioned ideas.
After some discussion, Angela and I concluded that like most people for whom adoption has no personal connection, the person we encountered was expressing genuine happiness for us, she truly wished us the best, and she saw/sees adoption in general as a positive thing.
It’s how she sees it as a positive thing that bothered us — or rather, how she sees adoption as positive is not congruent with how we hope our adoption will be a positive experience for everyone involved.
Dealing with misconceptions about adopting
Since we’ve been talking to people about our adoption, we’ve gotten an array of responses, so far all positive, but each person has framed their comments a little differently.
There are a lot of misconceptions about adoption – what people believe, how people think about adoption is a result of how they’ve encountered it.
What Angela and I are pursuing, open adoption, means that we will meet and match with an expectant mother, and we will (hopefully) meet her family and develop a relationship with her and with them.
To us, open adoption is not “taking in another person’s child,” which, to us, connotes that we are just glorified babysitters and that the child is not our “real child” and “really” belongs to someone else, who “gave them up” (picture me with air quotes here).
Oh, so many things about that sentence makes us cringe, and we’ve heard variations on the theme several times, all from people with good intentions.
Here’s the thing, what we wish was self-evident: the child we adopt will be our child.
That child will also have birthparents and a birth family, with whom we hope we will have a good, life-long relationship. Our child’s birthparents did not “give them up,” the child was not “abandoned” or “unwanted.”
His or her birthparents made an adoption plan, taking time and great care to find the person or people who they feel can best parent the child they are expecting because, for whatever reason, they are unable to do so.
As pre-adoptive parents, Angela and I still feel compelled to point out (right place, right time) how what was said might not be accurate for our situation, even if what was said was with all good intentions.
How we handle comments about our plan to adopt
We feel that it’s important, going forward, that we figure out how to respond to well-wishers with grace, with the intent of gently educating them about how we are approaching adoption and maybe correcting a few of their misconceptions in the meantime.
We don’t want to be preachy, because nobody likes that.
And we don’t want to be tiresome, continually on a soapbox about adoption, especially as we believe that everyone has a right to his or her own opinion.
We certainly don’t want to silence anyone, nor do we want people to refrain from bringing up the subject because they are afraid we will take what they said the wrong way (fodder for a blog post down the road!).
When it’s just the two of us, the things people say about adoption might bother us, but we can handle it.
We’re imagining how our stomachs will clench ten-fold when this happens when we have our child(ren) with us. Especially if the fact that our family was constructed through adoption is evident (if we adopt transracially, for example).
For us, it’s simple: we’re not saviors, nor rescuers — we just want to be lucky enough to be parents, and we hope that we can raise our child to know and have relationships with a big family, made up of the family we will be together, as well as birth parents and their families, my family, Angela’s family, and our friends.
That’s a lot of love – that’s the real family this child will belong to. And how lucky will we be!
Ethan is the co-writer, with his wife, Angela, of their personal open adoption blog, The Littlest Brooks-Livingston, which chronicles the occasionally trying, sometimes humorous, and always introspective dips and curves in the road to bringing home their first child through open adoption. Ethan and Angela, both recovering English majors who have since moved on to other (more employable) opportunities, reside in Western North Carolina.