Being an adoptive parent can sometimes make you feel like you’re all alone in a crowded room. All you want to do is be a normal family, but at times, others make that impossible. On a good day, you roll your eyes and shrug off insensitive remarks or actions. On a bad day, the steam emerges from your ears and you fight every muscle fiber in your body to keep from going off on someone. And I’m here to tell you that anger or frustration you feel is normal and valid.
My wife and I are the parents of two incredible little girls, both of whom we adopted domestically from birth. While we’re privileged to share open adoption relationships with both our daughters’ birth mothers—and tremendously value their roles in our kids’ lives—we routinely get asked about our kids’ “real” parents. Some days I chuckle and take it as a proactive opportunity to educate my inquirer on proper terminology; other days, when I’m asked about the “real dad,” I respond with a snarky “you’re looking at him” (and for the record, I’ve long since stopped guilting myself for replying with the latter).
Occasionally, we’re asked why we didn’t want to have our “own kids,” as if our infertility was an old ragged shirt we could’ve just shed and discarded at will. Others have questioned why we didn’t spend every last penny on invasive medical procedures that could have allowed us nothing more than a miniscule chance at being conservators of our own DNA.
To be sure, most people ask questions with the best of intentions and the vast majority of the time, my wife and I love talking about our daughters’ beautiful adoption stories, as well as the painful childless years that grew and shaped us as individuals and as a couple. If our stories can help others, all the better. But simply put, your adoption story is no one else’s business. It’s yours to share if or when you so desire. And more than anything, intentional criticism, uttered by those who want to make you feel like less of your child’s legitimate parent, should not be tolerated or entertained.
Some adoptive parents live with a constant inferiority complex through no fault of their own. This can stem from experiences that occurred even before they became parents. When my wife and I were in the process of adopting our first child, we were required to attend an infant care class. Seems innocuous enough, right? Five minutes into it, we realized if you were a couple with a big, cute pregnant belly on display, you were made to feel perfectly normal. We, on the other hand, were looked at sideways the whole time.
The instructor spent a good deal of time on the delivery itself, followed by a sermon on why breastfeeding is absolutely essential. Keep in mind, this was an infant care class, not a pregnancy and birthing class! While we eventually gleaned some information we’d later put to good use, we wondered why it was so hard for the instructor to simply ask the crowded room of couples if there was anyone in the adoption process. Instead, we were made to feel like our method of having children was second best, compounded by the instructor complimenting my wife on not yet looking pregnant and asking her when she was due (always a great question to ask a non-pregnant woman). When my wife told her we were adopting, the instructor seemed caught off guard. Needless to say, I left some choice feedback on our evaluation, and we stormed out of there. It took us some time to feel comfortable in our own skin again when talking to others about being soon-to-be parents.
The positive comments and encouragement my wife and I have received—while in the adoption process and especially since becoming parents—have far outweighed the ignorant or sometimes nasty remarks we occasionally endure. And while we strive to live by the principle of responding to others with kindness regardless of how we’re treated, there are some days when we react to the ignorance with the irritation the situation warrants. And unless you go through the emotional roller coaster of adoption first hand, you don’t know the toll it takes to wait and wait and wait before finally going through the many legal hoops required to make someone else’s baby your own—followed by figuring out how to be a good parent to that baby—followed by regularly having that life-altering circumstance questioned or ridiculed.
At some point, everyone reaches their social etiquette breaking point—even adoptive parents. But don’t worry, because like everyone else trying to find their way in this world, you’re human. And all humans, including adoptive parents, are allowed bad days.