Speaking of Adoption

Posted March 5, 2019

by Amy Lemieux

This matter has been bubbling inside me for years. It is likely I haven’t written about adoption because I am hesitant to discourage people from expressing curiosity about my family. While it is private, adoption is not a secret or something to be ashamed of – there is a difference between private and secret. I’m proud of my family and how we created it. But there are ways to discuss adoption and words to use (and avoid) that allow opportunities for conversations that are sensitive to my children and me. Courteous discussion depends on knowledge and sensitivity. I write this, confident that “When we know better, we do better.” It is fair to say that most people are unfamiliar with the vocabulary that demonstrates sensitivity to my family. Because the people I know would never intentionally say anything they thought might be hurtful, it has been rare for me to be offended by people’s questions and comments. However, there are phrases that are outdated and insensitive, best intentions aside.
My family is unique because we have two children who are adopted from Colombia and two children who are biological. Additionally, our family grew in an unconventional order; birth, adoption, birth, adoption. Surprisingly, my daughter by birth is the one who was typically assumed to be adopted since she “didn’t match” physically with her blond hair and fair skin. I remember being surprised that people would ask me if she was “really” mine. “Is that your REAL daughter?” “Yes. All four are really mine.” When people say “real,” the word they’re looking for is “biological.” Treating adoption as a consolation prize is common and very upsetting. “Oh, were you not able to have your own?” Again, they are my own. They are not biological, but they are very much mine. And while unintended, questions like these imply that adoption is a second or third choice. Families are created in many ways.  Adoption is one of those ways.

Don’t ever tell a child or communicate that they are “lucky” or “blessed” to have a family. I am not their savior and while gratitude for many things is desirable, no child should ever receive the message that they should feel grateful to have a family or that they were “saved” by their own parents. Gratitude for a family is something that would never be expected of a biological child – that their parents did them a favor by allowing them to be part of a family?  Had it not  been me, there would have been dozens of others wanting to become parents to my girls.
Any language objectifying a person is offensive, even if that is not the intention. An common example is, “Where did you get her?” As with anyone who might not be from here, you would ask, “Where is she from?” “She looks like a china doll,” is one I have heard multiple times from parents who have adopted children from Asia.  While meant to be a compliment indicating physical attractiveness, it is not.  “She’s beautiful” would be more appropriate.
Casually tossed out questions or comments in front of my children can be hurtful. “I could never give up a child,” is insensitive. No, you couldn’t because you have never been in a situation where you had to make that decision. “Do you have any information about their real family?” (Again, don’t say “real.”) I do have information, but that is my child’s information, not mine to share. “Why were they given up?” If you think about this for a moment, any possible answer to this question is incredibly private and not information I have the right to share. What potential scenario would constitute carrying a child for nine months and then placing it for adoption?  Every possible answer would be confidential.
Discretion aside, please ask me about my family. I am a proud mom and will happily tell you about all four of them!