10 Things You Shouldn't Say to Adoptive Parents
Here are the answers to the most egregious FAQs adoptive families face, so that you don't have to ask.
1. How much did she cost? No child joins a family for free--think about those hefty hospital or midwife bills for a standard birth. When we adopted our daughters, we also paid for services rendered: Our "midwife" was a mild-mannered social worker who interviewed us and toured our home to make sure we were fit parents, and who helped us manage the mountain of paperwork and background checks we needed to ensure the adoption was on the up-and-up. And that was where all those adoption fees went.
Even though we think our daughters are priceless, we didn't pay a cent for them.
2. Why did his real parents give him up? There are millions of reasons that parents may choose to allow another family to adopt their child--from strict government policies to personal tragedy to extreme poverty. And for most birth parents, it's a complex set of reasons.
Even if we know all the whys and wherefores of our child's birth family's decision (and not every adoptive family does), that doesn't mean we're going to share that info with a random stranger on the street. It's private and personal--and it's really between my child's first family and my child.
Oh, and P.S.: My kids have two sets of "real" parents. When you call their birth parents the "real" parents--implying that we're something less--that stings. A lot.
3. Now that you've adopted, you'll be able to get pregnant. This is a weird urban legend that never dies--that, somehow, becoming a parent through adoption means you get a bonus baby the "old-fashioned" way. (And thanks to shows like Sex and the City, which had Charlotte adopting and then becoming pregnant, this myth is just going to continue.)
Although it does happen on occasion, the rate of pregnancy among infertile couples post-adoption is exactly the same as the rate of pregnancy in infertile couples. Period.
Also, infertility isn't the only reason people decide to adopt, so a post-adoption pregnancy may not be cause for joy in the family you're addressing.
4. Why didn't you adopt from the United States or from foster care or from that country? I've heard that way is more ethical or easier or better. Unless you're a fellow adoptive parent, you probably haven't done a lot of research into the various adoption options out there, but odds are the mom or dad you're addressing has done plenty of it.
The path the parents took to adoption was likely arrived at after lots of soul-searching and discussion, and was the right path for their individual circumstances--even if it doesn't seem like the most ethical/easiest/best way to you.
5. I'm sorry you couldn't have one of your own. This statement assumes that adoption was a last-resort method of growing a family--which isn't necessarily the case. (It wasn't in ours.) Besides, our kids are as much "our own" as any biological child.
6. When are you finally going to get your baby? This is a tough one for parents to hear during that long wait for a phone call. It's wonderful that you're showing interest in your friend's future family member, but waiting to become a mom, especially if you don't have a set timetable for when the wait will end, can put someone in a completely emotional, vulnerable place. And you might just be the 10th person who has asked her today--which is why your friend looks like she's near tears.
Trust me--no one's more impatient to meet that little (or not-so-little) bundle of joy than a prospective adoptive parent. Don't worry: When your friend finally has a timetable for when the little one will arrive, she'll be shouting it from the rooftops.
7. I've heard about an adopted kid who abused his siblings, never hugged his parents, and set fire to the cat.
Yes, there are adopted children who are damaged by traumas in their pasts, but they're much fewer and farther between than the dark, adoption-themed horror movies out there would lead you to believe. Seriously, not every adopted kid becomes an ax murderer!
All parents worry about their kids' futures, and biological children are also at risk of developing emotional issues or mental illness down the line. Telling a story like this serves no purpose, really, except frightening the person you're telling.
8. Are they real sisters?
Well, they aren't imaginary sisters! You're probably trying to ask if my daughters are biologically related--which is A) none of your business and B) not relevant. My daughters call each other "best sister ever," so it's pretty clear that it doesn't matter whether or not they share a gene pool.
9. What if they want him back?
We've all seen the news stories of horrific, sad fights for custody between birth families and adoptive families. But there's a reason why those stories are newsworthy: They don't happen very often.
Domestic adoption laws have been written to allow birth parents time to think through their decision before anything's final. And in international adoptions, efforts have been made through the Hague Adoption Convention to ensure that children available for international adoption are truly without loved ones to care for them in their home countries. It's when those laws are skirted that these dramatic stories happen.
I'm sure that almost every birth parent out there has felt regret and sadness over her choice. But the odds of that becoming a legal battle for custody are very slim.
10. Your child's so lucky.
My daughters are anything but lucky--for reasons unknown, each of them was abandoned and spent the first years of her life in an orphanage. Then they were handed over to a family who whisked them half a world away, to a completely unfamiliar place, where everything, including the food and the clothes, was weird and unfamiliar.
If my daughters were truly lucky, they'd still be in China, being raised by loving birth families. And if anyone's lucky in this adoption scenario, it's definitely my husband and me. And we realize that, every single day.