By Michelle Riddell
As an adoptive parent, I can attest with every atom of my being that adoption is truly a blessing. It gives countless adults and children the means to become a family, resolving the basic human need for a healthy, stable, and loving connection.
After going through the process, I consider myself a dedicated adoption advocate and welcome sincere curiosity as a way to open a dialogue. But often, when people learn that you didn’t make your child inside your body, the filters fall right off and they say whatever comes to mind. They ask questions that are so tactless, intrusive, and ridiculous it’s hard to answer politely—especially when you hear them over and over.
Here are the five questions adoptive parents most loathe to be asked:
Are you going to tell her she’s adopted?
Think about it: If you, me, all the neighbors, the entire staff at the pediatrician’s office, her cousins, aunts, uncles, and everyone in Babies ‘R Us knows she’s adopted, is it even possible to keep such a secret from her? And why would we share information so pertinently personal about her family origin with everybody except her? To this question, I calmly reply that our daughter will always know she was adopted because, like every birth story, we have been telling it since the day she arrived, and like every birth story, we tell it with pride and reverence because it is our greatest joy.
Why did her “real” mother give her up?
This question requires a two-part answer. Part one is where I do my best to model positive adoption language. I say, “Her birth mother or biological parents made an adoption plan because they wanted the best life for her.” If subtlety doesn’t cut it, I get technical and explain the difference between parenting and donating sperm or gestating. In part two, I smile sweetly and say that I imagine the choice was extraordinarily difficult, but we are eternally grateful all the same. If they persist, I say NOYB.
Why didn’t you just have a baby of your own?
Also a two-parter. First, I adjust the semantics with corrective rewording: “Do you mean, why didn’t we biologically reproduce?” and “She is very much our own baby.” Then, I offer an enigmatic, “That may have been easier,” followed by a wistful sigh. Or, I straight up shoot them a dirty look and say again, NOYFB.
How much did she cost?
Occasionally, people ask this question because they, themselves, are considering adoption, and in those cases I say with complete authority, “It depends.” Most often people are just being nosy and insensitive and to them I say, “How much did your obstetrician, anesthesiologist, delivery nurse, and hospital staff charge to deliver your kids?” And that, without fail, shuts them up.
When she does something really bad are you going to send her back?
For me, this question is hard to answer with even a modicum of civility because it reveals a lingering bias against adoption and wields damage potential. It implies the adoptive relationship is conditional and not permanent; it suggests a separate set of expectations for adoptive and birth parents, and it’s stupid. I hear this question as an attempt to stifle normal expressions of frustration that any mother might have, and usually the people who ask it are passive aggressive jerks. But being from the Midwest, where we wear a veneer of politesse, I simply say, “Send her back? Back where?”
Words not only convey facts, they evoke emotions; what we say and how we say it is the most persuasive tool we have. Adoptive parents bristle at being asked the same questions ad nauseam but will answer patiently in hopes of educating people. Their words will sink into some and float on others, and gradually the questions will subside. The means of arrival is like any creation story — it fades into the beginning as you reach the middle, hidden by life.
About the Author
Born and raised in Detroit, Michelle Riddell now lives with her family in rural mid-Michigan where she happily braves her husband’s penchant for DIY projects and her daughter’s passion for wildlife-as-indoor-pets. Her publishing credits include Parent Co., The Manifest-Station, The Good Mother Project, and Club Mid. In addition to being a reviewing editor at Mothers Always Write, Michelle is a substitute teacher at her daughter’s elementary school where she tries very hard not to embarrass her. Find her on Twitter @MLRiddell.