What NOT to say…

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone, maybe a friend, family member, or even a complete stranger, and during the course of the conversation you ask yourself, “Did this person REALLY just say that?!” It may be something said with good intentions, but ignorance or a lack of “reading the room” makes you wonder why they would say something like that.

We knew that the adoption process would bring “highs” and “lows”.  One of the “lows” for me is seeing Kristen hurting when someone says something or asks a question that probably shouldn’t be said or asked. It’s usually said with good intentions, so it makes it a little more challenging to address. While it hurts Kristen, her empathy for others makes her cautious to say anything for fear of hurting that person or making them feel bad. That’s why I am writing about this topic. I want people to be aware of some things to consider when engaging in conversation with someone who is struggling with infertility and/or adopting.  I’d also like to provide some context as to why these statements and questions can be so difficult to hear.

My hope is that it will bring more awareness to the adoption process and remove some of the stigmas that exist.  At the very least…I hope it will help anyone who may have a friend or family going through the adoption process.  

So here it goes…

  1. You’ll probably get pregnant after you adopt.

Kristen has heard this comment far too many times and for some people this may be true, but this comment is also a reminder that up to this point we have not been able to.  After trying to get pregnant and using various fertility treatments to do so, there is a grieving process that takes place with the idea of not being able to get pregnant. Hearing this comment is a reminder of this.

Furthermore, in some cases there isn’t a “probably”.  For various reasons (medical, personal choice, etc.), some people may return to some form of contraception. However, that is a very private decision that you wouldn’t share with someone who makes this comment.  We made this decision for medical reasons and in order to fully commit to the adoption process. So in our case, it “probably” won’t happen. As hard as it was, it doesn’t mean it was a quick or easy decision.

  1. You don’t want to have children of your “own”?

For me, this falls under one of the “ignorance” comments. My response to anyone who asks this question is, “Of course we do!” or better yet, “You don’t think we’ve already tried that?!”

Also, through adoption, while there may not be a biological connection, adopted children are just as much a parent’s child as any genetically connected children. Telling someone an adopted child is not really “theirs” invalidates their experiences as a hopeful parent. That child who is adopted is yours! They will take your last name, they will carry on family legacies, they will be an equal and integral part of your family, and they will be every bit yours. 

  1. At least you won’t have to get fat and go through labor, childbirth, etc.

I struggle to think of any woman who has given birth to a child would/could say this, but it happened! Kristen would absolutely go through anything that comes with pregnancy if it was possible. This comment is another reminder that it wasn’t. If you’re a female and haven’t had a child, I suppose it makes a little more sense that you might say this lightheartedly, but it’s still not appropriate. Women who long to be mothers would go through anything it took to have a child naturally. If you’re a guy and you say it…well that’s just ignorance because we will never know the longing most women have for motherhood and carrying and birthing a child. 

  1. Why do you only want to adopt a newborn?

For a woman who is unable to carry a child and give birth, they miss out on many of the amazing experiences that come with being a mom. Preparing the nursery, picking out baby clothes (who doesn’t love doing that!), sharing the excitement of all of the milestones during those 9 months of pregnancy. For all of those reasons and more, we would like to adopt a newborn. It doesn’t mean all adoptive parents want the same thing, but for us that is why. 

  1. You’re adopting? You can have one of mine!

We all know this is said in jest and just to be funny, but we all know you’re not looking to hand off one of your kids. It’s just a way to vent when kids are being kids. Two things to consider here:

  1. We know you’re not giving us one of your kids, but when you long for a child of your own, it’s received very differently than a parent to parent who is joking around.
  1. For a birth mom putting her child up for adoption, this is exactly what she is doing. She is giving away a child she carried for nine months. It will be the most difficult decision she will ever make in her life. While she may never hear a comment like this, it is exactly what she is doing, so we should be praying for her during this difficult time, not saying something that would be considered derogatory if it was said to her.
  1. What if the birth-mom is on drugs?

This is actually a fair question. I don’t know that it’s appropriate to ask prospective adoptive parents, but I think it’s a fair concern that one may have for adoptive parents.  

Unfortunately, many birth-mothers who choose adoption do so because they are not in a position to care for a child or they can’t provide the life that they want for their child. This could be for a variety of reasons such as their age, health, financial situation, living situation, or in the case of this question – drugs or alcohol.

What we have learned in the early stages of this journey is that the more restrainers you put in place, the more challenging a match becomes. Of course everyone wants a healthy child. But, there are no guarantees even when you have a biological child. 

One of the good things about the matching process is that we will be provided with as much information as possible about the birth-mother, including substance use and abuse. The type of drug(s) and frequency of drug/alcohol use will play a factor in what we are comfortable with, but we know this and are prepared to navigate through those decisions if we are put in that position.

  1. Have you considered foster care? There are so many kids who need a good home.

When we decided to pursue adoption, we quickly learned that there were many paths and versions of adoption. One of those was fostering. For us, we simply are not in a position emotionally to bring a child into our home, only to fear losing that child.

The whole goal of fostering, which we fully support and appreciate, is reunification with the child’s biological family. The fostering journey has its own set of unique challenges and is often met with longer wait times, and often those kids are never able to be adopted from the system. We simply aren’t in a place to walk that path. We are looking to add to our family in a permanent way.

Fostering takes a very unique and special set of skills and for anyone who fosters and eventually adopts a child through foster care, my hats off to you. You are doing one of the most selfless and loving things a person could do.

  1. Are you worried they will want to find their “real” parents?

The first thing I would say is that when we adopt, we are their “real” parents. The second thing I would say is that we’ve learned a lot of the appropriate terms that should be used, which include:

Birth Parent: The person who gives birth to the child.

Adoptive Parent(s): The person(s) who adopts the child and who the child comes home with.

Adoption is very different today than it was many years ago. In the past, “Closed Adoptions” were most common, but today (and especially in the United States) what is most common is an “Open or Semi-Open Adoption”. See below for more information about these two options:

  • Closed Adoption: A form of adoption in which the birth parent(s) have no direct contact with the adoptive family, and the adoptive parents often know little or nothing about the biological parents.  As the child gets older no information between the two parties is shared.
  • Open or Semi-Open Adoption: A form of adoption in which the birth parent(s) participate in the process of placing the child with an adoptive family and may continue to have contact thereafter. Although an adoption may be considered an open adoption, many times the birth-mother chooses to make limited or no contact moving forward. However, some birth parent(s) may ask for pictures at different holidays or milestones. Open adoptions can look a lot of different ways.

For us, we are at peace with an open or semi-open adoption. We believe that having family or extended family in their lives, when the time is right, simply means more people to love and care for our kiddo. How can that be a bad thing? In adoption, you should always seek to do what’s best for the child. It has been well documented that while a closed adoption would be simpler in the short-term, it is more difficult for the child long-term. In open adoption, the child knows where they came from, their family, cultural, and medical history, and most importantly, they are surrounded by a lot of people who love and care about them.  

  1. If you don’t have the money, should you be adopting? 

This is a fair question.  It’s one we thought long and hard about, but the answer was actually quite easy.  If we believe this is where God has led us, then we also believe that He will be faithful to provide the means necessary to do it.  Is it a leap of faith…absolutely!  Does it make us nervous…absolutely!  Do we sit and worry about how it’ll happen…NO!

We have planned and prepared our personal finances to cover some of the costs of adoption, but it is expensive (see our first blog post) and we will need assistance. 

That may come in a variety of ways, but one of those ways is through fundraising. Most people who pursue adoption have to do some sort of fundraising. The average person doesn’t have $40-$50k readily available. If all hopeful adoptive parents went into the process thinking they had to have all of the means in their bank account, no one would ever be able to adopt. Just like the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child… but (in adoption), it takes a village to bring a child home.

We appreciate those who have already donated and those who will prayerfully consider donating. We’re very excited in our next post to share how YOU can be a piece of the puzzle in the life of baby Sherman!  

  1. You are going to adopt a white baby, right?

I saved this question for last because it is often the most difficult one for me to respond to, yet the easiest one for me to say, “Did you seriously just ask me that?!” 

Kristen will tell you that it is very hard for me to remain calm and collected when this question gets asked.  I’ll be honest with you though, about six or seven years ago I may have asked someone the same ignorant question.  Ignorance comes from a lack of knowledge or information.  I’ll save it for another post, but I had a moment of racial awareness that I will never forget.  

From that moment I could no longer claim ignorance.  I was either choosing to not gain knowledge or information or I was choosing to become more racially aware and conscious. I chose the latter. I’m glad I did.  When it comes to the topic of race I will be the first to say I don’t always say the right thing or get it “right”, but I sure as heck am going to try to be aware of what people who don’t look like me have experienced in their own lives.  I could go on and on about the topic of race, but I’ll limit what I share here to the specific question.

Would it make sense to most people that as a white couple we would want to adopt a white child?  Sure, I think that’s a reasonable line of thinking. Nothing wrong with that idea.  Here’s a better way to ask that question.  “Are you open to adopting a child of any race?”  Read both versions of that question again and tell me which one sounds like a better way of asking.

So the answer to the question is, “we don’t know.  Maybe.  Maybe not.” The answer is, “we’re going to adopt the baby God has perfectly matched us with, regardless of their race.”

If we adopt a child of another race, are there certain things that we are going to have to think about, be aware of, or learn about?  Yep!  No doubt about it!  Does that excite me a little bit?  Yep!  And if it happens…here’s another thing you should know.  If their race and the culture of that race is different from ours, you better believe we will ensure their race and culture are celebrated and an intentional part of their life.  

I know, that was a lot. If you’ve said any of these things, don’t beat yourself up. We still love you! This post isn’t meant to silence people for fear they will say the wrong thing. The fact that you’re reading this means you care and want to understand how you can best support someone who is adopting. We are learning all of this stuff right alongside you. 

So now you’re probably thinking, what can I say or do?

  • Congratulate them! Be genuinely thrilled and say, “I’m so happy and excited for you!”
  • Be supportive. Encourage them and show how much you respect their decision.
  • Listen. Sometimes all they need is someone to talk to.
  • Be positive. Avoid adoption horror stories or anything negative surrounding adoption. We have enough to worry about.
  • Ask: How can I help? Is there anything you need? Are you excited to plan a nursery? Are you planning to have a baby shower?
  • Pray for them.

In closing, the best way to be there for someone pursuing adoption is to offer love and encouragement, just like you would for any family who is “expecting.”