I recently showed my 7-year-old child the only photograph we possess of her birth mother. I held my child as she wept for the woman who gave birth to this girl I love so much. My daughter held the picture close to her heart, and her long, delicate fingers shook as she held the image, transfixed. Even though she has not seen her birth mother since she was born, she whispered, "I miss her."
This is a deep wound. Compare it to death -- an unfathomable loss.
Days later, while she was on a climbing frame with her younger sister at the playground, a bunch of kids, aged roughly 6 to 11, asked my daughter loudly (in rat-tat-tat tones of shock and awe) questions that went something like this:
Is that your mom? (Pointing at me) Why is she white and you are brown? Are you adopted? Where is your real mom? Why isn't she here? Where is she? Why didn't she want you? You didn't come out of that mom's tummy over there, but your sister did. Right?
The questions came so fast that my daughter barely had time to catch her breath. I ran towards her, trying to shut the whole thing down, but I was not nearly fast enough, and it was too late.
My daughter replied as stoically as any small child could have:
"No my sister didn't come out of my mom's tummy. My mom was never pregnant. Never."
"We were both adopted!"
"I don't know where my birth mom is..."
I had worked with my child to prepare her for questions, but we had not imagined this scenario.
Kid A, on the climbing frame: "Did your real mom not love you?"
My daughter: "She loved me! She just wasn't able to take care of me."
Kid B: "How could she love you if she gave you away?"
Kid C: "Was she a mean mom?"
One smaller child peeled off to her nanny, crying: "Will my momma give me away 'cause she can't take care of me?"
My children stood silent now on the climbing frame as I reached them. Our three hearts hurt.
The photograph of my child's beautiful birth mother is tough to look at. It was taken by a social worker on the morning when this hero of mine chose my husband and me to parent her baby. In the photo, her eyes are full of overwhelming grief, puffy from crying. I have cried for her loss many times, sometimes at the supermarket when a song comes on with her name in it. I love her.
I know these playground children would not have talked to our child like this if their parents had known how to talk to them about adoption. I know those parents are probably great parents, who would have been shocked if they had heard their kids that day. We sometimes don't think to talk about what should seem obvious. And so, for the sake of all our children, and especially in honor of November, National Adoption Month, please, teach your children well.
Adoption is simply one of the many ways in which a family is made. A child is not an "adopted child"; she or he is a child, who came home to her or his family through the legal means of adoption.
Children who were adopted into their families have real parents (and usually siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins, too), who love and care for them. We are all real.
Children who were adopted were born the same way all children are born, but their birth parents were unable to raise them.
Just because a birth parent does not raise their child, does not mean that they do not love that child.
In some cases birth parents make their own plan to place their child for adoption. In some cases birth parents are deemed unable to care for their child by the legal authorities of the state, and the decision to place the child for adoption is made for them.
There are many reasons why birth parents are not able to raise their children. All of these reasons are private, as private as your family business. You might want to give your child examples with varying degrees of detail, depending on their age. For example, birth parents may have been too young or financially unstable, or have had more children than they could manage. Perhaps they did not have enough support, or they had relationship problems. They may not have been ready to be parents; they may have had health problems; or there may have been a million other reasons that led them to adoption. All of those reasons are private.
Simply put, if a friend wants to tell you their adoption story, they will do it in their own time. Questions are not always welcome, and can hurt people's feelings.
Children who were adopted feel very sad that they lost their birth parents, but the love they feel for and from their forever family is the same love that your child feels. Love is not limited to or dependent on biology.
Children who were adopted do not always look the same as their parents, but love makes them feel exactly the same.
Many children came home through adoption when they were infants, but adoptions can occur at every age -- from newborns to teenagers.
There are many children all over the world growing up without a family. Adoption can enrich many lives. Perhaps one day your children will consider building their own families through adoption.
Finally, please include talking about adoption whenever you are chatting with your kids about respecting and loving all kinds of diversity. Families who are built through adoption are just one of the many kinds of families in our diverse world.
So please, teach your children well during our National Adoption Month.
My inspiration -- the wonderful words by Graham Nash from the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song:
Teach Your Children
You, who are on the road must have a code that you can live by.
And so become yourself because the past is just a goodbye.
Teach your children well, their father's hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams, the one they fix, the one you'll know by.
Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.
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From "30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days," a series designed to give a voice to people with widely varying experiences, including birthparents, adoptees, adoptive parents, foster parents, waiting adoptive parents and others touched by adoption: