I read a lot of adoption blogs. From every perspective. For awhile, I read the blogs obsessively. Thank goodness my bosses do not track Internet usage at work, or I’d be in trouble.
I read the blogs for several reasons: to gain perspective; to sort through my own conflicting feelings; to find positive open adoption models; to explore worst-case scenarios … essentially, I think it’s my way of both “being prepared” and gaining wisdom — I’m hoping that works a bit like osmosis, through my mouse as I click and scroll through many years of archives. It’s worth more than mentioning that I also read several for the simple fact that they are incredibly well-written and insightful.
A post that is so common to all the blogs is adoption language. It is so common that I won’t fool myself into thinking I might have something to add to the dialogue. I’ve read about language so often, that I thought I’d be totally prepared to respond to inquiries I found intrusive, and to comments I found offensive.
When Ponce first came home, many of our neighbours had questions that definitely fell into both categories. One neighbour in particular, let’s call her Troll, left me searching for words (and for my backbone). Some of the very first words out of her mouth included the following questions: Didn’t his birth mother want him? Is he healthy? Where did you get him from? And “Was he expensive”?
I’ve never liked this woman. She’s a teacher, has been for some 30 years … how can she be so completely ignorant? Early in our adoption, I revealed too much, to too many people. I was convinced it was my job to enlighten people about adoption, so I answered every one of her questions truthfully. Later though, I felt horrible that I hadn’t just shut her down when it became clear that her questions weren’t as much about wanting to learn about adoption, but about having the inside scoop on neighbourhood gossip. (This peach of a woman, also informed me that Ponce’s barely visible birth mark on the back of his neck, could be removed by laser — in fact she had it done to her daughter when she was a few months old!). I wish I could take back the information I shared with her. I wish I had the words to rebuff her politely. I have them now, so bring it on! (A discussion forum somewhere online offered this polite rebuff, and I’ve been hoping to use it every since: Why do you ask?). The mean part of my brain would rather respond with invasive questions of my own, but I’m just not that person.
The receptionist at my work recently told me the “well-meaning” story of an acquaintance of hers who had adopted siblings many years back, “but their birth mother was addicted to drugs, this was not an easy, clean, healthy adoption like yours.” (This is the same person who will randomly tell me about twice a month that I “look really sick” or that I “seem pale or tired, are you okay?”). I was so taken aback that I was again, lost for words. I’m not sure what about those words bugged me the most. The fact that she would so flippantly compare our adoptions? The fact that she’s making massive assumptions about my adoption? That she appears to be placing more value on Ponce because as far as she knows he was not exposed to drugs or alcohol in utero? I’m sure some of her assumptions come from me sharing too much at the beginning (and rose-colouring much of Ponce’s pre-birth history). I left the office that day feeling bad that I didn’t have a retort handy, bad that people rank adoptions in their minds, and sad that the adopted siblings she was referring to hadn’t deserved enough privacy for their health information not to be shared by their parents.
An oft-heard comment that I DO respond to regularly is the “Ponce is just so lucky to have you as parents.” I’m not going to deny that we are pretty awesome, but all I can think of when I hear this is everything Ponce has lost. And all the “unlucky” that his birth families have experienced by not having the opportunity to raise him. My response for this, handily provided in adoption training, is a firm “No, it is WE who are lucky to parent him.” Luck should have nothing to do in a child’s right to be parented by awesome parents. All children should be able to expect that by the simple fact of being born. I rarely feel like people “get” it though when I respond with that one. I’m not sure how else to make it clear.
My family is pretty progressive. Still, I hear things from them that catch in my heart. My mom can’t stop herself from referring to Ponce as having been “given up.” My father regularly refers to Ponce’s “real family” when discussing his birth family. It’s easy for me to correct them because they are family, they love me, and mostly they “get” it. But if I can’t get my own family to two the adoption language line, then what chance to I have against the rest of the world that I eventually won’t be able to protect Ponce from?
Last week, my sister posted a comment on Facebook relating to a childhood photo. It went something along the lines of, “I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t adopted.” Um … what’s wrong with being adopted? I KNOW that’s not how she meant it. And adoption “jokes” have been a running source of amusement of both mine and my husband’s families (with siblings being “taunted” with the possibility for many years). Ugh, I kind of thought this kind of humour would disappear without us having to intervene. (Also, how could I have been such an ignorant jerk in the past to have participated in this kind of humour!) Even though I know that my sister wasn’t being mean-spirited with her comment, the fact that she said it so flippantly now that she is aunt to an adopted nephew broke my heart. Thank goodness it was end of day because I left the office with tears streaming down my face. She was supposed to “get it” without me having to intervene. … I know that I won’t be able to protect Ponce from much of anything in a few short years, but right now … right now … I don’t want there to exist a comment anywhere on his family’s Facebook page’s that might even remotely make him feel less valued because he is adopted. (I did resolve this with my sister, after I had calmed down, and all is well. She is pretty great.)
Having obsessively read adoption blogs for the past year, I can attest to the fact that the Internet is full of good advice regarding adoption language and responding to busy-bodies. Why then, even after such obsessive-reading, am I still so inept at responding to adoption-ignorant people? I’ve really got to get my shit together because pretty soon, Ponce will be able to understand what the Trolls of the world are asking me about him.