I've had a few questions lately about Eleanor. Telling you about the first situation will help me to explain the rest. I should mention that these were both asked by people who we know, not strangers.
Person: So, does she feel like yours?
Me: Huh? ...oh... yes. She is mine. There's no difference.
I know this question was meant as an honest inquiry into how I feel toward my adopted child versus my biological children, but I honestly didn't know what this person meant when they said, "So, does she feel like yours?" My brain really didn't comprehend the question. I said, "Huh?" out of sincere confusion. Then it dawned on me and the best response I could come up with was an honest one. She is mine. Period.
Perhaps I would have liked to elaborate and say, "She doesn't feel like she's mine, she actually is mine. There's no difference. I was pregnant with my first two babies and someone else was pregnant with my third baby. That's the only difference." I knew this person didn't say this to me to be rude and it wasn't necessary, nor would it have been helpful, for me to elaborate. The conversation ended there and no harm was done.
I will openly admit this... before I was an adoptive mother, I didn't know how talk about adoption either. I had never been in that position and I didn't understand what may or may not be appropriate to ask in casual conversation. Also, I'm not a huge fan of the articles that float around telling people what they should or shouldn't say in certain situations or to certain people because I feel like they are often used to shame those who honestly don't know any better. I'm not trying to shame anyone (can I declare that as a legal disclaimer? How does one do that? Do I just declare it? I AM NOT TRYING TO SHAME ANYONE. There, does that work?) I am going to go ahead and share with you my advice as one adoptive mother. I don't know how other adoptive parents feel. I would imagine that since each parent walks a unique journey in the adoption of each unique child, that none of us have the same experience or feelings about the process or our children. I do think I can probably make a suggestion here, though. Don't ask that question. Don't ask if their child feels like their child. It's not cool. If you're super close to someone and you're having an intimate conversation and that person is a willing participant then, sure, go ahead. I'm certain your dear friend would willingly talk to you about the emotional experience of adopting a child. Otherwise, asking if your child feels like yours is kind of silly and could make a parent feel like you don't think of them as their child's REAL parent. (That reminds me, I've had more than one person in the past ask me about Eleanor's "real" mom. That's hurtful. Don't say that. I'm her real mom. Drew is her real dad. We are not her fake mom & dad. We are the real thing. I would suggest that if you really need to ask that question then you use the term "biological" or "birth". Also, you probably don't need to ask that question.)
All of that said, it's totally okay to ask about adoption if you are sincerely interested in the process. Just be respectful. Drew & I haven't been asked these questions yet, but I've heard plenty of stories of people asking crazy rude things like, "Where did you get her?" or "How much did she cost?" I know that none of you lovely people would ever say anything so terrible, but just in case you know someone who would... tell them not to. Imagine how you would feel if a person asked you intimate questions about how your biological child was conceived. It's kind of the same thing... as in, it's none of your business. One thing about Eleanor is that she sort of looks like us. She has some physical similarities to us (you wouldn't believe how many times people have commented about how much she looks like Drew!), but we are also the same race. I don't anticipate as many of these questions because it's not physically apparent that we are an adoptive family. Parents who adopt children of different races often have to deal with more probing questions from strangers because the physical differences are more obvious. This leads me to a more common question that we've been asked...
Person: "Are you going to tell her that she is adopted?"
Me: "Yes. Our intention is that she will always know that she's adopted."
I totally get this question and it's a fair one. That's why I'm sharing it here, because while many of you know the answer already, I'm guessing that some of you have probably wondered the same thing and just haven't asked.
The elaborated answer:
Drew & I have felt from the very beginning of Eleanor's adoption process that we would never keep it a secret. Here's why... a secret is something that is conducted without the knowledge of others. Eleanor has been ours since the day she was born, so she won't have any personal recollection of the process, but it is still part of her story. We don't ever want her to feel like she doesn't have 100% ownership of her own story. It is hers. Of course, the details of what she knows will depend on her age, what she wants to know, and her ability to understand the details, but it will never be a secret. This is also why the majority of you only know the basics of the adoption and of Eleanor's birth mom. It's Eleanor's story and we don't ever want her to feel like anyone else has more information about her life than she does. We don't have a specific age in mind that we will sit down and "break the news" to her. I don't see it going like that at all. We know that there will be difficult moments. We imagine there will be moments as she gets a bit older and has normal little kid questions (and later, more grown up questions) that it will be a more serious conversation, but it is not now, nor will it ever be, a secret that we keep from her. I mean, really, she has an awesome story. I pray that despite all the feelings she will one day deal with over this that she will always remember that she had a birth mom who loved her enough to make sure she would have a safe & happy life and that she has a Mommy & Daddy who love her enough to make that happen. Period.
Maybe I should end with this, just so I don't sound like I'm telling you all to never bring up adoption. Drew & I are really happy to be Eleanor's parents and we are so grateful for how it happened. It's not a secret, it's just part of our testimony and we are happy to share it. If you ever have sincere questions about adoption (for us or for someone else you know), it's totally okay to bring that up. A really good way to do this would be to say, "I'd really love to talk to you about Eleanor's adoption sometime." You could even elaborate and say, "We are thinking of adoption ourselves and we'd love to hear about your experience" or "I'm just really fascinated with the idea of adoption and if you're willing then I'd love to hear about your journey." Those are really non threatening and inviting ways to start such a conversation.
And just to keep things real... a picture of a snotty nosed Eleanor sitting under my desk, pulling papers out of a box, and gnawing on an old (and unplugged!) computer wire while I type. Parenting win.