Adoption Is Not Made of Heroes

Adoption demands humility.

Natalie Brenner June 09, 2017
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“Wow, you are so amazing for adopting. I could never do that. Really, good for you. Your son is lucky to have you.” Sincerity resides in her eyes, her voice calm, every syllable supposed to be some sort of compliment.

My stomach twists, forming into knots from the tension I feel between her well-meant intent crashing into the impact of her words. The weight of her words. The twistedness of her words.

This is a scenario I often find myself in. When I say often, I mean nearly every single family outing and multiple times per. I kind of get it–adoption isn’t for everyone. Building your family through adoption takes an incredible amount of decision making. Adoption demands humility.

But so does being a parent, no matter how your children come to you.

Nearly every parent by adoption I know finds themselves in conversations like this. Conversations suggesting they are some sort of hero, their kids are the lucky ones, what they’ve done is above the standard.

Conversations suggesting I am a hero for being my son’s mom suggests he is more difficult to love or parent than my biological son. It suggests it takes heroic effort to choose to love someone who doesn’t share your blood or DNA. We are no saviors. We are parents.

I’ve never once had anyone refer to me as a hero when talking about being our biological son’s parent.

If anyone in the adoption triad can be referred to as a hero, it would be expectant mothers (and supportive family) choosing to place their children for adoption. Their decision to place their children into another family, into another set of arms, is courageous. But it is also a courageous things for moms to decide to parent when circumstances make life difficult, challenging.

Adoption is not made of heroes.

HERO: a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.

Why is loving a vulnerable child outside of our bloodline and DNA considered a courageous, noble, outstanding achievement? How did we get to a point in society where loving someone who doesn’t share our DNA is groundbreaking? Why is choosing to love others whose stories are born out of brokenness outstanding?

Telling my son (by adoption) he is lucky is much more complex than a quick, well-meaning comment. His story was born out of tragedy, he was born into loss. Though we do our best to keep contact with his biological parents, he lost histories of his genetics before he had the chance to know them.

Telling an adoptee they’re lucky, their parents are heroes, implies they should be thankful they were adopted. But what if part of their heart grieves this aspect of their identity? What if part of their story feels a bit broken, because their biological parents were unable to raise them?

I’m a big fan of words. I asked in a couple of my adoption groups what emotions were incited when people refer to them/adoptive parents as heroes, whether they are adoptees, birth mothers, or adoptive parents.

Here is some of what was shared:

“I can’t stand it! I usually correct them. I say, ‘I didn’t save him! He definitely saved us if anything. His birth family is full of incredible people. He didn’t need saving from anything.’”

“I don’t feel like a hero. I don’t. I feel like I can barely make it through a day without breaking at some point. We are doing hard things…surrounded by the grace of God. But I’m no hero.”

“People say, ‘Thanks for adopting.’ I know they mean well, but I just don’t get it. I always say ‘We are the lucky ones, our kids have blessed us so much.’”

“It makes me uncomfortable. I adopted for selfish reasons; not bad, just selfish. I wanted a child. I wasn’t heroic. Brave to do it by myself, yes. Heroic, nope. Not at all.”

“We adopted because we wanted a baby. We did foster adoption because it was what we could afford. I love my child but it wasn’t some selfless act to foster or adopt him.”

“If anyone deserves praise, it should be my daughter’s birth mom who made the unselfish decision to place her.”

“When someone tells me our daughter is lucky to have us, I cringe. I feel like we are the lucky ones. Her birth mom wasn’t a bad person and is a good mother–birth mothers have bad reputations it seems. As an adoptee, I do feel like my parents saved me and I feel so very thankful to them for doing so. They took in a toddler when no one else would or could. They’ve never made me feel like I had to be thankful, I just have been.”

“I hate it. I did not adopt to save someone. I am no hero.”

“As an adoptive parent, I dislike it. I didn’t save anyone! My kids weren’t orphans. I cringe a bit now when I hear it about biological/birth moms too – parenting is heroic.”

“I don’t like it. I adopted because I wanted to be a mom, that doesn’t make me a hero.”

Adoption is not made of heroes.

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Natalie Brenner

Natalie Brenner is wife to Loren and mom to two under two, living in Portland, Oregon. She is the best-selling author of This Undeserved Life. She likes her wine red, ice cream served by the pint, and conversations vulnerable. Natalie believes in the impossible and hopes to create safe spaces for every fractured soul. She's addicted to honesty and believes grief is the avenue to wholeness. Natalie is a bookworm, a speaker, and a lover of fall. Connect with her at NatalieBrennerWrites.com and join her email community.


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