Immediately upon announcing our adoption, we were asked countless times why we weren’t pursuing IVF or IUI. Why weren’t you trying harder for biological “real” children “of our own?”
Then came more inquiries, challenging our motives and the route we decided on first, which was infant domestic adoption: “Why aren’t you adopting from the foster care system? There are so many available children waiting for forever homes.” “I’m surprised you didn’t choose international adoption; there are so many older kids waiting in China or Uganda or…”
“I would tease my brother, tell him he was adopted, but I am glad he isn’t actually adopted, that he is my real brother…” This was part of a toast at a wedding I photographed during our adoption process. My jaw dropped. My heart sank. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
Six months into our adoption journey, I discovered I was pregnant again and we knew more than anything that we were still pursuing a baby through domestic adoption. I had three different people (who didn’t know me well, nor were they close to me) ask me to coffee to explain to me how I was making a terrible decision to continue our adoption; “Your first responsibility is your own baby, isn’t that what you really want anyways?” they each said and asked as they pointed to my womb. I cannot tell you how traumatizing these moments were.
As the questions flooded, the statements stated, the comments spewed, shame was flung in our direction and our hearts felt entirely misunderstood. Misunderstood, misheard, unknown.
For our situation, far more people were encouraging than not. We encountered a definite handful of questions, inquiries, challenges during our journey of adoption, but most people were uplifting and supportive. But it isn’t so for too many families.
I posed this question in one of my adoption Facebook groups: What have you seen or experienced regarding shame with adoption? The amount of people who responded, sharing their experiences of unfiltered questions coated in shame, blew my mind.
I believe in words. Words have so much power to help and encourage or to hurt and degrade. People too often say the most damaging, uneducated, uncaring things. I hope for a day where adoption becomes normalized: where adoption, no matter the route chosen and taken, is not judged or shamed, but celebrated and viewed as a healthy, normal, and beautiful way to make a real and valid family.
Sometimes the judgement and shame is hidden in positive-sounding words that are still detrimental – comments that assume birth parents are drug addicts and worthless, invasive questions by strangers that aren’t anyone’s business to ask, statements about the non-existent savior-complex of adoptive parents, comments, or statements that our children by adoption are ‘so lucky’ when my biological child never receives such a comment.
Here are some of the ways me and my fellow parents by adoption or foster care have experienced shame.
Which Route To Take: International vs. Domestic Infant vs. Foster Care
Possibly the most common reason to be shamed during adoption, is surrounding this question: but why did you choose that route?
Each family is unique and makes educated decisions about which route to choose, and yet this is one of the most frequent ways families of adoption are shamed. Even by people from within the adoption and foster care community.
We must stop this, all of us. It is unhelpful and unhealthy. To assume a couple or single person has not heavily considered and weighed the various routes of adoption is ridiculous. You can guarantee that anyone who is stepping into adoption or foster care has decided upon a specific route for their specific reasons, reasons that aren’t anyone’s business. Not even your mother’s.
The need for adoption is great and vast in all of these areas; the world is not short of children awaiting forever families.
Not Pursuing Biological Children First Or At All
Many couples decide to start (and continue) their family with children via adoption.
Some have tried biologically and decide not to pursue infertility interventions while others simply don’t have a desire to grow their family biologically. Some decide to start their families with adoption and decide later if they want to try for a biological child. Some decide to become foster parents with the openness to adopting, if that becomes an option.
Quite a few women shared with me that their doctor’s told them they were selfish for adopting when they could biologically procreate. Selfish because they were “taking babies from women who were infertile.”
Whatever the reason, there should never be shame about choosing not to add your children biologically.
Some of the comments/questions/statements that bring shame and are especially hurtful:
“Oh, you couldn’t have babies of your own?”
“Is he YOUR son? No I mean your REAL son?”
Fundraising/ Financing Your Adoption
I would dare to say more people are supportive and want to join your village when it comes to fundraising and financing your adoption. But there are of course those few people who stick out like a sore thumb, shaming you and making you feel entirely worthless for fundraising.
“If you cannot afford to adopt, you shouldn’t adopt.” This statement is unreal. Who has tens of thousands of dollars lying around? If you do, congrats. Send some our way, start a grant fund, support some adoptions. The amount of children waiting for their forever family is much more than the amount of people with tens of thousands stored away…or at least the amount who desire to spend those dollars on adoption fees.
“You saved to finance the adoption of your fancy breed dog ($1800+), why can’t you save enough to pay for your adoption fees ($20,000+)?” Really? We are comparing children to pets?
If insurance wasn’t available to pay for the hospital bills incurred for biological children, why are we so quick to judge and shame families seeking financial assistance to pay for the fees regarding adoption?
When Parenting Is Hard
I have a dear friend who is a foster parent. Often when she vulnerably shares with me about the depths of difficulty she is living, she prefaces with, “I know we signed up for this but..” My heart crashes a bit.
Who said parenting of any kind was easy? Who ever expects that? Why do we hold unreal expectations for parents of adoption and foster care to not share their trials and grief, throwing into their face: “You chose this, you wanted it.” How lonely, unseen, misunderstood is that? Too many parents have shared that their family members or friends judge and shame them with this statement or one similar to it.
Parenting is hard. Parenting is taxing. Parenting is exhausting and takes every part of you. Biological, adoptive, fostering. But especially parenting via adoption and foster care where trauma and loss are enormous parts of our children’s identity and story, where attachment disorders can be nearly expected.
I hope for a world where everyone can share vulnerably and ask for help without shame, without the fear of being assumed as unthankful. Not being able to ask for help is entirely lonely.
On both ends of the spectrum, moms experience shaming when they decide to breastfeed their children of adoption and when they don’t.
Every single family decides differently on the way they go about attachment and bonding. Some people decide to cocoon in ways that others don’t, and too often there is side-eye with some shame thrown around, within the adoption community. Read What is Cocooning, Should I Try it With My Adopted Child?
Many families pursue children with special needs. They feel set up, equipped, and even destined or called to parent children with special needs. But the comments coated in shame? Hurled and thrown and spewed.
“Why would you do that to your family? To your marriage? To your kids?”
“Why would you do that when you can adopt a ‘healthy’ baby?”
“Did the birth mom do drugs to cause this?”
Transracial/ Different Race Adoption
“How can you ensure you adopt a white baby with blue eyes that looks like you?” The question was asked over Baja Fresh. I took that time to educate what little I knew about transracial adoption at the time, about how we celebrate different races and cultures, about how we wanted to be available for whatever expectant mom deemed us to be her child’s parents. We shared about openness and honesty in adoption, about how uniqueness is what makes us each so beautiful, about how we will do everything we can to celebrate and honor whatever culture is added to our family.
Some other shame-filled and damaging questions that have been asked of me and my transracial adoptive friends:
“Is that your baby?” … “Yes, yes this is my baby.” … “He’s a different race/color than you.” … “Yes, yes he is.”
“Did you WANT a black baby?”
“I want a little black baby someday.”
“Was he cheaper?”
“Didn’t you want a baby that looked like you?”
“Didn’t you want a baby that looked like he/she was actually yours?”
“Oh..his people didn’t want him/her?”
“They shouldn’t have him/her.” (Mainly said from people of the child’s birth culture).
“That child doesn’t belong with them.” (Mainly said from people of the child’s birth culture).
“He doesn’t look that black/latino/etc.” As if this is a good thing. As if there is shame to be anything other than white.
“Does he speak English?” … “Yes, he’s a baby. Also, he is from America, so…”
“Good thing you got a white baby. I hear they are hard to come by.” My white friend was told this and she was flabbergasted.
The shame regarding adoption is too much. I was unable to hear from any Birth/First Parents or Adoptees regarding the shame they encounter, but I expect both of those parts run into just as much shaming.
Words are powerful. Assumptions lead to shame and help no one. I look forward to a day when adoptive families can be truly seen as regular and normal families, when shame has no place and is less than the norm. Will you help us create a world where adoption has less shame?