It’s a familiar scene when I’m out with my five-year-old daughter, Madeline, and the conversation about her adoption comes up. We tell the story from start to finish about how we adopted her as a newborn baby, at just 2.2 pounds and some 12 weeks premature. We say how we sat by her cribside morning, noon, and night for pretty much six weeks while she stayed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). We constantly watched the heart monitor and panicked every time a blip or a beep sounded when it wasn’t supposed to. We talk about trying to take her home six weeks later and not being able to when she failed the car seat test due to being just too darned small at just over four pounds. We also talk about how we held her tiny body against our own skin to stimulate her growth, a technique referred to as Kangaroo Care. There’s also the unforgettable experience of her miniscule fingers clutching our one big finger when we would place it in the palm of her tiny hand. It was literally one memorable moment after another. Eventually, we got to take her home, of course, and we have lived as one big, happy family ever since.
“She is so lucky to have you guys.” This is a phrase I hear all the time from people, and that’s when I start to cringe just a little bit. Surely, most people have entirely good intentions. They certainly mean this as a compliment and aren’t as familiar with using Positive Adoption Language (PAL) as we would all want them to be. That’s why I always try to keep in mind that as an adoptive parent, it is up to me to help loving family and close friends learn the best terminology to use when they say something perfectly well-meaning like this, but just a little semantically incorrect.
The idea of Madeline being lucky just strikes me as peculiar, for one thing. Sure, Madeline has a nice, safe place to call home with a family that will unconditionally love her until the end of time. But, who exactly are the lucky ones here? A closer investigation may unveil a slightly different answer. I know all the other adoptive parents out there must feel the same way about their situation.
Madeline is a happy, healthy, smart, funny, interactive, and adorably affectionate little girl who has been known to give spontaneous and infinite hugs ‘n’ kisses at a moment’s notice. She loves to play with anybody willing to spend quality time with her, and she has a sincere way of making you feel like you are the most important person in the world when you are with her. Needless to say, the waiting room full of prospective parents willing to adopt Madeline would need to have been about the size of a thousand Olympic stadiums. My wife and I just happen to be the couple that was lucky enough to have been chosen by her birth parents to be her mommy and daddy forever.
Of course, the other reason we are careful with this terminology is that it’s not exactly healthy for an adoptive child’s self-confidence to think that they are “lucky” in any way to be adopted by their parents. Therefore, whenever my wife or I hear those words, “She’s so lucky to have you.” Our usual response is something along the lines of “Oh, I think we’re the lucky ones in this situation.”
When people hear that you’re adopting, many times they think that you’re doing it for some sort of altruistic, greater good, selfless reasons. That stuff is really more of a nice side benefit. The truth is we adopted for mostly selfish reasons. We wanted to absorb all the love and positive energy a child can bring to a family. I desperately wanted to run around playing games and enjoying outdoor time with a kid of my own. My wife dreamed of shopping for baby clothes and designing a kid’s bedroom with either girly pinks or boyish blues. Surely, these reasons aren’t what someone would normally consider selfish; that word may be a bit hyperbolic for this situation. The fact remains, however, that we consider us to be the lucky ones. Or maybe the best way to look at it is to say, “We are all lucky to have found each other.” Yes, somehow and someway through all of life’s strange and mysteriously wonderful ways, we managed to find each other.
Aren’t we all very lucky?