“All in one moment I wanted to tell this person what I thought, but also realized she really didn’t care to know. I felt like I needed to stick up for myself, but knew it wasn’t worth it,” said Jody, a birth mother.

All too often we are faced with ignorant responses by people who have no clue that what they’ve just said has caused hurt and sometimes anger. Like Jody, we often feel a need to explain ourselves, but rarely receive a response that is any less ignorant than the original comment or question.

As birth mothers, do we have the responsibility to speak openly about our experiences, even when we will receive criticism or negative responses?

Several months ago I was sitting in the orthodontist’s chair about to have molds done. The orthodontist had read my chart, and as he pulled on my mouth, he asked nonchalantly and admittedly with little interest, “So, what’s Breakthrough?” I waited until his hands were removed from my mouth and replied, “I produce live adoption events and work in adoption outreach.” He asks, “Wow, what made you want to do that? Did you adopt?” I responded, “No, I am a birth mother.” He paused (that uncomfortable, hesitating pause) and then replied, “Oh, that must be really hard, I don’t know how you could have done that.” I smiled and said, “Well, would you like to know how?” He stopped instantly. Then, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “You know Courtney, I really don’t. I said that because I didn’t know what else to say. I’m sorry. What should I have said?”

I patted his hand on my shoulder and said reassuringly, “You should have said that it was interesting and then filled my mouth with that awful pink stuff and left it at that.” I went on to tell him that if he doesn’t really want to know something, he shouldn’t ask about it. Since then, we’ve established a great camaraderie. Every time I walk into the office, he hollers, “How are you today Courtney?” and all the staff hollers back, “Are you sure you want to know?” We all have a great laugh about it. And also, since then, he has pulled me into his office and honestly sat down and asked me just how it was I did what I did. Recently, I got a Mother’s Day card in my mailbox from my orthodontist, and inside he wrote, “For how you did what you did and the ways in which you continue to do what you do … Happy Mother’s Day from your ortho who really does want to know how you’re doing.”

What I’ve learned is that most people respond because they are either uncomfortable or they’re just ignorantly trying to support you in the wrong way. I have also learned that the greatest comeback to a negative response is always a question.

For instance, several Christmases ago, as we were wrapping gifts at my grandmother’s house, I started talking about my birth son. My grandfather piped up and said with a stern voice, “He’s loved and taken care of, that’s what matters most.”

To which I replied, “Oh really grandpa? So you’ve been in contact? You’ve seen him? I would love to know how he’s being loved and taken care of!”

My grandfather just gave me a challenged look and went on to finish wrapping.

Oftentimes others simply don’t know what to say. That was two years ago. Just this week I received a phone call from the same grandfather. He told me, “I woke straight up at 4:30 this morning and felt this urgent need to pray for Jonothan.” Jonothan is my birth son. I immediately panicked, thinking something was wrong and he had sensed it. “What’s wrong, is he okay?” My grandfather said, “I don’t know Courtney … what I do know though is that Jonothan is a part of my family and it’s about time I started praying for him just like I do all you kids.”

As we respond honestly and with compassion, asking return questions that encourage the “asker” to re-examine his or her motives, we help others understand the beauty of adoption.