Secrecy vs. Privacy in Adoption

Once again, my four-year-old daughter has put an issue in front of my face that has forced me to rethink my usual stance. I was picking her up from daycare, with her baby brother in tow, when one of the moms made a comment to me about “how interesting the gene pool works.” She noted that my daughter is so dark and petite, while my son is so big and blonde. I replied very casually, “That’s because my daughter’s gene pool is that of her birth parents. We adopted her.”

Immediately after I spoke, my daughter hauled me away to the swings and said she had a secret to tell me. I leaned down to listen. She whispered in my ear, “I don’t want to grow in Monica’s tummy anymore. I want to grow in yours.” I knew, of course, what she was trying to say: “Shut up, Mom, I don’t want everyone to know I’m adopted.”

I gave her a big hug and said, “I wish you grew in my tummy too, Sweetheart, but Mommy couldn’t grow you. I am glad Monica could. I am so happy that we adopted you!” That seemed to be okay with her for the moment. She proceeded to show me her latest feat– how to swing standing up!

Obviously, I am proud of our adoption experience and love to talk about it openly with everyone. I also feel strongly that as adoptive parents, we should talk about adoption openly and willingly. Otherwise, the secrecy and shame that sometimes permeates the topic will never go away.

Yes, children who have been adopted have the right to privacy, but privacy is not the same as secrecy. A secret is something that is kept from someone to whom the information pertains. Privacy involves sharing personal information with people who have a relevant need to know. When a stranger asks if my daughter looks like her father, I answer, “No, she’s much prettier than my husband.” When I am asked who my daughter resembles most in our family, I answer, “No one, she has her very own look.” Both of these responses are perfectly true. But with a question so pointedly aimed at my child’s genetic makeup, I feel it is my responsibility to answer honestly and with pride. If I ignored (or agreed with) the woman’s remark, my daughter could interpret that to mean that I am uncomfortable with or shameful of the truth.

Ideally, my daughter will be able to answer these questions on her own some day, and however she chooses. Until that day comes, it is my responsibility as her parent to arm her with easy, truthful answers to the intrusive questions she will be faced with. There will no doubt come a day when a playmate will ask her, “Why are you brown and your mom is white?” Although my goal would be for her to answer, “Because my birth parents are brown,” I can’t really imagine it being that simple. Adoption is a hard enough concept for adults to grasp, let alone children. She might choose to keep her adoption story private, or she might feel like sharing it with the world. Either way, it’s her history to do with as she pleases. And she can swing standing up, too.

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Rebecca Gold is an adoptive mom and the author of “Till There Was You – An Adoption Expectancy Journal” (1998, Pineapple Press). Write to her with questions and comments at RebGold@aol.com or visit her website at http://members.aol.com/pynappress.