My (biological) daughters and I often talk about adoption and foster care. It’s important for them to be fully informed and as well-prepared as possible for when we do welcome more children into our family. I know that 8-year-olds can be surprisingly mature, but they also have a tendency to forget or remember ideas incorrectly if they’re not discussed over time.
The subject of adoption most recently came up as part of a family conversation about gestational surrogacy, an agreement in which a woman gestates and gives birth to another person’s child and signs over parental rights after birth.
Sadia (me, mom): If a mommy and daddy can’t make their own baby, sometimes they’ll ask a doctor to put the egg and sperm in another lady. That lady grows the baby for them. She’s not the baby’s mom, even though the baby grows in her belly.
Marie (8-year-old twin): Does the belly-mom ever try to keep the baby?
Sadia: I don’t think that’s common but, unfortunately, I have heard of that happening.
Marie: But it’s not her baby! Isn’t that kidnapping?
Sadia: I certainly think so, but the time right after a baby comes out of your belly is very emotional. That’s why all the parents write down a promise, called a contract, about what will happen before the baby goes in the belly-mom to grow. Then, if they break the contract, it’s almost like breaking the law.
Julie (8-year-old twin): Do the real parents have to adopt their baby?
Sadia: I’m not sure, actually. That’s a really good question. I’ll find out for you. (I did some research, and it appears that the rules vary by state within the US. In Louisiana, for example, parents do have to adopt their genetic child if he or she is gestated by a gestational surrogate.)
Julie: I know it doesn’t matter if you’re adopted, but I’m glad I came from you.
Marie: Me too.
Sadia: I am too, sweeties. But I know for a fact that I would love you just the same if you had to come to me from someone else’s belly.
Marie: I know. Just don’t tell me!
Marie: If I were adopted, I wouldn’t want to know.
Sadia: I respect your opinion, and I’m not saying you’re wrong, but I disagree.
Marie: How come?
Sadia: Well, I would be concerned that they would eventually find out, and it would be much harder to find out you were adopted from someone who isn’t your parents.
Marie: I guess. But what if you never find out?
Sadia: I guess that might be okay, but it would feel dishonest to me. And you can’t be sure that they won’t find out. The reason I feel really strongly about this is that my sister found out she was adopted when she was a grown-up, and it really hurt her. I know we told her when she was little, but maybe she didn’t understand or didn’t remember, and when she learned she was adopted all over again, it really hurt her. It didn’t help that she found out during a big argument with our mom.
Our conversation left me thinking about my usage the sentence, “It doesn’t matter if you’re adopted.” I’ve always used it to express my conviction that a biological child has no greater claim to his or her parents’ love than a biological child would have. But it’s not true that having been adopted doesn’t matter. If I believed it didn’t matter, I wouldn’t feel so strongly that children who were adopted need to be told their history by people who love them.
It does matter if you’re adopted. It means that you were so loved that your parents went out into the world to find you. It means they chose you as their child.
When I say, “It doesn’t matter if you’re adopted,” what I mean is, “Love makes a family.”
Love is what makes a family. What makes a family is being there every day and putting one another first, through joy and heartache, harmony and disagreement, right and wrong. Making the right choices instead of the easy ones, disciplining instead of giving in, forgiving instead of blaming–these are the things that make a parent.
Whether your children are yours through biology or adoption, they are yours through love.