It was September, 2010, and we were staying in an old hotel just off the interstate–the only option in a tiny Texas town. I’d become a mommy through adoption just a few hours earlier. Our son was two days old, and I’d just gotten up for my very first midnight feeding. I opened the curtains and fed our new son a bottle by the glow of the streetlight. Our son’s young birth mother was moving to California with her family the next day. She’d just given birth a handful of days earlier and was dreading a cross-country trip in a car, still healing physically and emotionally from all she’d been through. She was going to come to the hotel the next morning to say “good-bye for now.”
As I sat there feeding our baby, I started talking to him about the past few days: about the phone call that set everything into motion, how I’d fallen in love so instantly, how his birth mother had been so brave, how he looked like a scared little bird the first time he saw his new dad, and how the sound of his birth mother crying on her way out of the hospital was something I’d always carry with me. I imagined he could actually understand me, and I stopped myself dozens of times to rephrase the things I wanted him to know, practicing for the day he’d understand what I was saying.
I found myself doing this often–just rocking my son and telling him about how much I missed his birth mom, how his birth mom had texted to check in on him, how I wanted to be a good mom and a good friend to his birth mom all at the same time, how his birth mom was moving back to Texas, and how he’d get to see her when we visited to finalize his adoption. We kept a framed photo of her in our home, and we’d point to her and say her name. When we’d have a new visit, a new photo would go into the frame so he could see himself with her. He began readily pointing out who she was and would blow her kisses when we made videos for her. It built his relationship with her despite the miles between us because she was so present in our home, just as the rest of our loved ones are.
Many adoption resources say, “Start talking to your child about adoption from day one,” but it’s hard to imagine what that looks like. To me, it means talking to them about their story as if they can understand even when they’re too young to. Practice what you want to say. Mess up, try again, and perfect your answers because soon, they will understand. I’ve put together a couple of short lists to get you started.
Tips for talking to your child from day one about their adoption story:
- Keep in mind that you should talk about adoption as a single part of your child’s life. Adoption isn’t who they are; it’s a chapter of their story.
- Treat your conversations like stories filled with details as you paint a picture.
- Choose individual topics (see conversation starters below) instead of broad, sweeping strokes of their entire story.
- Talk about your own love for their birth family.
- Weave in sadness from your own point of view to show that it’s okay to open up about sadness, like, “I miss hearing from your birth mom,” or, “I wish I could have carried you in my tummy.” It’s healthy to share sadness with your child.
Conversation starters and ideas:
- Tell a story about the first time you spoke to/met your child’s birth parent(s). Share your feelings and details about how “right” it felt or your favorite thing about his or her birth mom.
- Ask your child’s birth parent(s) to record a book for your child. There are various titles outlined here.
- Talk about physical and personality characteristics you believe the child got from birth family. “Your eyes sparkle just like your birth mom’s when you smile!”
- Pray together for your child’s birth family.
- Look over a scrap book together or create a personalized children’s book of your own that has your child’s story outlined with photos.
Currently, in our living room, we have a framed photo that shows our son with his birth mom on that morning in the hotel before she left for California. She’s smiling, but her eyes are full of tears. She looks proud of him and empty at the same time. At around 18 months old, he would point and say her name. He’d kiss her photo. Months later, he could tell us he grew in her tummy. We have a video of him scooting closer to the photo and saying he wanted to be near her from the Christmas just after he turned 2. Now, at nearly 4 years old, he can say something much more profound: His birth mom is both sad and happy in this picture. If we ask why, he can say it’s because she was proud of him and loved him and she was sad she couldn’t be his mommy.
Each level of understanding opens the door for other important conversations down the road, so don’t stop trying. It’s not one moment, one effort, or one talk that is going to show your child that you not only embrace him, but that you embrace the people he came from so fully that they’re always a part of the life you share. It’s all of these moments combined.
Do you have something to add to the list of tips, conversation starters and ideas on talking about adoption from day one? Lend your voice and share your ideas!