One day, I was in the checkout line at the grocery store. My infant son was with me, sitting in the cart, smiling and batting his beautiful dark eyes at anyone who looked his way. We are a transracial adoptive family and are used to being approached about our adoption, so when the cashier asked in an overly-friendly tone if my son was adopted, I wasn’t surprised. I smiled and responded in the affirmative as I focused on getting my groceries on the belt. Suddenly, she exclaimed, “Oh THANK YOU! Thank your for adopting him!” I was mortified. I was embarrassed. I didn’t know how to respond to such undeserved accolades. I paid as quickly as I could while mumbling something about how I was the lucky one in this situation. That was a few years ago, but my face still flushes at the memory of it.
It is not uncommon for adoptive parents to find themselves at the center of praise for adopting their children. They hear things like, “You are amazing,” “What a lucky child,” and “Thank you for being so selfless.” I always feel extremely uncomfortable when those things are expressed, both to myself and to others around me. The truth is I am not amazing. I am not selfless, and in so many ways, my child is not “lucky.” I am no hero. I did not save my child by adopting him.
My son has a biological family full of good people. They love him. His birth mother is a wonderful mother to the children she parents. If my son had stayed with his birth family, I have no doubt that he would have grown up to be a good, educated, confident, productive member of society. However, due to the circumstances surrounding her pregnancy, his birth mother felt that adoption was the best choice at that time. She made an extremely hard, thoughtful and difficult decision to place him into our home.
I did not save my child by adopting him.
To an outsider, adoption seems so joyous, but for those of us who live it, we know the other side of things. We understand no matter how deeply grateful we are to have our children, the circumstances which brought them into our home are tragic. A child was separated from their family. Someday, that child will experience feelings of loss and grief over this.
In our instance, not only was our son separated from his biological mother, but he was taken out of his culture and placed in a new home where he looks different from the rest of us. Of course, we do our best to provide him with racial mirrors, to celebrate his beautiful skin and to educate him about his ancestors, but there will be struggles that come from this separation. I know there will be times when my son will feel anything but “lucky,” and I refuse to put such an idea in his mind that he should somehow feel “thankful” that we adopted him.
Someday, as my son reflects back on his life story, he will have to make a conclusion. If it was up to him, would he change things? Would he have rather stayed with his biological family, been raised in his culture, surrounded by people who look like him and experienced the struggles that situation would have brought? Or would he keep things they way they were; being raised by us, growing up in our family, not having the struggles he may have experienced if he had stayed with his birth family, BUT having different struggles. Struggles like finding his identity within a family where he stands out, working through the feelings of loss due to his adoption and wishing he had been raised in a family that could adequately teach him what it means to be who he is. I don’t pretend to know what conclusion my son will draw, it will be his to make on his own. As his mother, my job is to love him regardless.
He is not better off without his birth parents. In fact, he still desperately needs them.
So please don’t ever think that my son has been saved from anything. He is not better off without his birth parents. In fact, he still desperately needs them. This is why we have chosen to have an open adoption. He needs those connections. He needs those relationships. He needs to know the people from which he came. I will do everything in my power to encourage and facilitate those relationships.
I am his mother, his nurturer and his biggest cheerleader, but I am absolutely not his savior. So, please don’t ever treat me as such.