When I adopted my daughter, I was thrilled to be a mom—something I had wanted to be for a long time. If you’ve adopted, you may know the pain of finding out you couldn’t carry a child for a multitude of reasons, you might have tried other ways to become a parent, and you may have cried when yet another friend became pregnant while you continued to wait to become a parent.
I was excited to join a moms group. I had heard from my friends that it was an awesome place to get support, tips to help with teething, etc. What I didn’t expect was a rude awakening: some mothers who have delivered babies view those of us who haven’t as “less than.” I learned this quickly during a conversation about childbirth when a mom said, “Oh, you don’t understand what it’s like. You don’t have your own child.”
First of all, she is “my own.” I’m her mother and she is my daughter. Maybe I don’t know the pain of childbirth, but I understand the pain of a failed adoption. I understand the grief of knowing that my joy in becoming a mother is because of someone else’s loss. I had hoped this uncomfortable scenario was one only I had faced only to find out that’s not the case.
Becky Fawcett, Founder of Helpusadopt.org, once had a friend say within a big group conversation about childbirth, “Don’t worry. We still think you’re a real mom even though you didn’t give birth.” Statements like this can often make women who haven’t given birth uncomfortable when conversations about parenting come up.
“I’ve been asked on multiple occasions, ‘Don’t you ever wish you’d had your own children’?” says Fawcett. “I do have my own children—they are very much my own in every sense of the word. I think what they mean is do I ever wish I’d been pregnant. For me, being pregnant was never what was truly important, but for some, this is a very painful question. I wish there would just be more sensitivity and compassion to the subject at hand.”
Jami notes that she, too, found herself feeling uncomfortable with conversations centered around giving birth.
“Pregnancy is such an expected, common, normal event for women,” she says. “People, both men and women, talk about it as an assumption, and as a way of life. As someone who isn’t able to birth a child, I feel that devastating loss. I feel the ache of not being able to do what women are made to do. Most people ask questions with the assumption that I am able to have children. Before we adopted, I fielded all kinds of questions about when we would have a baby, how many we would have, and didn’t I want to be a mom. Now, as I enter into conversations about children, I field questions about why I didn’t want to have my own children. I have joined many mommy and me groups only to drop out after several meetings because the conversations are just too hard. For me, it has been a lonely journey without many people in similar situations. In general, I have found most groups too focused on putting people in boxes rather than being open to each unique story with humility and grace as the similarity we all share.”
Janet notes that she didn’t feel uncomfortable in a setting with other mothers because in general conversation, she shared experiences with other moms, about the kids growing, illnesses, school, etc. However, she often had to field other insensitive comments. “I was 37 when my husband and I were able to adopt our daughter,” she says. “All too often, people equated me with being her grandmother, not her mother.”
Additionally, it’s often hard for mothers through adoption to talk about issues they are facing. Amanda notes that she faced postpartum depression after adopting her daughter. “I was so committed to the process, rather than allowing myself to prepare for what life would be like once we brought our daughter home,” she says. Amanda loved being a mom and loved her daughter, but she was struggling on the inside and felt completely alone in her feelings. “I never felt comfortable enough to share the internal struggle as postpartum depression is generally associated with biological factors that, as a mother through the blessing of adoption, I felt exempt from.”
Being a parent through adoption comes with its own set of complications that parents have to navigate, and it’s sad when they don’t feel like they can share this with the people that should be there to support them: other parents.
Parents are parents. We all have struggles, and we all have triumphs. We all need someone to help us talk through and celebrate the milestones we face.