Erica Schlaefer is an adoptive mom and co-founder of Parenthood for Me.org. Her non-profit is dedicated to helping those building families through adoption or medical intervention by providing emotional and financial support along with educational tools. Visit her at her blog, ParenthoodForMe.
Shortly after my husband and I decided to adopt I was in a group of acquaintances and strangers when someone congratulated me on our decision. Others proceeded to say congratulations and ask questions such as, where are you adopting from? Do you know if it is a boy or girl? I explained that we were adopting from South Korea, and we had just begun the process.
Then a person remarked,”Better take that ‘Made-in-Korea’ sticker off right away.” Feeling awkward I abruptly ended the conversation and left the room. I had been warned through my adoption class that people may make inappropriate and hurtful comments. But nothing can prepare you for being blindsided by a rude remark. The comment was not only prejudiced but completely unfounded; it reminded me of something a kid would say rather than a 50 year-old man. Through these experiences I have come to learn that many people simply do not know how to react to the news of adoption.
When we hear of pregnancy, the reaction is easy — joy. The questions and comments are commonplace. When are you due, do you know the gender, what names have you picked out? With adoption there is a lack of understanding that the adoptive parents feel all the same emotions as expectant parents through pregnancy: anxiety, excitement, financial worries, etc. In fact, many don’t regard adoptive parents as expectant parents at all. They are looked at in a different light. There is a story behind the adoption that harbors curious questions or thoughts.
Adoptive parents often receive comments like, “Oh, you’ll adopt and then get pregnant. That happens all the time.” This is hurtful because it diminishes the excitement of the adoption by making it sound like it is a means to an end and not a happy and joyous way to become parents. Other remarks include, “That child is so lucky to have you. You saved his life.” Or, “How much did your baby cost?”
Again, the adoptive parent is faced with negativity when trying to celebrate the milestone of pending parenthood. Adoptive parents are trained how to answer insensitive questions gracefully by reminding people that the parents are very lucky to have been brought together with the child. We educate people by pointing out that the baby didn’t cost anything, however the adoption process entails paying agency fees, attorney fees, and travel fees to name a few of the costs. I have never heard anyone ask a pregnant woman how much she paid in medical bills to have her baby.
Generally, adoptive parents are open to questions about their adoption, eager to share their feelings of excitement associated with bringing a child into their lives. Just as a pregnant couple speaks of the ultrasounds or the baby kicking in the womb, an adoptive parent will be excited to fill everyone in on the steps they are making towards bringing their child home.
The decision to adopt is very exciting and can be equivalent to the announcement of a pregnancy. The Match, when adoptive parents find out who their child will be, is like an ultrasound. The child is visible, and the concept of becoming parents becomes more real.
Progress reports from the adoption agency which sometimes include photos would be comparable to the different stages of pregnancy and how the baby develops. An adoptive parent’s gestational period can unfortunately be much longer than nine months. Depending on what type of adoption a couples undergoes the entire process can take years. Our wait period from the time we received our referral (the match with our son) until he came home was rather short at only 7 months.
The concept of having the bag packed and ready to go when the mother’s water breaks holds true for adoptive parents as well. We were given a rough estimate of when our son would come home, but we waited anxiously for The Call from the agency saying the paperwork had cleared, and he was ready to come home. I received the call at work, and it was one of the most thrilling days of my life. After all of the waiting and planning we were finally going to meet our son. We had tried for 4 years to conceive a child; knowing our son would be in our arms in 3 short days was beyond amazing.
The “delivery” of our son was a lot less painful no doubt. He came over from Seoul to JFK escorted by someone hired by the agency. When he rounded the bend in his umbrella stroller, he looked exactly like his pictures. He was there in the flesh, and the kisses and hugs we received melted our hearts. At 15 months he was too big to swaddle, but he was our little bundle of joy. We were elated to feel his skin, smell his hair, and look him in the eyes.
It was so wonderful to have a baby in the house. The adjustment consisted of sleepless nights, fumbling with bottles and baby food, and changing our first poopy diapers. We were learning about him and he was learning about us. One thing we did not have to learn but felt the instant we saw his picture was love. Our hearts and minds were open to a little boy that came into our lives through circumstance and luck.
How we become parents does not matter; we are caretakers and providers to little beings who need our love and guidance. After the baby showers, and births, and adoption finalizations are all done our children grow day by day. We face the same and sometimes different challenges with our children. We will explain to our son that he is adopted and tell him the story of his birth and how we became a family. The love we feel for our children has no boundaries, it is colorblind and all-encompassing.
A child’s existence in our lives is a miracle no matter how the family came together.