Talking to your child about being adopted - From the point of view of an adoptee
For years I have struggled with fully understanding what being adopted means in my life. Stumbling through multiple emotions (including anger, frustration, admiration, confusion, and self-loathing) was a huge part of my childhood. Now my adoption, to me, is the way that I got to the parents that I was always meant to be with. From here on out in this article when I refer to “my mom” or “my dad”, I am referring to my adoptive parents, because, quite frankly, that is what they are to me: my mom and dad.
Sadly, when my mom was nineteen, she had a full hysterectomy. Some years later, after my parents got married and settled into their careers they decided that adoption was their means to completing their family. My Mom worked in the HR department at Mount Sinai Medical Hospital in Miami Beach. She had told some of her co-workers that she and my father were going to pursue adoption. I am not sure how long after they had started toying with the idea of children that I was born almost by mistake, but seems like serendipity to me.
My biological mother was fifteen when she gave birth to me at three pounds and five ounces. As the story goes: she had no idea she was pregnant when she was rushed into the emergency room of Mount Sinai and gave birth to me two and a half months premature. Her family was visiting sunny South Florida on holiday in July of 1988 from Brazil. In the middle of the night, my biological mother, complaining of severe stomach pain, was in the E.R. getting an ultrasound to see if her appendix had ruptured, my heartbeat was heard for the first time. Instead of having an appendicitis, she had me. Needless to say, her parents decided to leave their illegitimate grandchild in the custody of the hospital. My mom got a call that there was a little girl that needed a home shortly after my birth. I was very sick and too small to be brought home right away, but my parents decided that I was going to be their daughter and I could not be more grateful.
Often, when people find out that I was adopted the first words out of their mouth is, “Have you ever met your real mom?” My quick almost callus answer to this ignorant question is always, “Yes, she wiped my ass when I was little and helped pay for my college education.” Because, you see, anyone can give birth to a child, but not everyone can be a parent. Parents are made in their heart, born from the undying love and care they give to their children. The next question that is usually posed is, “How old were you when you found out?” This answer I take a lot of pride in, because I think my folks got it right, I always say with a loving smile, “I have always known.”
I feel that is the biggest gift that my parents have given to me, their honesty. Yes, when I was three I did not know what being adopted meant, I just knew I was and that was enough. I had the fortune of never being shocked by it. The other wonderful thing my parents always did was answer any questions I had to the best of their ability. I think they have told me the same things over and over and they never tired of it.
I remember the moment that I realized that my adoption made my family a little different. I was about seven and my mom and I were sitting with me in my pediatrician’s waiting room. Sitting across from us was a new mother trying to settle her crying baby. With a look of distress, she feebly attempted to grin at my mom while she asked, “How long were you in labor with your daughter?” I will never forget the loving look my mom gave me as she said, “Actually, Kristen was adopted. I think her birth mother was not in labor for too long.” The new mother looked embarrassed and apologized for asking. My mom just gave her a kind smile and said, “It is just the way my daughter was brought to me.”
Looking back on that memory, I respect my mom so much, she never lied once. Neither did my dad. He used to take me out to dinner just the two of us when I was having a rough time. He would sit, listening to my pain of feeling different or not understanding. I cannot imagine how hard that had been for either of them, because in their eyes, I was their daughter and that was that. It never once mattered to them that their blood was not pumping through my veins; they have unconditional love for me just like any other parent would for their child, maybe even more so than some.
There is no perfect way to tell your son or daughter that they are adopted, but it is their right to know. In the long run, please trust me, your child will respect you more for it. Tell them as young as you can, and when they start asking questions, answer them truthfully, even if the truth hurts. It is better coming from you honestly the first time then years down the road by mistake. Also, please think of the health reasons for your child knowing they are adopted. If, God forbid, down the road your child needs an organ transplant, what will you do then? That is not an opportune time to be outted. And now with the internet the way that it is, when I Google my name, my adoption records come up. Younger and younger, children are becoming technologically savvy. All I am trying to say is make sure that your child finds out in a loving way, not blindsided by the information. Being adopted is a beautiful thing. One by one, we need to break this taboo that our society puts on it.
My mother wrote me a story about being born in her heart; how mommies and daddies are meant to be with their children and sometimes their babies have to find them in different ways. I am so proud to call my parents mine because they were supposed to be the ones that taught me how to ride a bike and move me into my first college dorm.
To every adoptive parent out there, I commend you. And to every adoptee out there, I commend you too. I believe at a family is not made because of blood; a family is made from love. I think any mother will agree to that, adoptive or biological.
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