Adoption Conversations Aren’t Always Easy

When I was a first-time mom, I was at a grocery store with my husband and adopted newborn son. We ran into an acquaintance whom we had not seen in a while and got to talking. He saw that we had a car seat in the cart and asked about the baby. As excited new parents, we wanted to share our bundle of joy with anyone and everyone. It was like a rite of passage after enduring years of infertility and our extreme desire to be parents. 

Our son had been lovingly placed in our arms shortly after his birth by his birth parents and we adopted him. We shared a little of our story with this man in the store, and his first response was not one of congratulations, but of how expensive adoption must be. Because we had read about other people’s experiences with the same kind of encounter, we did not feel immediately put off but knew that this could be a time to redirect the conversation. This encounter made us realize that people are not always going to know what to say or how to say the right things when it comes to adoption, but as members of the adoption triad (birth parents, adoptive parents, adoptees), we do not have the obligation to share every detail or answer every question. We can steer discussions in a new direction to help encourage positive and realistic adoption conversations.

Adoptive parents

As an adoptive parent, I get frequent questions about why we chose adoption and what the process was like. We also get questions that come from ignorance and are not well thought out. Someone once asked me, “Aren’t you afraid that his real mom will come to try to get him back?” I did not get offended, but I used it as an opportunity to shift the conversation and help this man understand adoption and correct terms better. After telling him about how my son’s birth mother lovingly placed him with us and how we continue to have an open and healthy relationship, he was surprised and grateful that I took the time to explain it to him. 

There are many myths surrounding adoption, and adoptive parents can help change the narrative by sharing their stories and experiences with adoption with others. Family and friends do not have to be experts on adoption, but they can be informed, and adoptive parents are a great resource to help them learn. My family and friends have learned from our experiences, and our conversations have helped them use correct language. 

Adoptive parents can help foster positive and realistic adoption conversations by using correct adoption language and helping others understand appropriate adoption language. How we speak about adoption and the language we use can affect how others view adoption. For an article detailing some positive alternatives to phrases used when speaking about adoption, which help create a more compassionate approach to the process, click here.  

Birth Parents

The day after my son was born, he and his birth mother were still in the hospital and had visitors coming in and out all day long. One of the visitors was a teenager who mentioned that she had recently found out that she was pregnant. She held the baby and looked into the eyes of my son’s birth mother, Julie, and asked, “How could you give him up?” Julie took a minute to compose herself and indicated that she was not giving him up, but that she was making a decision for him that was what she thought was best for him. She talked about how much love she had for him and wanted more for him than she could offer. After taking lots of time to research adoption and think and pray about her decision, she felt that this was what was right for her and for him. When she saw my husband and my adoption profile, she felt that we were meant to be his parents. Julie was strong in her conviction. 

As a birth mother, she has always been an advocate for adoption. She uses her experience and knows that not everyone will make the same choice, but she likes to share that it is an option.  Throughout the years following that conversation in the hospital room, she has continued to share about her positive experience with adoption. She honestly talks about what feelings she has and how hard it was, but she has never regretted her decision. Having an open relationship with him and us has helped with this. As she talks to other people, she is able to tell them about the interests that he has. Julie now has four other children, and she frequently talks to them about our son. She has many opportunities to talk to other people and help them understand why she made the choice. For Christmas one year, she sent our son a piece of artwork that she made. It says, “Every adoption is beautiful, but ours is my favorite.” It still hangs in his room along with pictures of him with both his birth parents and birth grandparents. It is a part of him, and we find joy in that.

Adoption Conversations with Children

Adoption has always been a topic of conversation with my children. They have always known that they were adopted. We speak about their adoption stories with respect and express love for their birth families. We have several age-appropriate adoption books on our shelves that help them understand adoption. We like the books Tell Me About the Night I was Born by Jamie Lee Curtis, God Found Us You by Lisa Tawn Bergren, and Happy Adoption Day by John McCutcheon. My friend sent us a book called The Little Pink Pup by Johanna Kerby. This book has helped us talk about foster care. It is about a baby pig who is a runt and not thriving. The pig is taken in by a dachshund mom who has a few puppies. The baby pig begins to thrive and gain weight.

When my first son was born and we brought him home, I made him a book that tells his adoption story with words and pictures. It tells the story of how his birth mother found us. It has pictures of him as a baby with his birth parents and birth grandparents. It even has pictures of his birth parents as babies. It is a great way for him to see all the love that went into his adoption. We made copies for his birth parents and he has a copy in his room. 

My youngest son has asked several times for us to have another child, specifically a girl. He has asked if I can just get a baby in my tummy like my sister who recently had a baby. I have had conversations with him about how my husband and I are not able to have children. When I tell him that, he asks why we can’t just adopt another baby. I have told him that after he came to our family we did try to adopt again, but it did not work out like we thought it would. This has given us many conversations about adoption and how we do not always have control of when and how we adopt. 

Role Play

One day my son was telling me that some friends at school thought it was weird that he was adopted. He did not quite know how to respond. I gathered my three sons and we had a conversation about their births and adoptions. This is not an abnormal thing in our home, but as I explained to them, some of their friends might think that adoption is “weird” because they do not know much about it. We remembered a children’s book that we read called When Charley Met Emma about a boy meeting a girl with disabilities. His mom always taught him: “Different isn’t weird, sad, bad, or strange. Different is different. And different is OK!” I try to remind my kids of this often in many aspects of life. 

Role-playing is a great way to have kids act out scenarios that they might face. We pretended that we were on the playground and I was another child and said, “You’re adopted?! Why?” They then gave some great responses: “Yes, I was adopted! Isn’t it great?! I came to my family in a different way. I love my birth parents and I love to go visit them.” Another child said: “My parents adopted me and we are a family. I love my family.” We will continue to role play for other questions that they may get as they get older. Our sons know that they can talk to us anytime about questions they have. They know they can share their adoption stories however much they want. 

My nephew was playing at my house one day. He frequently plays with my children and knows that they were all adopted. I overheard him ask one of my sons who had been in foster care until we were able to adopt him, “What was it like in the orphanage?” He had seen many movies and TV shows about children in orphanages. I took this opportunity to teach my nephew more about foster care and adoption. I made it a safe place where he was able to ask questions and learn. By teaching my children that they don’t have to take offense to people’s comments, they are able to recognize that they can become teachers and help other people learn. They enjoy this reframing and want to teach others. They also know that they do not have to feel obligated to tell everyone everything about their stories. There will be things as they grow that they may want to share and things that they do not want to share. 

Questions from Children

As children grow, they will have more questions surrounding their adoptions. This is normal. It is important to be honest with the children as well as share age-appropriate answers. They will not be able to understand everything all at once, but talk with them often and show them that you are always willing to answer questions. 

They may not ask questions, but that does not always mean that they do not want to talk. There are ways that you can spark conversations about adoption. You could comment how they have their birth mother’s eyes or their birth father’s fascination with airplanes. Allow children to talk, strive to really listen, and then do your best to respond appropriately.

Positive and Realistic Adoption Conversations

As adoptive parents, birth parents, and children who were adopted, there will be many opportunities to talk about adoption with others. It might not always be perfect, but we can help steer the conversations into a positive light. We can use positive adoption language. By answering people’s questions, we can help them learn more about adoption and continue the cycle of positive adoption conversations. We can have those important conversations with our adopted children, and there will be chances to role-play with them so they can understand how to talk about adoption with other people. If we teach them at a young age, they will be better prepared to talk and express how they feel about adoption. 

Alicia Nelson is a wife and a mother to three rambunctious boys. She is an online teacher and teaches English to Chinese children. Adoption has become her passion. She loves connecting with others on infertility, adoption, and foster care. She enjoys woodworking, being outdoors, listening to podcasts, and reading good books. She lives in Washington state with her family.