To Tell or Not to Tell

One of the trickiest things about being an adoptive parent is making the judgment call as to whether or not to share your adoption story. With Dylan, it was fairly easy. People saw me walking in the door with a one-year-old in my arms and just assumed he was biologically mine. I’ve heard again and again that he looks like either Bill or me, so that made things a lot easier. It was entirely up to me whether or not to disclose the fact of his adoption. It has not been so easy with “L’”s adoption.

The first time it happened was a few days after his birth. We were still in our hotel waiting for clearance to leave the state with our new baby. I opened the door to let the housekeeper in to clean the room, and her jaw dropped when she saw me with a newborn in my arms.

“How old is he?” she asked.

“Four days old,” I answered proudly.

She looked me up and down incredulously, her jaw dropping a little more with every second that passed.

After a few uncomfortable beats, she said “You really look amazing.”

I so didn’t. I had stayed up all night with the baby and I knew that I had dark circles under my eyes. I had yet to shower so my hair was all greasy and pulled up into a disheveled ponytail, and I was wearing one of Bill’s sweatshirts because I hadn’t brought enough of mine and they were all being washed at the moment. Was she trying to be polite?

“Er…thanks,” I said, confused.

As she looked me up and down again, she asked “How are you…feeling?”

It slowly dawned on me what she must be thinking. Despite the fact that I knew I looked like hell, my body did not show any signs of having carried a baby for nine months and gone through labor and delivery a few days before.

“Oh! He’s adopted!” I blurted out before I knew what I was doing.

I had the same exchange with just about every person I encountered for the next two months. Whenever I was out in public with “L,” someone pointed out how great I looked (they always finished with “for X amount of weeks,” though, which made me wonder what they thought I really looked like once they found out I had not given birth!).

At first, I always corrected them and explained the fact that “L” was adopted. It became more and more uncomfortable for me. Why should I have to explain myself? I was proud of the fact that we were an adoptive family, of course, but didn’t feel like I needed to tell everybody who crossed paths with us. When would it end? Unlike Dylan, “L” does not look very much like either of us, and people were starting to remark on that too.

I do not want my boys to grow up labeled as the “adopted kids” on the block. I do not feel like everyone in our town needs to know how our family grew, and if we do share our story, I want it to come from us - or from the boys when they are older. So one day, when “L” was about eight weeks old and someone complimented me while we were out having dinner, I decided to answer with a simple “Thank you.” It was liberating.

Now that he is four months old, no one comments on my looks anymore (which could tell you something about when our society expects women to ‘bounce back’ from childbirth, although I only know one person who was back to her pre-pregnancy body four months after giving birth). More and more people are starting to comment on how he looks nothing like us, though.

I just smile and say, “No he doesn’t. He is way cuter than us.” 




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  • This is the age old question for us adoptive parents. What I am finding is that sharing his adoption story feels natural with some people (even strangers) and not with others. Even with strangers, my reaction seems to vary depending on my perception of why they made a particular comment or asked a particular question.

    Our son, Lenny, looks like he could be ours - except for his curly hair. I have encountered many people who have said, "wow, where did that beautiful head of curly hair come from?" And to most strangers, I reply that it came from his grandmother (my mother-in-law has curly hair). It is easier than getting into the adoption story with people I don't know. Sometimes they will comment on his very engaging personality and, depending on my mood, I may respond that his personality is innate and came from his birth parents's genes (I am so proud, but can't take the credit for that :) )

    Carrie at "Portait of an Adoption" wrote a very nice post on this topic too. I think I worry more about how Lenny will take such questions as he grows older and more aware, rather than my own handling of his story with others.

    This brings me to the flip side of the question: Have you shared Dylan's adoption story with him? My 3 year old Lenny definitely knows he is adopted (he knows he didn't come out of my tummy) but for the rest of the details I am waiting to fill in in a gradual and hopefully age-appropriate manner.

  • Dylan has curly hair too, and people always ask me where it comes from as well. I just say it's a family trait, and people usually drop it.

    We have tried to talk to Dylan about his adoption, but he's just really not all that interested yet. He knows he's adopted and knows he was born in Kazakhstan, but whenever we try to delve further into the story he loses interest and walks/looks away. I do try to mention little things about his babyhood (as in "when you were at the baby house in Kazakhstan you did this and that"), just to let him know we are comfortable and open to talk about it if he ever wants to ask.

    I definitely agree with you about worrying how they will take those questions when they are older, especially as Dylan is now at an age where he notices EVERYTHING. Hopefully we are handling the situations well and they will feel comfortable answering/responding to them as they grow.

  • In reply to Khadine Kubal:

    I am on the same page as you, Khadine - I think we are handling things similarly. Sometimes stories of Lenny's babyhood come up casually and naturally in our conversations, and you will laugh when I tell you the only question Lenny has asked us about his birth circumstance: "Did T (his birth mother) take off her underwear when I was born?" When we said Yes, he said "Good, because otherwise it would have been hard for me to come out" That's it, like your Dylan he has had no deeper interest :)

    I don't see any need to force the story on them, it will happen as it is meant to. In the meanwhile, hope you are having a lovely weekend with your boys! And thanks for writing - I enjoy relating to some of the similar issues we face/have faced.

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