By: Meika Rouda
I don’t remember when my parents told me I was adopted. It was just something that I always knew and it never felt weird or scary or shameful. As a first grader I even bragged to my classmates about being adopted. I have a vivid recollection of being on the school playground and explaining to my friends that I had two sets of parents, one who loved me but couldn’t take care of me, and one who loved me and who I lived with. This meant I was double loved. It also meant that I went on my first airplane ride as a newborn when my parents came to pick me up. The notion of two sets of parents didn’t faze the school kids but the airplane ride at two days old was impressive. From then on I was known as an exotic girl, not because of my adoption, but because I flew as an infant.
The concept of having two sets of parents, one whom you know and one whom you don’t, seemed completely normal to me as a 5-year-old and strangely, 35 years later, it still does. It is simplistic and obviously doesn’t cover any personal details about why women give up children for adoption and feelings about being adopted but the idea that adoption is an act of love is tangible. It grounds the experience in something reasonable, at least to a 5-year-old.
Since I want my kids to have the same feelings about adoption -that it is a familiar word and a normal experience -I have tried to talk about adoption with my son. I read him the books “Tell Me Again About the Night I was Born”, and tell him his birth-story, how we went to pick him up at the hospital and took him on his first airplane ride when he was only a week old. “You were adopted just like me!” I say joyfully. He looks at me and nods as if this is how every child comes into the world and never asks any questions. This baffles me because he is curious about everything and spends 75% of his day asking me questions, “Why do birds sing?” “Can a whale and snake be friends?” “Why is purple called purple?” You get the idea. So why doesn’t he have any questions about adoption? Maybe he doesn’t understand yet; he is only three and a half. Or maybe he does understand but isn’t able to articulate the questions he may feel. I wonder if I am doing this right, I never thought it would be so hard to convey the concept of adoption. It seemed easy to me as a child and totally understandable. When I ask my mom how she explained it to me, she said, “We just told you that there was a nice lady who gave birth to you and decided she wanted you to come live with us.” Okay, that sounds simple enough.
So I tried this with my son. We were at the grocery store and there was a pregnant woman behind us in line. “See that lady over there,” I said, pointing to her. “There is a baby inside her. Once, you were a baby inside a lady who gave birth to you.” The woman’s belly was protruding so far she was pushing her cart with it. My son looked over at her nonchalantly, this shining beacon of how amazing women’s bodies are, and looked back at me, like “yeah, so what?” So I continued. “Some mommies, like me, don’t get pregnant and give birth. There is a birth mommy who has the baby and because she loves the baby and wants it to have a good life, she gives it to the other mommy. That is how we got you.” He continued looking at me, feigning interest. So I went on. “And then we brought you home on the airplane, just like we did with your sister.” I saw a spark in his eye and believed for a brief second that maybe he remembers being born and coming home with us. He looked at me excitedly and said, “Are we going on an airplane ride?” He doesn’t remember. Of course he doesn’t remember. “No, no airplane ride today” I said. He blinked, announced, “I like airplanes” and then went back to eating his cheddar bunnies.
Maybe I will talk to him about his sister; that could help open the conversation. “Remember when your sister was born and you stayed with grandma while daddy and I went to pick her up and then we brought her home and you became a big brother?” He nodded and screamed, “Asha came home on an airplane!” He now thinks all babies arrive by airplane.
I wonder if I am forcing this too much? Maybe the more natural I am about it, the more natural it will be to him. When he is ready he may ask all sorts of questions. Or maybe not. I guess I will just keep talking about it, reading him the books and wait for the questions to come. Until then, he can think all babies arrive by airplane. Being born is a journey, after all.