What People Need To Say About Adoptive Moms

by Emily Westbrooks

The list of what not to say to or about adoptive parents is a long one. "When are you going to have your own kids?" or, "Why didn't her real parents want her?" are definitely at the top the list. Because focusing on those unnecessary comments makes my blood boil, how about we turn our attention to the many things people need to start saying about adoptive moms and start reversing that sneaky mom inferiority complex, instead?

Adoption language is complicated, to be sure, and even talking about the various birth parents and adoptive parents can get tricky quickly. Unless you've been an adoptive parent or been close to one, it might not even cross your mind how much those words can sting. While someone might think it's not that bad to say, "Now that you've adopted, you'll definitely get pregnant," it's definitely the most offensive comment an adoptive parent could hear and makes me, as an adoptive mom, sometimes feel like an imposter. If you're asking about my daughter's "real parents," what does that make me?

When we started the adoption process a few years ago, I focused all of my energy and attention on how and whether we would get a baby to call our own. From the paperwork to the classes, to reading books about raising adopted children, I spent the months leading up to our daughter's arrival preparing. I thought I was ready to become a mom, but I never thought to prepare myself for what it would feel like to be an adoptive mom. I didn't realize I would feel I have something to prove to myself, and to all the other non-adoptive moms or parents out there, simply because I didn't give birth to my daughter.

I frequently remember a quote from Valerie Harper, who played Rhoda Morgenstern on the Mary Tyler Moore Show and who adopted a daughter in real life. She said, "However motherhood comes to you, it's a miracle." I like to remind myself that no matter how motherhood arrived, whether it's through adoption or birth, I'm still just as much a mom as anyone else. So, with that in mind, here are a few things we should start saying about those moms who found motherhood through adoption:

"I See The Resemblance!"

Technically, my daughter doesn't really look like me. She's about fifteen shades darker than I am, and has dark brown eyes while I have blue. She has curly, wild hair and mine is boring and brownish. However, I will never forget the day our caseworker said to me, "She looks like you!"

She meant that my daughter was starting to seem like me and taking on my mannerisms. It was so reassuring to hear that there's a family resemblance growing.

"They're Strong"

I tend to qualify most of my "mom statements" with, "Well, I know I didn't give birth to her." However, I'm a strong mom even if I didn't push her out of me. Feeding, changing, bathing, playing, worrying; there's a lot that makes me just as strong a mom, but sometimes it helps to have someone else affirm that.

"That's Their Real Mom"

Adoption language is tough, I'll readily admit that. Talking about birth moms and "real moms" and adoptive moms gets complicated quickly. Just remember, if you ask or comment about her "real mom," you're talking about me; not her birth mom. We are her real parents and she is our real daughter. When we adopt more children, they'll be her real brothers and sisters, too, even if they don't share the same DNA.

"They're Organized"

I may not have grown my daughter in my belly, but there was a whole lot of work involved before we could even imagine bringing a baby home. Hours of paperwork, hours of classes on trauma and psychotropic drugs and infant CPR, hours of phone calls trying to find the fire inspector, and hours of photocopying. I'm not nearly as organized in the rest of my life, but during that paperwork marathon I certainly was!

"They're So Lucky"

The single most frustrating comment I get as an adoptive mom is, "She's so lucky to have you." You know who's lucky? Me. My husband. Her grandparents and aunts and uncles. She is our single biggest blessing, and to say she is lucky is a gross generalization that fails to acknowledge that she experienced the most enormous loss of her life before she was 48 hours old.

"They're Brave"

It's the whole point of adoption, really, to raise someone else's child as your own. But some of the unknowns of that scenario can be quite scary, because adoptive parents don't always know the health history of the child or their family, and prenatal care is often nonexistent or not nearly as good as for another baby. Adoption is, by nature, a pretty brave act.

"They Have Nothing To Prove"

We're not lesser moms because we're adoptive moms. However, that's how it can feel; like we're playing the part of mom because we swooped in at the end when the cord was cut and the baby was all wrapped up in a perfect little package. We might have missed that first messy bit, but there's a whole lot of mess to come in the future.

Remember, however motherhood found you, you're one strong, brave mama.