Yesterday I ended up talking about Madison’s adoption some without intending to. I need to figure out how I’m going to handle this. See, Jessica is an everyday part of our lives and she comes up in everyday conversation. Like someone might say, “Man the movie I saw the other day was incredible” and I’ll say, “Oh Jessica was just telling us about that movie! She said the lead actor was amazing!” And they say, “Isn’t Jessica Madison’s” pause “birth mother? Do you see her that often then?” And ta-da! We’re talking about Madison’s adoption.
There’s a lot to think about with this. I know some adoptees don’t want to talk about their adoptions or have people know they’re adopted and that there are parents who keep quiet until their child is old enough to say yea or nay to the discussion. That makes sense to me. But I also think it’s about a billion times easier to do in a more closed adoption/less open because those families are living adoption differently than we do. It would be odd to keep Jessica set aside in a little corner of conversation marked “adoption” just like it would be odd to set aside my sister and only bring her up only if we were discussing “siblings.” I talk to my sister all the time; she’s a regular part of my life. Likewise Jessica is a regular part of my life. We talk about a lot of things besides Madison so it feels pretty natural to bring her up when I’m talking to someone about raw foods (because Jessica eats semi-raw) or when to pierce a kid’s ears (because Jessica and I disagree on when to pierce Madison’s).
These are some of the things people ask when Jessica comes up in conversation so you can get an idea of how things get complicated very quickly:
- Do you see her often?
- Does she live around here?
- How is that?
- Does Madison know who she is?
- So it’s like she’s an aunt to Madison/daughter to you (I get this a lot — I say, no like a sister to me like Madison’s birth mother to Madison. I understand the need to find a simile to make sense of it but I strongly resist the “aunt” comparison.)
I don’t mind answering most of these — they’re pretty innocuous. I don’t like answering specifics to why Jessica placed (heck, I don’t pretend to be qualified to answer those questions) but usually those questions are so vague because people know it’s personal and they want to give you room not to answer.
But then there’s this other thing. I’m a huge proponent of open adoption, obviously. And I’m also a huge proponent of helping people make sense of open adoption because it’s a mind-shift, you know? Like saying, “No, not like an aunt — she’s Madison’s birth mom.” (Again, I’ll say that this is the title Jessica chose so it’s the one we use.) It’s like I’m trying to physically shoehorn the reality of who Jessica is to us in someone else’s conception of adoption. Why? Why do I want to do this? (I’m thinking as I type.) I guess when I sift through the feelings I have when I’m having these kinds of conversations is that I want to: counter some of the myths about birth moms and adoption; make it clear that this is a subject that is normal and comfortable for our family (that Jessica is a member of our family and not a special event). See, the more that people in our everyday lives understand how things are for us, the less we’ll have to worry later. So if I’m sitting around with friendly homeschoolers explaining our adoption once, I won’t have to again. And no one will be weird if Jessica shows up at a class with us (a distinct possibility).
For Madison, I really want to pave the way for normality when it comes to Jessica and people who are in our lives. It’s not like the grocery check-out person needs to know, but for a mom who’s going to circle our social and homeschool events, it just seems nice to put that out there.
It gets more slippery when people want to applaud our adoption; it feels uncomfortable. I mean, I’m proud of our family and I understand that it’s interesting to people but you all know that my feelings about adoption are complicated and I haven’t figured out how I want to react to statements like, “How great for Jessica! How wonderful of you! And she still gets to be a part of Madison’s life! It’s really working out for everybody!” I should just smile, right? But I’m always compelled to say, “Well, it’s complicated. Well, credit really goes to Jessica. Well, we don’t consider it a sacrifice. Well, it’s been a blessing for the rest of us, too; we’re so grateful to have Jessica in our lives. Well, I love Jessica for herself — not just because she’s Madison’s mother.”
It gets people in too deep and I need to learn to shut up. It just bothers me (and maybe it shouldn’t) when people think open adoption cures all adoption ills. I think open adoption is fabulous and all but but but … I guess I’m uncomfortable with the credit (”It’s so good of you all to welcome her!”) and I have to counter it (”It’s not a sacrifice”). And I’m uncomfortable with people assuming that this is “the best of both worlds” (people say this) because Jessica doesn’t have the burden of parenting but gets all the fun of visits. (That’s the great myth of open adoption, isn’t it? I used to believe it.)
And then there’s Madison, of course, running in circles listening in. I’m not sharing personal secrets but still — it’s her life and it’s her life story. So when someone asks, “Does she know who Jessica is?” and I say, “Sure, she knows Jessica is her birth mommy and what that means” she’s hearing that and I don’t know if it bothers her. (I asked her yesterday and she said, “No, it doesn’t bother me but when you use your whiny voice I say, ‘Please use your grown-up voice, Mommy’ because that bothers me.” Gee, don’t know where she heard that.) I mean, I talked a lot about Noah’s birth when he was this age and we’d be trading birth stories but people generally just wanted me to finish blathering on about my birth story so they could get to telling about theirs. This is different because even if it’s everyday to us, it’s not to other people and really, it’s the other reactions I worry about for her. But I don’t want her to think that her beginnings are less valid and thus need to be hidden.
On the one hand I think, “This is her reality; she’s adopted and people are curious about adoption.” And “This is her reality; Jessica is a part of our lives and people are interested in that.” And then I think we’ll just continue on this way and I’ll keep checking in and will alter the way we handle it as needed. But then I wonder if I should be more cautious. If we had a mostly closed adoption, it would be easier because it would come up a lot less — it would likely only come up in adoption context. Or I could censor mention of Jessica, (which would be hard for me and also my gut tells me would be wrong). Or I could somewhat censor (like when someone comments on Madison’s height and I say her birth mom was also tall for her age — I could skip that) but again, to me that makes it seem like there’s something secret or shameful because I wouldn’t stop myself from saying, “Noah loved that toy at this age, too” although of course it’s not the same because no one’s head would swivel and no one would say, “So do you still keep in contact with Noah? How is that?”
I don’t really want to “protect” Madison from people’s assumptions about adoption as much as I want to model ways to handle it and I can only model it if we’re talking about it. I’m just figuring out the boundaries and I guess I’ll always be reevaluating them.