Friday, May 18, 2007

Questions from Strangers

More on the subject of intrusive questions, and then I'll try not to write about it much more:

The online course that we just completed for our homestudy as well as most all literature I've read on international adoption do a lot of prepare us for how to handle potential prejudice and/or simple intrusive questions from people when they encounter our nontraditional family.

We didn't tell many people for quite a while that we were planning on adopting, especially during the stage of trying to find the right agency for us. We did this for the same reason that Ted usually doesn't tell anyone when he has an audition: 90% of the time, an actor doesn't book the job, and you just start heaping psychological funk on yourself when the sweet people you've told start asking, "Didja get it? Have you heard?"

Once we, by the grace of God, found Gladney (who I would recommend heartily to anyone considering adoption), all the way in Texas, and filled out their initial application, we figured it was safe to start telling people. The reaction that gives us the most warm fuzzies is the one that most closely resembles how someone would react if we were to say we were pregnant, since it's essentially the same thing: in a few months (hopefully), we'll be adding a new person to our family--so...woo hoo! We really love the hoots and hollars and yee-haws that people give!

We've only had a couple of less-than-yeehawin reactions, one from a friend who is dealing with issues of infertility. When we told her, I could tell that she wasn't sure what to say, as, to her, this would feel like second-best, a compromise. Her eyebrows turned up in the inner corners, her head tilted to the side, and she made a little clicking sound of pity with a little "Aww...well, that's great for you guys" in a sort of sad and resigned voice. Ted chimed in, in his less than subtle way, saying, "Hey! It's not a compromise! This is a really good thing!" I completely understand that her reaction came from a place of personal sadness and angst at the wait she and her husband are experiencing to have a family. But it was almost funny to me as she went on to ask me questions about adoption, including, "So can you request a certain child, like gender, age, and, you know, eye color? I mean, I hate to say it, but I'd want a cute baby." Um, okay, but what's the guarantee that your birth-child would be cute? Would you send him back if he wasn't quite up-to-snuff with that Gerber-baby standard?

It helps to find the humor in these reactions (Ted helps with that) and to understand that people react often from a place of their own pain and/or lack of understanding, as in the case here with our friend. Adoption is first-best, such a wonderful, beautiful thing, and I think it must just take some a little longer to understand that.

Two weeks ago, I was sitting next to a sweet lady about my mom's age on an airplane going to Charlotte. We started talking, and when she asked about family, I told her about our adoption plans. She was really sweet about it, asking lots of questions and telling me about all the friends of hers who'd adopted. After talking for a while, the intrusive question came: "So did you and your husband decide to adopt because you can't have your own kids? (italics mine).

I suddenly was pretty taken-aback, completely unsure how to respond to such an over-the-top personal question. I felt instantly defensive. I finally stumbled something out about how no doctor has ever told us we can't have kids and that we have always talked about wanting to adopt, even before we were married, and that now is the perfect time, and we don't know what the future holds for us with family, etc. Then I sort of clammed up and started listening to my ipod, not wanting to talk anymore.

I understand that she was just curious and really had no idea that the question crossed a line. Lots of people just don't realize that adopting parents view the adoption process in much of the same way as pregnant parents view their pregnancy. There are acceptable questions and intrusive ones. Could you imagine being pregnant and being asked, "So how long did it take you to get pregnant? So...come on now, tell me--wink, wink--where was your baby conceived? How did it happen? How much do you think your hospital bill is going to be?" (Thankfully, we haven't been asked yet that most infamous of questions about adoption: "So how much is this baby costing you?").

I really want to make clear that I myself had never thought about all these things before Ted and I got serious about adopting. I used the phrase "own kids" to refer to birth-children as well. It's funny how starting this whole process has made me see so much of the world in a completely different way. It may be the mother-bird in me, seeking to protect what isn't even there yet from comments that could make Baby Bird Rooney feel not of our nest.

I've discovered that there's a lot of assumptions made about adoption and people who adopt. But just as no couple (or single, for that matter) who decides to have kids is the same or goes through the same process, no two adopting couples are the same either or have come to adoption through the same process. Be careful about assuming that someone who is adopting is doing so because they can't have "their own." Please, please, please, don't assign that label to them, as I've heard through the grapevine in our extended family, has been assigned to me. Oh, labels are nothing but hurtful and isolating.

Labels are never a good thing. Please don't refer to our child as our "adopted child." If you've seen The Royal Tenenbaums (one of my favorite movies), you may remember that Gene Hackman's character referred to his daughter played by Gwyneth Paltrow this way: "And this is my adopted daughter Margot." Margot's ensuing adulthood angst for constantly being pointed out publicly as different, as other is understandable.

A really interesting and helpful book on this subject is called Cross-Cultural Adoption: how to answer questions from family, friends, and community by Amy Coughlin.

This leads me to explain the title of our blog. Another couple adopting through Gladney pointed out the hurtfulness of the term "your own" referring solely to children birthed from one's body. We feel that any child that comes to be a part of our family, whether by birth or by adoption, is "our own." The circumstances don't really matter. If only birth children are "own own" then what are children who come to us through adoption? Are they somehow less ours? Is the bond and love any less?

So while we plan on talking openly with our child about his/her/their cultural heritage by birth, our main concern will be with ensuring that he feels he is a solid, integral part of this family, one whose value to us cannot be measured, just the same as any child-by-birth would be treated.

So where are we now in the process? You can see above just a sample of the paperwork. Well, yesterday we finished up our "parent questionaire" given to us by our home study agency, and both of us finished writing our autobiographies as well. It was difficult not to write a short novel, as we were given questions like, "Describe your school history, from preschool to college, describing things which made an impression on you as an adult." That was only one question of eight similar ones. Both of our autobiographies have hit the 6-page mark (single-spaced, 12-point font).
We hope whoever is reading these can stay awake through 12 pages of Ted and Lori.

We also found out that the FBI is, in fact, expediting our criminal clearance forms, so that's good news as well. We're waiting for that to come in (hopefully next week), and are waiting for a letter from our insurance company stating the child will be covered. We're waiting for our answers to the online course we finished this week to be read and approved and a resulting "certificate of completion" to be emailed to us.

Ted's taking our autobiographies, parent questionnaire, and some financial info over to Heritage (our home study agency) today while I work out all this energy at the gym. They assign caseworkers every Wednesday, so we're hoping we get ours next week so that we can start the home visits for the home study. After this is completed, we get the foreign dossier completed, which is what gets approved by Gladney and gets mailed to Ethiopia. The mailing of this dossier is the biggest step in the process, since after that you sit and wait for your referral. We're anxious to have this done. Might it be mailed within the next month???

Thank you for your attention, ladies and gentlemen, for those of you who have read this far.

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