When Mr. Train and I decided to adopt, we knew that we wanted to be open and honest about adoption. I didn’t want to be a cliche Lifetime movie scenario where the teenager finds out that his parents aren’t his biological family because of some genetics lesson in biology class. So we decided to set up our plan for talking with our future child about their life story. As it turns out we have an open adoption which gives us a lot of opportunities to discuss his biological family with him.
With most sensitive subjects, I feel that if a child is old enough to ask questions, then they are old enough for an age appropriate response. So Mr. Train and I decided that as our child grew older we would answer any questions he had with the details that we thought were understandable for his age. But in order for those conversations to start, we had to be the ones to initiate the recognition of his adoption.
In his first year of life we did not directly talk to him about it. It’s not like a 6 month old is going to retain that type of information. Our biggest thing during that first year was his actual adoption day. The day we signed the paperwork was just three days shy of his first birthday. We brought both sets of grandparents to the court house. We brought our twins who were three months by that time. We took pictures with the judge and our social workers and our lawyer. It was a celebration indeed and we enjoyed our special day.
Each year we have celebrated his adoption day. He gets a special treat for dessert. I try to not get cake since his birthday is three days later, so I pick something else to make sure it doesn’t just get lumped into his birthday celebrations. I also have a baby book that is dedicated to his adoption. It’s called My Family, My Journey: A baby book for Adoptive families. We have looked at this book together a number of times and discussed parts of his story. I don’t know if it’s all kids or just mine, but they love looking at their baby pictures.
In addition to his adoption day being celebrated, we see both of his biological parents separately a few times a year. In the past when we have gone to these visits, he hadn’t really understood who they were. The concept of a biological family versus the family you live with can be a little tricky to explain without an understanding of the physical nature of creating a baby. For now they are Mr. and Miss (first names). I am going to call them Mr. and Miss X to help keep their names private. I know this sounds cold to some people, but I feel that putting the title in front of their first name is a sign of respect. Even our closest friends go by these titles. I want him to know that they are adults in his life who deserve honor and respect. I know a lot of people who use names like “tummy mommy” or “momma X,” but we were not comfortable with that. If our proceedings had been different we may have felt differently about what our son should call his biological family.
Between his baby book and our visits, he has only recently started asking questions regarding his adoption. He is now four and a half. Most of them have been with me while we are looking at old pictures. We have had this conversation several times. Sometimes I wonder if he is trying to figure it out or whether he just likes to hear it over and over again.
Son: That’s you with brothers in your tummy
Me: That’s right.
Son: Where is my picture?
Me: There is no picture of you in my tummy. You didn’t grow in my tummy?
Son: Where did I grow?
Me: In Miss X’s tummy
Me: Because Miss X wanted to make sure you had a loving mommy and daddy. She decided that we were the best ones for the jobs and your father and I have loved you since the day you were born.
Son: OK can I see my Halloween picture when I was an Ewok.
I have played this conversation over and over again with him. It’s pretty much the same every single time. Then he moves on to look at other pictures in his book. He is a very perceptive little guy but doesn’t say much. I am wondering how much he is processing and saving up for more questions later on.
Although we have discussed growing in Miss X’s tummy, we have not gotten into who Mr. X is. For some reason it is a lot easier to explain the birth mother’s role than the birth father’s since ours are no longer together. At four, he doesn’t know about how babies are made except for that they grow in a woman’s tummy. This doesn’t leave much room for explaining what a biological father is. I know at some point he will ask and, like with all his questions, I will answer to the best of my ability.
Mr. Train and I have talked about what is appropriate and at what age. There were details in our adoption that were unpleasant. We know that we will never share these details unless he asks us directly. If he comes to me as a teenager and wants to know about his adoption, we will be honest in the most respectful way we can. The last thing I would ever want to do is give him a bad impression of his biological family. We have met some of his extended biological family and they have even come to some of the visits. They are pleasant people who care about his well-being. I think that is the most important thing to convey to him.
I want him to grow up knowing that your family is made up of ALL the people in your life that love you.
It is a difficult road to navigate sometimes because I always wonder what he understands and what is just over his head. Our agency talked with us about common questions like “Why was I placed for adoption? Why wasn’t I wanted?” We haven’t quite come to those heartbreaking questions yet, but he is starting to understand that his story is a little bit different from his brothers’ and sister. I hope as his mother I can guide him to an understanding that adoption is not about being unwanted, but rather being so loved by his biological family that they made the choice to give him a better life with us. I worry constantly about how adoption will play a part in forming who he is and I am hoping that we make it as easy as possible for him.
Do you have adoption stories in your family? How was communication about it handled?