Walk up to any adoptive family, look at the children, say the words, “You are so lucky!” and watch the adoptive parents cringe.
Don’t worry – this isn’t a “10 things not to say” post. This is an explanation about something deeper. This is a glimpse into the side of adoption that doesn’t always show up on Facebook feeds, blog posts, and Instagram photos. This is a plea for all of us (adoptive families, friends, and onlookers) to see the full picture – both sides of the story – before making assumptions. And it will hopefully shed light on why we cringe at the “lucky” comment.
To tell my children they are lucky to have been adopted is to ignore half of the story. To tell them that they are lucky only acknowledges the gain of the adoptive family and not the loss of the child’s whole world. Children are placed for adoption for a variety of reasons but all include incredible loss. Loss of parents and possibly siblings. Loss of heritage. Loss of culture. Loss of sense of identity and stability and security. Maybe that doesn’t make sense because we focus so much on what they gain.
In the best situations they gain a family, new parents and siblings. They gain a new home and a warm bed and full bellies. The risk of starvation and disease or a life on the streets or in a group home is greatly reduced or removed. But what we (the non-adopted person) got for free, through no merit of our own, they got for a great price. I was born into all of those gifts – family, safe home, stability and security – but my children had to lose absolutely everything and endure trauma I’ll never understand to get those things. With this perspective, who sounds like the lucky one?
I’ve also been on the receiving end of comments about how lucky I am that I was able to “get a baby without doing the hard work of pregnancy and birth.” Well meaning people who were trying to be funny have made those comments, but they still sting and only tell a small part of the story.
True, my body didn’t go through all the changes pregnancy brings. I didn’t labor and go through the excruciating pain of birthing a child into the world. Instead I boarded a plane and had the luxury of choosing a cute outfit and doing my hair and looking somewhat nice for the first moments with my babies.
But preceding those moments were years and years of heartache and grief brought on my infertility and miscarriage. I lost so much on my way to the path of adoption and I still hurt over never getting to bring a child to life through my body. It will sting a little forever. It doesn’t feel lucky that I didn’t have the whole pregnancy and birth experience. It feels hard and sad.
I believe healing exists only in first recognizing that something is broken to begin with. We can’t have true joy by ignoring pain. So in my heart, and in our family, we acknowledge that pain and mess and brokenness in each of our stories. And we don’t say words like, “lucky” to describe those stories. We have immense joy and love and light in our family and they were and are fought hard for… by all of us.
I wrote a letter to my children to express this imperfect mingling of pain and peace, loss and gain, sadness and joy. We’re walking through it together.