Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives.
By Heather Kurut
When we first brought home twins, family friends Liz and Keith (parents to triplets) shared this nugget of wisdom: now, you will see or meet multiples everywhere. Thus far, this has not been an exaggeration in the least.
It seems like we meet people with connections to multiples everywhere we go. The manager at the grocery store is dad to now-grown twin girls, also fraternal. A couple sitting next to us at a restaurant introduced us to their teenage identical twins. Our church pastor is a twin, as is one of my fellow principals at school. Another work colleague has twin grandsons. One of my husband’s fellow law enforcement officers is a quadruplet… and on and on it goes. They didn’t exaggerate; in our daily lives, multiples are everywhere.
The same concept of “they’re everywhere” seems to apply to fellow families created by adoption, too. People whose lives have been shaped by adoption in some way are now suddenly crossing our paths in droves – friends from graduate school who adopted (and who, like us, are conspicuous adoptive parents) have given us advice, a work friend who is an adult adoptee has shared the wisdom of her experience.
After forty-three years, and an active two-plus decades of searching, my cousin had a reunion with her birth mother, siblings and extended birth family. A family friend is a birth mom, as is a friend from yoga. Another of my husband’s co-workers is an adult adoptee, now considering adoption for his family. Families touched by adoption, it seems, are also everywhere.
We no longer live in a world where adoption is treated as some hush-hush family secret; in fact, openness is touted by professionals as best for all involved, removing some mystery. Entertainment news stories regularly feature celebrity adoptions.
Countless tween nighttime dramas’ plots swirl around adoption. TLC’s Long Lost Family has devoted episode after episode to locating birth families from the Baby Scoop era, where adoptions were closed, and identifying information concealed or destroyed. Some of the movies our girls love feature adoption as a major storyline – like all three films in the Kung Fu Panda franchise (directly in 2 and 3). I find myself drawn to adoption storylines, too. Lion was a recent favorite film; Jillian Lauren’s Everything You Ever Wanted is the best book I’ve read in recent years.
With so many families whose lives have also been touched by adoption, I am perplexed when I am treated as “the other” when it comes to how I arrived at parenthood. After all, for us, adoption is normal. Much like raising multiples, it’s all we know. I haven’t had the experience of giving birth, and I don’t know what it’s like to look at my child and see my own face – or my husband’s – looking back at me. And I am certainly not alone.
According to a Good Housekeeping piece from 2015, 1 in 25 families in the United States has an adopted child. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that nearly 120,000 children were adopted in 2012.
And yet… I have now become accustomed to odd conversations, and sometimes intrusive questions. When they were infants, we almost expected strangers’ curiosity – after all, here we were, a family with a set of twins! I did not, however, anticipate that random queries would continue after their infancy, nor that so many of these questions would involve figuring out where and how they belong in our family. As our girls get older, I worry that they will internalize this sense of being an anomaly, somehow different because they didn’t grow inside my body.
About a year ago, while at the grocery store, the girls and I were approached by an acquaintance I don’t see regularly. She had her ten-year-old daughter in tow, and asked, “So, my daughter just HAS to know… are these girls adopted?”
On a more recent shopping trip, I ran into a woman I knew from work, but haven’t seen in about three years. She and her teenage daughter smiled and said hello in the produce aisles, then came back to us a few minutes later. She said “I’m sorry, I almost didn’t recognize you with KIDS!” Then, more of a statement than a question, “But they’re not yours…” I responded that I am, in fact, their Mommy.
“Huh.” She continued, “How old are they? Three? So… how did I miss you being pregnant?”
That question hung in the air for a moment, and my non-committal response was something along the lines of “My goodness, the time just flies by, right? Everyone said it would!”
She reached over and started touching their hair – “where did they get all these curls?” – then made her final last-ditch attempt at piecing together our family… “Have I met your husband before?”
“You have,” I replied. Then more pointedly, “A few times.”
By this point, she must have been feeling my frostiness, because we wrapped up with a few pleasantries and said goodbye, she departing with unanswered questions, me with a flushed face and slightly wet eyes.
Even small, one-off remarks have given me pause. Following is a list of some of the questions I’ve gotten about our girls’ adopted-ness while the girls were with me:
- They’re not yours, right?
- Are you their babysitter?
- How much did they cost? (and/or… Where did you get them?)
- Is your husband dark? (Then, when I didn’t answer)… Sorry, is the baby daddy dark?
I know, in the deepest places in my heart, that I am their Mommy and that Daddy is Daddy; they know with whom they belong. Certainly, adoption isn’t uncommon, nor is it only discussed in hushed tones behind closed doors. For some curious strangers, is our normal simply not normal enough?
To be fair, these isolated incidents, while disturbing, aren’t the only public conversations people have had with us about adoption. More often than not, the topic of adoption comes up when there are only adults talking, and it’s not arrived at as a foregone conclusion; though our children were adopted trans-racially, people with connections to the adoption community tend not to assume.
Also, families with connections to adoption seem to grasp that the girls’ story is theirs to tell, theirs to own – not ours as curious adults. There is the unspoken recognition that this is how we arrived at being a family – not better or worse than, not superior or inferior to having given birth.
Our three-year-old twins arrived to our family through domestic adoption. At three, their concept of building a family (so far) is this: some Mommies hold babies in their tummies before they get to bring them home; some parents hold babies in their hearts before they get to welcome them home.
Our girls spent seven weeks at our adoption agency’s nursery before their homecoming, and we have gone back to the nursery to celebrate on each of their three birthdays. They know that the “belonging room” there is where we met them.
They also know that the babies in the nursery who we see on each visit are waiting for their Mommies and/or their Daddies. For them, and for us, this is “normal.” It’s how we became a family, and we wouldn’t (and couldn’t) have it any other way.
When she’s not hanging out with her family, Heather Freer Kurut works as a Middle School Principal and a Yoga teacher. She is passionate about educating people that families are formed in all kinds of ways, and volunteers as a speaker for the Cradle’s Adoption Education program.
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Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter.