‘I was at the library with my 3-year-old daughter when a woman said, ‘Excuse me.’ She waved me over, and thanked me.’: After adoption woman says ‘we aren’t superheroes or saviors’

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“‘Oh, what country are your kids from?’ gushed a stranger who was standing in front of me in the bathroom line at the airport. I sighed and then, because I’ve heard this question a thousand times, gave her a rehearsed (and sarcastic) response. ‘They were adopted from Missouri.’ Strangers often assume that we adopted our kids from another country.

My children were each adopted at birth, and all of my kids are Black. We are used to second glances, stares, smiles, compliments, and interrogations. Being a multiracial family means garnering a lot of attention when we’re out and about.

Most people mean well, but they understand very little about adoption. Just yesterday, I was at the library with my three-year-old daughter, and a woman, a library patron, said, ‘Excuse me.’ I looked up at her, and she waved me over. I already knew, as I always do, that she was going to talk to me about adoption. She said softly, ‘Is your child adopted?’ I said yes, that all of my children are.

What happened next isn’t uncommon. The woman thanked me. I wasn’t sure why I was being thanked. I’m just a regular mom—driving my minivan around town, chugging lukewarm coffee, and rocking a messy top knot.

She then proceeded to thank me for adopting my kids.

This is the rescue story, the one that many want to hear and assume is true. As adoptive parents, we are presumed to be superheroes and saviors who took in children who needed a ‘good home.’ We’ve been told, ‘God bless you for adopting children.’

The truth is, adoption was our first and best choice. When I was twenty-four years old, I got sick and then sicker and sicker. I dropped thirty pounds, was excessively thirsty and hungry, and I couldn’t get enough sleep. I visited multiple doctors who shrugged me off or misdiagnosed me with anorexia and hypochondria.

On one of my days off from teaching and grad school, I took a nap. It was only 10:00 a.m., but I couldn’t stay awake. I awoke two hours later to my cell phone ringing, and I had missed several calls from my husband. I picked up the phone, breathing heavily, and my husband was immediately alarmed. He asked me if he should call an ambulance, and I said no, hung up, and went back to sleep.

The next thing I knew, he was home and stuffing me into the car. We arrived in the ER, and the nurses took several vials of blood. Soon a doctor burst into my room, his eyes wide at the paperwork cradled in his arms and order the nurses to get me to the ICU. I was an undiagnosed type 1 diabetic, and I was in diabetic ketoacidosis. Essentially, my body was toxic and shutting down. I was on death’s door.

During my five-day hospital stay, where I was told I was very fortunate to be alive, I learned to count carbohydrates, dose and inject insulin, and test my blood sugar. A diabetes nurse educator was sent to help us learn everything we’d need to know. The conversation turned to having children, and we said we absolutely wanted to become parents one day. As she proceeded to tell us about diabetes and pregnancy, I immediately knew we would adopt. I refused to put my body through medical hell for the sake of having a biological child.
Three years later, we adopted four children within an eight-year time period. All of our adoptions were domestic, and they are open (an ongoing relationship with their biological families) and transracial (we are one race, our children are another). We are very used to curious strangers and adoption stereotypes and assumptions. Hallmark and Lifetime movies have taught society that adoption is either a magical fairytale or a horror story. The middle is where the truth and reality are.

We’ve been approached many times. Our family is big, multiracial, and loud. We’re noticed. One of the most common things someone says directly to our children is that they are ‘so lucky to have such great parents.’ These are people who don’t know us at all but assume a lot. We’ve been asked why our kids were ‘given up’ and asked if they were born drug-addicted to young parents.

These assumptions are incredibly hurtful—and untrue. We refuse to give strangers access to our children’s private adoption stories. Why they were placed for adoption, information about their biological families, and the state of my uterus is absolutely none of their business. Adoption is beautiful, complicated, and sacred.

We are honored to be our children’s parents, and we don’t except them to feel ‘lucky’ or grateful for being adopted. They didn’t have a choice. Their biological parents chose adoption, and then chose us to be their parents. Many adoptees—that is, people who were adopted—have the right to process their adoptions without the push to feel ‘so lucky.’

I always answer that we, the parents, are the lucky ones. We were lucky to have been able to adopt. We are lucky to have been chosen by our children’s first parents. We are lucky that we have a big, beautiful, multiracial family. We are lucky to have ongoing relationships with our kids’ first families. We are lucky that adoption is even an option.

We were simply two people who were dealt a life-altering medical blow that would lead us to consider adoption. Our kids aren’t charity cases or gifts we have received. We are incredibly thankful that we get to raise them. It’s a sacred honor to be chosen parents.

When you see a family like ours, please say hello. It’s fine to tell us that, ‘You have a beautiful family.’ But please don’t push any false adoption narratives on our children. Please allow them the space and respect to be themselves rather than be othered. Don’t demand answers from them.

Please, let our kids, like all kids, just be kids.”

Courtesy Rachel Garlinghouse

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Rachel Garlinghouse. Follow her journey on Instagram. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more from Rachel here: 

‘When our daughter was six months old, two black women approached us. One said, ‘Your baby’s hair is dry.’ I was taken aback, offended and embarrassed.’

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