Wednesday, February 21, 2001

Talking about adoption: Are you? Why not?

It's happened more times than I can recall: I open my big mouth and mention to somebody -- an acquaintance maybe, maybe a stranger -- that my kids are adopted, and they tell me that they know someone who is thinking about or in the process of adopting. It's nothing we would ever have discussed if I hadn't volunteered my information, yet often I'm able to give suggestions or advice, or just stress to them that what their friend/relative/self is doing is a Very Good Thing.

I hope this means that there are some prospective families out there who occasionally hear from a friend or loved one that they met someone who adopted and was really happy about it -- as opposed to the usual scare stories adopting couples are treated to. Maybe instead of, "Oh, I read all kids from Russia are psychopaths," or "I keep reading about people disrupting or even killing their Russian kids!" or "You'll ruin your life," somebody is hearing, "Well, you know, I talked to someone the other day who adopted from Russia, and she was really very happy."

Maybe not. My kids do have pretty significant special needs, and so maybe the message that gets out is, "This lady says she's happy, but boy, those kids, it breaks your heart." Maybe they're just counting up, hmmm, one with learning disabilities, one with FAE, to add to their total of tragedies. The message I want to get out -- the one I think is far more important than "There are many perfect and problem free kids -- go get one!" -- is, "There will be problems. They are problems you can handle. You can love a child with problems, and be deliriously happy to be their parent. Look at me!"

That's the best I can do, because that's what my situation is. I deal with issues related to my kids' institutionalization every day, and so maybe that's why it's so easy for me to bring up adoption; it's not possible to pretend that my little ones had no life before me. Which makes me wonder about why we always hear "bad" stories about adoption -- international or otherwise -- in the media. Whenever one appears, a big cry goes up in the adoption community: Why don't they ever tell the "good" stories? But are the people who have the good stories telling them themselves?

I suspect that the more happy the family, the more seamless the fit of child and parent, the less damage the child brings to the relationship, the more "normal" everything seems, the more likely that family is to make adoption a non-issue. This may be done in the name of privacy -- it's the child's story to tell when the child is old enough to tell it -- or in the name of protection -- kids will tease the child if they know, and adults will treat him or her differently -- or in the name of good old-fashioned secrecy. But the effect is the same; people don't hear the good stories. They only hear when something goes wrong, and the veil is lifted.

What, then, do we expect the media to do? Send out investigative reporters to comb our communities looking for happy adoptive families, ambush them by their minivans, force them to confess that, yes, our kids are adopted and look how happy we are! Bad news is always way easier to find.

If that bad news rankles you, though, if you feel that the story of happy families like yours is not being told, then my advice is, start telling it. Tell it to strangers. Tell it to acquaintances. Tell it to people at church and people at school. Get a free website from Blogger and tell it on the Web. Call your local newspaper and give them a good, inspirational reason to do a story about you. Write one yourself.

Or enjoy your privacy, but don't complain when unhappy people don't.

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