As An Adoptive Mom, 'Innocent' Comments About The Pregnancy Experience Can Still Sting

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 

I was standing at the bottom of the park playground slide my toddler was navigating when a fellow mom approached me. “Hi! I was wondering if you happened to have sunscreen with you? We left ours at home, and my son’s cheeks are getting too pink.”

I let her know I didn’t have any sunscreen on-hand. Just then her son approached the top of the slide next to my daughter. I turned to the mom and remarked how poorly designed the wavy slides were. She agreed, observing how even our two toddlers couldn’t wiggle their way down.

“I tried to go down it once,” I laughed. “But between the weird waves and my hips, it wasn’t successful. Those slides are not made for women with curves.” She nodded and replied, “Yeah. Once you have a baby, your body just isn’t the same.”

My heart sank.

I’ve never been pregnant. My journey to motherhood didn’t involve sonograms, extreme gender-reveal parties, or birthing plans. I didn’t have the middle-of-the-night taco cravings, morning sickness, or strangers rubbing my mid-section and rudely asking if I was having twins.

There were perks. No weight gain, stretch marks, or snarky “you do know how that happens, right?” comments from relatives and strangers. We did have three—yes, three—baby showers thrown by friends and family in anticipation of our future child. The adoption journey was challenging—especially the waiting—but it was also beautiful.

Choosing to adopt was easy for me. I was a newlywed who had just finished grad school when I was diagnosed with a chronic, autoimmune disease. Instead of putting my body through a risky pregnancy in which both myself and our unborn baby could be subject to my roller-coastering blood sugar levels, I knew that adopting a baby was best.

My husband and I adopted four children over an eight-year span. There was time when I had three kids under the age of four, each of our first three kids coming to us almost exactly two years apart. No member of my family shares DNA, but that hardly matters to us in terms of love and authenticity. We’re a real family.

I’ve been asked by many of my close friends and family members how I feel about missing out on having a biological child and a pregnancy. I always reply with honesty and grace. I don’t feel that I’m somehow less-than because I didn’t birth my children. But just because I’m not just OK, but happy, with our choice to adopt, doesn’t mean that sometimes a comment or question doesn’t sting.

Of course, the mom at the park was just making conversation. We were both passing the time while our children ran around the playground, trying to feel like adults for a few seconds instead of just the snack-provider and bottom-wiper.

I don’t blame this mom. She certainly meant no harm. But what her comment did tell me is that the assumption is still that having a biological baby is society’s preferred avenue to creating a family.

I do think the tide is turning toward openness and acceptance, but we aren’t fully there yet. Even with celebrities like Viola Davis, Hoda Kotb, Nia Vardalos, Hugh Jackman, and Sandra Bullock sharing photos and tidbits from their adoption journeys with the public, adoption remains the second-best, less-preferred option.

I’m quite used to the questions and comments. Being a big, multiracial family makes my kids’ adoptions obvious when we’re all together–two white parents and four black kids. Why did we choose to adopt? Could we not have our “own” kids? What country are our kids from? Why didn’t we adopt white children? Are they real siblings? Did their birth parents use drugs? Are they young? Poor?

Yes, many of these comments and questions are offensive, even appalling. But since I’ve been part of the adoption community for thirteen years, I realize that most adoption conversations—ahem, interrogations—we have with strangers are based on adoption myths and ignorance. I render go-to responses that protect my children’s privacy.

The post-baby body comment from the fellow mom at the park caught me off-guard. I didn’t have a tried-and-true comeback to offer her. So I just smiled and turned back to my kids.

There have been other moments that have made me pause and reflect, including when both my sister and two sisters-in-law announced all of their pregnancies. It dawned on me that my sister and my brother’s wife would be birthing my biological relatives. These babies could physically resemble me. Holding each of them for the first time was a beautiful and bizarre experience.

Not breastfeeding my children also bothered me deeply. Every mom in my family breastfeeds, for as long as I can remember. Now I know, breastfeeding is hardly an easy, magical journey that perfectly bonds mother and child. I was able to nurse one of my kids, but I missed out with my other three. To this day, it still bothers me to see a mom hike up her top and feed her baby. Not because I’m judging her decision, but because I’m envious.

I know there are aching women all around me. Women who have suffered miscarriages and stillbirths. Women who cannot get pregnant. Women who have faced diagnoses that have limited their family-building options. We are everywhere, surrounded by the moms who have the “oops” pregnancies, the miracle pregnancies, and the easy pregnancies.

We go through each day, disguising our yearning because we don’t want to plague every person we meet with our trauma and tears. Like me, some might be just fine 99% of the time. That is, until a casual comment drudges up big feelings.

I have no regrets about how I built my family. My kids are mine, and I am theirs—their chosen and forever mom. I am incredibly thankful to be among the parents at the park, some of us reaching out to each other for a bandage, a baby wipe, or sunscreen.

And conversation.

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