Given recent US Magazine headlines, I know that sounds strange (if you're not up on your recent US reading, shame shame. Angelina "STOLE JEN FROM BRAD!!!", after all). But I'm not being sarcastic. I really do think Angelina (yep, first name basis here) has done a lot for my family. Let me explain.
Before we adopted, I was a bit anxious. Ok. I was really, really, anxious. It felt like whenever I told someone, stranger or friend or family, that we were adopting, one of the following categories of responses usually came out of their mouths:
1. You never knew what the child would be like when you adopted--had we heard this horror story? Blabbity blab blab.
2. We would definitely get pregnant after adopting, because the person knew of X amount of couples who that had happened to (i.e., the adoption itself was of no real consequence except as a means to getting pregnant, another form of in vitro if you will, except instead of an embryo an actual child was transferred to your womb/house). Since it had happened to X amount of people, it would ergo happen to us.
3. Why did we want to adopt? Did we not require our "own" children? Would it be weird for us to have "someone elses's child"?
4. What, exactly, was our entire medical history? Because once again, responder knew of X amount of people who had had trouble trying and responder would be happy to share techniques, tips, etc. for bundle of joy delivered nine months from now. Had I tried Robitussin? Sex on my stomach? Sex with ACTUAL egg whites? Visualizing happy thoughts? It had worked for responder/responder's milkman's stepdaughter's cousin twice removed. (I did indeed actually have a neighbor once offer to buy me a case of Robitussin. A woman in her eighties, who had no idea why cough medicine might work but told me that was why her daughter had had babies. I told her why the Robitussin was sometimes handy for some women, and she paled. She deserved it, a little bit.)
5. Well, that was so nice of me because I was giving a child a home and responder would not be able to do something like that him/herself, but I was an amazing person because I could and child would be soooo lucky.
6. I needed to relax. Relaxing was the key. Was I relaxed? Because that was probably it—if I relaxed I would get pregnant.
7. Why international adoption? Why not adopt here?
Sometimes I did get the kind of response you expect when you are pregnant—“omg, that is so wonderful, when is the baby due?” That kind of thing. Pure, unadulterated excitement without any qualifiers or probing personal questions. Although one of the things I realized when I did get pregnant, years later, was that often that kind of response isn’t necessarily standard with pregnancy, either. The responses to a pregnancy announcement can be as uncomfortable as the responses to an adoption announcement. But I think most people know how to respond to pregnancies and have less practice with adoptions, and that was pretty clear to me when I was adopting.
I wrote a lot of posts during that time, angry, bitter, spewing posts. I got a lot of comments of support, but I also got some of disbelief. I will never forget a fellow adopter who told me I must be making all of it up—she hadn’t had the same experience with her kids—nobody questioned them, or her, or made her feel uncomfortable.
I started to doubt myself—I knew I wasn’t making anything up—people were SHITTY when I was adopting. I got some doozy responses to my news, some really inappropriate comments. But maybe, I thought, it was me. Maybe I attracted it somehow.
I don’t know what it was—my attitude attracting the ass comments, or just a proliferation of jackholian people surrounding me, but pretty soon after adopting, it all changed.
Maybe it was MP who did it. Nobody could keep their eyes off of her, after all. People were stunned by her adorableness. And our obvious parent-child bond. I felt like the poster family for a good adoption experience—MP had a bit of trouble bonding, but by month four she was clearly our child through and through, and even though she occasionally called my sister in law “mommy” I knew it was just to piss me off, her being crafty that way even back then.
People questioned us once in a while. “Are you babysitting?” One idiot checkout lane person inquired. I like to think it was because I was so obviously teenaged looking and far too young looking to be considered mom material. “No,” I responded, “This is my daughter.”
“Wow,” she deadpanned. “You look nothing alike.”
Ummmmmmmm, ya think? She wasn’t joking, though. She required an explanation.
“Yep! Her father’s black,” I said.
I WISHED I said. I actually said something like “Yeah, I know, but we act the same” and left it at that. But it was a blip compared to BMP (Before MP).
So I pretty much radiated mom-confidence—secure in my position as the lucky mom of the best kid ever, I roamed my usual haunts meeting a sea of approving nods and huge smiles. No longer did I get asked how much she cost.
And then I got pregnant. All of the jackholes who mentioned that might happen once I adopted were suddenly right, and I pictured them all secretly smirking as they considered my ample belly, rubbing their hands together. We were worried about what it would be like to have a blended family. Before, we had one child who was adopted. Now we’d have two children, one who was not adopted, and we worried about how our children would be perceived, whether it would be obvious they were sisters, whether either would feel less or more special than the other because of the way they entered into our family. We liked to worry. Anxiety fit well, like an old soft coat. We knew how to do anxious. Feeling secure, feeling comfy—well, I never did that so well.
Once C was born, and we ventured out, I waited (anxiously) for the public’s reaction. Why did I care? Because I know how much words and looks can sting. I wanted to protect my kids. And I felt a bit battered myself. I wondered if people would pay more attention to MP and pass over C. I wondered if the reverse would be true. I wondered if everywhere we went people would ask if they were sisters. I wondered if people would smirk and say “see! I and all of my cronies were right! YOU DID GET PREGNANT!”
Instead, I was once again surprised.
This is how people react:
1. Look how cute! Your girls are beautiful. (To MP) Do you like having a baby sister?
2. Wow! What well behaved sisters.
They are automatically assumed to be sisters. Maybe it’s because I’m holding both their hands. Maybe it’s because they're fighting, or hugging, or each eating similar crackers. Or maybe it’s because of Angelina Jolie and her lovely brood staring out at the cover of every magazine. Maybe she’s made people more used to seeing blended families like ours. Maybe it’s all of those things. But people seem to be so much more accepting.
Once in a while, a person I sort of know will tell me the story of someone who adopted who got pregnant, telling me “that always happens.” I correct them, giving them statistics of adopting couples who actually get pregnant afterwards, and they are surprised.
Recently, a teenager I barely knew but had to watch over for a few days started asking me questions about my family. He came from a broken family, and had been in trouble with the law at only fifteen years old. He told me about how he wasn’t close with his family at all, that his parents didn’t care about him. When he found out I had both adopted and given birth, he started hurling questions at me.
“Is it freaky when one of your children isn’t really your kid?”
“Why did you go to China? How much did she cost?”
“Do you love them the same?”
He was clearly fascinated, and I answered his questions, gently correcting some of his language (“both of my children are my kids, my own kids. No, it’s not freaky…..My daughter didn’t cost anything—it’s illegal to buy or sell people. The process cost money, though, and if you’d like to know how much, you can check it out on the Internet…Of course I love them the same, they are both my kids.”) He nodded, clearly impressed with my answers. Maybe part of him was wondering what it would be like to be adopted himself, with parents who cared about him. His friend, who was in a similar situation as he was (broken family, trouble with law) was Asian and very interested in the fact that one of my daughters was Chinese. After asking me questions for a while, they sat back, satisfied, and one of them looked at the other.
“She’s just like Angelina Jolie,” he said to his friend. “That’s way cool.”
I grinned. Okay, so clearly it’s not ONLY Angelina who has allowed blended families like mine to garner more acceptance and respect—maybe it’s also Sandra, and Madonna, and the amazing work done by adoption agencies and charities, and the incredible blogs written by adoptive moms and dads and adoptees themselves. But I didn’t mind being compared to Angelina (even if I don’t love that she “stole” Brad). I didn’t adopt to have a family encompassing “all the colors of the rainbow” (like Angelina has been known to say), but if her family, which seems to be really working, helps others to embrace adoption—or inspires adoption—then hey, props to her.
And hey, props to all of us. Because no matter how our families come to be, we will find ourselves having to defend something about them, someday—and our confidence in our own family makeup is what allows us to stand up to the antiquated idea of what a “perfect” family is.
And now I need to go pay some attention to my perfectly imperfect family.