To tell or not to tell. That is the question.
This is probably one of the biggest dilemmas I’ve faced as an adoptive mum. Do I tell people that my children are adopted? Or not. Do I share how we became a family and the rocky road we took? Or not.
The general consensus from our adoption training was we should be open and honest. Don’t hide it. Try to normalise it. I understand this, however, faced with the reality, the situation proved quite different for me.
Our social worker was less encouraging about the need to tell everyone. Discussions around the need to protect our children sat firmly in my mind. Protecting them and their identity is top priority. We had also adopted within the same local authority area and there was always the underlying concern of our proximity to birth mothers. This will never ever leave my mind. Ever. And is a key factor in some of our choices.
We have always talked to our children about how we became a family through adoption. But I am not a mum that has been all “jazz hands” that my children are adopted. Certainly not with people I don’t know. People that I may never build a relationship with. That I may never see again.
For me, it’s so important I don’t put this piece of our lives out there for all to see. If you’ve read some of my other blogs, you will know that I am very proud we adopted. The fact I don’t make big announcements, is not an indication I am trying to hide it. Or that I’m trying to mislead anyone.
There are three main reasons why I keep mums the word.
Firstly, I am a mum. I’ll say that again. I am just a mum. And that is that. I don’t want to be “that lady who adopted her children”. Or “that lady with couldn’t have her own children”. And definitely not, “that poor lady”. Believe me this labelling does happen. And I am none of these things.
Secondly, my children may not want to tell people they are adopted. So why should we. I’m pretty sure this won’t happen as we talk openly and positively about adoption to them. However, you can’t undo a spoken word. So sometimes things are better left unsaid.
My main rule is that it is their story to tell – if and when they choose to. I firmly see this as one of my main responsibilities as their parent. To protect their story. Their history. This is one of the reasons I stay faceless on social media. Not just to protect them from prying eyes. But because they may not like me making our story so public. Especially the personal bits. The challenges. Being open may make it easier for me on a day to day basis, but maybe not for them.
Lastly, often people just don’t know what to say when you tell them. Some mumble. Shuffle awkwardly. Avoid eye contact. Their pitch gets higher – sometimes their eyebrows. Not all, but many. I take the view I can handle the situation far better than they can; I’ll have to for my whole life. That comes hand in hand with being an adoptive parent. Adoption preparation training has helped me with coping mechanisms and it’s for me to learn to use these in the most appropriate way. It would be unfair of me to expect this from others.
I don’t want anyone to feel awkward or regretful of a passing comment. Because they just didn’t know what to say. You know, the “that’s a lovely thing to do” comment, or the “they are so lucky to have you” comment. None of which are made with malice. Or bad intent. But all things I basically could just do without hearing. A win-win for both of us.
Of course, this has meant over the years I have had to worm my way around some very awkward questions – “where does that curly hair come from?” “she’s tall for her age, does she get that from her dad?”…and of course “how was the birth?”
To help with this, I prepared some standard responses. And generally told the truth. My husband is tall. He did have curly hair when he was young. These are true statements. We know things about the births. Factual information around weight, times, type of birth. All things in their profiles and medical reports.
I spoke no lies. I never said I gave birth or talked about a pregnancy I didn’t have. If I couldn’t avoid the question, I answered in a way that dealt with that topic. Then moved on.
At the time, I didn’t feel like I was misleading anyone. But the truth is I probably was. But I felt included. Accepted. Part of a group I had longed to be welcomed into for so long. And it felt amazing. Perhaps selfishly, I didn’t want anything to spoil it. I didn’t want any awkwardness. People feeling they couldn’t – or shouldn’t – say something in fear of upsetting me or making me feel uncomfortable.
So, I just went with it. I swiftly learnt to change the subject to more relevant things – “actually I’m just wondering how you are coping with teething/weaning/sleep regression”. Directing the conversation to one I could speak about with genuine experience.
I quickly noticed once babies where more than around 6 months old, people generally didn’t retell their births in detail. They become more consumed in the next challenge. So, I found it was never a real issue to navigate around.
I must add a very important point here. Both of my children were under 1 when they came home. This obviously made things easier. I could confidently replay many firsts because I had experienced them. It was feasible that it was first time I stumbled across a playgroup. That I hadn’t got around to joining anything until this point. I appreciate this is harder if children have been placed when older.
Having said all this, I can’t say I wasn’t a bundle of nerves the first few times I went to playgroups. I totally was! In hindsight, I wonder if I caused myself more stress deciding not to tell people, than if I had been honest.
Even to a group of people who I am now proud to call my “mum friends”, it was a long time before I told them we had adopted. We were just mums together. Dealing with whatever parenthood was throwing at us at that time. Enjoying wine nights and gossip. I absolutely loved it.
Looking back, it is quite incredible I didn’t tell them sooner. And very unintentional. Based on their unbelievably supportive reactions when I did share our story, I have absolutely no idea why I didn’t tell them sooner. I guess I just got caught up in everyday mum life.
There is no right or wrong answer to this. You must go with whatever feels right for you. Follow your instinct. My advice is share what you feel comfortable with when you feel comfortable doing so. Don’t feel pressurised into jumping in with the “A word” if it doesn’t feel right. People who become firm friends, should be there for you if you tell them everything. Or nothing.
Above anything else, remember you are a mum. Your journey to parenthood may have been a turbulent one. But you belong. You belong in a group of people fortunate to have the little ones they have. In whatever way your family was made. Enjoy every precious moment.