Five Hot Buttons Not to Push!
(or, Open Mouth, Extract Foot)
by Pat Johnston,
author of Adoption is a Family
These are examples of amazingly insensitive comments heard recently by
members of INCIID’s Adoption Waiting Room Internet bulletin board. Names
have been changed to protect both the guilty and the innocent. There are
many people, who, before reading Adoption
Is a Family Affair!, might not even have understood what was so
bad about some of these comments, but you probably get it now. If you
see yourself reflected or reported here, you may have some apologizing
to do. If, on the other hand, you feel confident that you were never so
insensitive, good for you! In that case, perhaps these examples will serve
as an impetus for your helping to get the rest of your family circle better
prepared for the addition adoption will bring to the family.
5. "What about the money?" (Didn't your mother teach you it
was bad manners to talk about money, politics and religion?)
“From my mother-in-law when we first told her that we were going
to adopt, ‘You know, you can get a Mexican baby for $250!’ ”
Friends of mine adopted, and shortly after adopting the husband was
telling a client about it and the client asked, "Oh, well how
much did she cost you?" No this was not a blundering idiot like
most, but a social worker!
Q: "Why would you spend so much money on adoption after spending
so much money on infertility treatment?"
A: "Well, didn't you just buy that nice $35,000 SUV? This is
our family we are talking about. Priceless!"
My brother-in-law told his kids that we were "going to Korea
to buy a baby!"
Someone asked me if adopting babies from China was like a black market!
I had to explain how they take good care of the babies and rigorously
screen who they will allow to adopt and that the fee is used to keep
the orphanages running and take care of all the kids, including those
who won't be adopted. I sure don't ever want my kid getting the idea
that she was bought on the black market.
An acquaintance who heard about our plans asked us "How much
will your child cost?" (ARGHHHHHHHHHH) No further comment with
this one. On the other hand, yes, my husband and I have had this question
numerous times! Some people who have inquired are very sincere, as
they too, are weighing the decision to continue infertility treatment,
live childfree, or move to adoption. That is very understandable,
and I respect that question from them.
4. "Adoption connections aren't real connections anyway!"
(Do you really want to say "You can do better than this"?)
Are you sure you tried hard enough?" (to conceive)
Q: "Does it bother you that they won't be of your own?"
A: "My favorite comment to this one is what I read from the INCIID
Adoption Waiting Room bulletin boar earlier this summer: 'I gave birth
to them through my heart"'.... that is the shorter version I
use with this stupid question. It makes people think about how ignorant
they were for asking in the first place."
I mentioned to my sister-in-law that I wanted to name my future adopted
son Truman, nickname Tru. She said "You can't call him Tru Kinglsey,
because he is not a true Kingsley. He will not be related...umm, I
mean by blood". I was appalled and since then have refused to
tell anyone the names I am considering for my future children.
My husband adopted his first wife's daughter at the age of 9 months
(she is now 22) and adopted my son at the age of 3 (he is now 10)....much
to our surprise, I am now 30 weeks pregnant. On New Years Day we went
to husband's mother's house. His sister (whom he has never really
liked and hadn't seen in over a year) comes swooping in the door and
hugs him and loudly exclaims, "I want to hug you before you get
to become a real father." My husband said very angrily, "I've
been a real father twice now, but thanks." He was so angry, and
I was so angry, especially because both his son and his daughter heard
her comment. I couldn't believe how stupid and totally insensitive
and wrong her comment was.
Q: "What's her mother's name?"
A: "My name is Lisa."
Q: "No, I mean her real mother's name."
A: "I'm her mother."
Q: "NO, I mean her real mother."
A: "What do you think I am? Polyester?"
And then, as if I must be some sort of an idiot, I said, "Ohhhh
you mean her birthmother!"
Q: Then she said, "Well you knew what I meant all the time."
A: "No I didn't. I"m her real mother and I always will be.
What do you think Sara will go through if she heard u say that I'm
not her real mother and she is too young to understand?"
From my brother who has a master's and a PhD in theology when my
mom told him over the phone that we were going to adopt: "Why
don't they just have their own kids?"
"Too bad you have to adopt...your real kids would have been
Q: "What does her mom look like?"
A: "You tell me you are looking right at her!"
Q: The nerve of this woman She kept prying she said "Come on
you know what I mean."
A: I said "No ,I do not!"
"She looks like she could be yours!"
"Can they get her back?"
"What are you going to do when he's three or four and the birthparents
want him back?"
"Can you give him back if you find out he's retarded or something?"
An adult adoptee asked me, "If you and your husband get divorced,
will you have to give him back?" I was so dumbfounded I didn't
respond how I really should have, which would have been to ask if
her parents would have had to "give her back" if they had
3. "Adopted people are 'flawed.'" (The Bad Seed myth, or is
My reproductive endocrinologist said, "You might not want to
adopt... you never know what you're going to get." As if you
know with a biological baby!
"Adopted kids are always so stupid!"
I was talking to my sister, who by the way, is very well educated
and is currently in a high-paying, high-profile job... working for
an AA man. I was mentioning to her about our long wait for our child.
She (once again) asked what my "criteria" was for our child...
meaning, had we requested a newborn, toddler, what race..etc. I told
her that all I asked for was that the child be under age 3. To which
she said, with much surprise, "Even a black child?" "Yeeeeessss"
I replied. "But you don't know how to cook collard greens, or
how to comb thier hair!!... and Desiree (the daughter born to us)
will KNOW that s/he is not her real sibling!!" she says, totally
serious. Funny thing is, (and I also told her this) that I am hispanic
(Colombian), yet I have NEVER cooked a Colombian meal for my daughter!
"I never knew Adopted Children could be so cute"
An old friend of the family said "I think if someone is stupid
enough to get pregnant and doesn't want the baby, she should turn
around, walk the other way, and never look back." I thought that
was so cruel. As if he is so superior that he never has made a mistake,
and as if a birthmother could ever forget her child. This experience
taught me not to tell many people about our open adoption. It's really
no one's business.
A co-worker of my husband said "I wouldn't adopt, you will never
get a perfect child." I was stunned when he told me. She has
a toddler who I am sure isn't "perfect" and I think anyone
who expects any child to be "perfect" is setting that child
up for a life of misery!! My husband told her we were hoping not to
have a perfect child, because it wasn't going to have perfect parents.
When I told my friend (a woman who was aghast that there was another
girl in her play group with the same name as her daughter-she wanted
hers to be the only one with that name) that if I had a boy, I'd name
him Noah she exclaimed "Yikes! Why would you name him something
so unusual, he's going to stand out enough as it is. Why not name
him something normal, like Larry?"
Q: "Why don't you just try to get a healthy caucasian baby?"
A: "HELLO!!!!! We want a baby from another country. That is our
Q: "Why on earth would you want to adopt a black baby. They
are ugly, have kinky hair and are always boarder babies. No black
baby is ever given up for adoption without drugs and alcohol. Could
turn out to be a criminal, too."
Apparently, everyone born in Asia speaks an Asian language because
it's a genetic thing. People are forever asking me if our toddler
son Cameron (who was born in Vietnam)can speak English. Just for fun,
I told one person he was bi-lingual. After all, he was just a baby
and saying only ma which happens to be Vietnamese for mother) and
ba which is Vietnamese for grandmother.) I suppose he's as bilingual
as the next baby!
Our Latina daughter was born in Alabama, but people are always asking
me, "Do you think she will have an accent?"
"Why not just adopt from Russia? At least they'd look like you?"
A girlfriend who told me during my infertility treatment, "Why
not just get a dog, it's a lot easier" (probably should have
ended the friendship right then) noted the other night that "It's
a good thing you are adopting an Asian kid, because he'll be short
like the two of you!" When I informed her that Koreans come in
all different sizes like Americans she said, "Well we all know
that Asians are generally shorter than Americans."
I am 6' and my husband is 6'3" We have had two people tell us
we shouldn't be adopting from Guatemala because our daughter will
be short. Who cares!!
"Oh, no! You're going to adopt a Mexican?"
2. "Didn't you know that..." (Ignorance isn't bliss in personal
"Why don't you just go and pick one out?" Gee, where's
the closest Babies-R-Us store?
"Will you tell her she's adopted?" Duh...our Chinese daughter
and we won't exactly look alike.
We adopted our daughter from China in Dec. 1999. A few months ago
we went out to dinner with my father- and mother-in-law. Our dauther
was eating rice and getting it everywhere (she was 16 mos. Old.) My
father-in-law said, "If she were home she would know how to use
chopsticks by now." I just gave him a weird look and said "She
is home and what does chopsticks have to do with it?" I know
he did not say it to be mean; he is just clueless. He loves his granddaughter
"If God intended for you to have children, you'd be pregnant
We are African American, and we have been asked more than once: "What's
taking you so long. Aren't there piles of AA babies that need homes?
You must be doing something wrong!" I think that her comment
does kind of reflect this notion that there are a lot of AA infants
to be adopted -- and this is in part supported by agencies and other
adoption professionals. There isn't a "surplus of AA babies out
there. What is closer to reality is that there are a lot of older
children of color in the foster care system, many of whom are adoptable.
At Christmas my sister-in-law asked about the progress with the adoption,
commenting that it is taking a long time. I told her our homestudy
is being reviewed by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and
this time frame is about what the agency projected. She responded,
"Well, if it doesn't work out you can always go for artificial
insemination." Was she really paying that little attention during
all the years we struggled with infertility?????
Q: "Do you get to name her?" She was still a baby, and
had only the name the Chinese government assigned to her. Should I
have answered "No, I have to call her Rover for the rest of her
"Well, you should know adoption is expensive"...Hmmm.,
well thanks for telling us that. Those hours researching adoption
must have done us no good.
"You mean you can still adopt within the United States?"
And, last, but not least, Sad-but-True variations on the NUMBER ONE
INSENSITIVE COMMENT TO THOSE WHO ARE ADOPTING-"Now you'll get pregnant!
They always do."
Adopt and then you'll get pregnant at last!" Does that mean
the adoption won't have any meaning then if a woman becomes pregnant?
Everybody in my life knows that my significant other is a woman and
that we want to be mommies. So, when I told my oldest sister that
we were planning on adopting, she delivered the usual line about getting
pregnant now that we've decided to adopt! So I told her no, we've
stopped all treatment. We're building our family through adoption.
She insisted, "Oh no, you won't need treatment. You'll get pregnant
now that you are going to adopt." I finally just said, 'Do you
know how babies are made?'
"Once you adopt you will soon become pregnant!" That is
impossible since I had a complete hysterectomy. These people who say
this to me, knowing I had the surgery, are down right mean. How cruel!
My mother and my mother-in-law both really believe that once I adopt
I'll get pregnant. In fact, I hear this from everyone I tell that
I am trying to adopt. Sheesh, pregnancy after adopting only happens
in about 5% of the cases & who knows what their fertility problem
My mother-in-law added the best comment to this one. "If you
adopt and get pregnant I am not coming to Ontario to help you with
babysitting!" My response is "THANK GOODNESS!"
But it's not all bad. Marni checked in to report, "On the other
side, I told one of my oldest/dearest friends (whose wife is thirty-two
weeks along with their second baby) that I almost felt like I was pregnant.
His comment? 'Well, you are an expecting mother.' Now, that's what I call
a great comment."
You can redeem yourself and learn to be as sensitive as Marni's friend!
What's more, you can help others "get it," too. Keep reading...
If you found this excerpt from Adoption Is a Family Affair!
provocative or enlightening you'll love the book!
Copyright 2001 Pat Johnston. May not be reproduced with permission.
Excerpted from Adoption
Is a Family Affair! What Relatives and Friends Must Know with
permission from Perspectives
Press: The Infertility and Adoption Publisher PO Box 90318, Indianapolis,
IN 46290-0318 * (317)872-3055 * firstname.lastname@example.org
Pat Johnston, the publisher at Perspectives
Press, Inc., is the author of several other books, including Taking Charge
of Infertility, Understanding Infertility: Insights for Family and Friends,
Adopting after Infertility and Launching a Baby's Adoption. She also edited
the poetry anthology Perspectives on a Grafted Tree.