Adoption is a process that comes with a lot of myths, so it can be easy to find yourself asking questions or making unintentionally hurtful comments. To be supportive of those you care about (and to avoid that embarrassing foot-in-mouth feeling), here are some things you should never, ever say to a friend who is adopting.
Do you, like me, often end up with your foot in your mouth when a friend shares something important? Maybe the slow realization of how your words really sounded (by accident!) washes over you — and then the embarrassment rushes in. Regretting the insensitive things we said without thinking is a terrible feeling. And it’s one of the many reasons you should consider your words carefully when your friend announces something as deeply personal as the fact that they’re planning to adopt a baby.
Believe it or not, this is a common question, and there are many things wrong with it — starting with the fact that what your friend may pay for her adoption is none of your business. But the deeper issue is that the question implies she is partaking in some form of illicit baby-buying. It’s true that adoption can be quite expensive, but the fees go to cover all the services (legal, social, medical and more) involved in the overall process. There is no “baby cost” in the equation.
First, it is a good idea never to ask a question that implies a negative outcome to your friend’s adoption process. Second, adoption is much more reliable and secure when you’re using the proper adoption experts and channels — and there are numerous legal processes in place that prevent this particular outcome from occurring. And third, adoption involves both a biological mom and an adoptive mom, not just “the mom.” Referring to the former as simply “the mom” discounts your friend’s role as a parent in her future baby’s life. Nevertheless, even though a post-placement adoption disruption is a highly unlikely event, your friend has probably lost a lot of sleep over the possibility. Don’t cause her more stress by playing into her fears. In the extremely unlikely event the placement does fall through, just be there to support her.
It’s true that most adoptions are more open now than they’ve been the past. And there are numerous studies that show the many benefits of an open adoption — especially for the child. It’s fine to ask your friend, “Are you interested in having an open adoption?” The problem with the original question is its wording. By referring to the birth parents as the “real parents,” where does that leave your friend? Will she be an imaginary parent? The best way to refer to the parties in an adoption are as the “biological” or “expectant” parents (prior to the adoption) and as the “biological/birth” parents and “adoptive” parents (after the adoption).
Questions about pregnancy are never OK to ask your friend who is adopting, especially if you know she struggled with infertility. It’s a common old wives’ tale that women will get pregnant after adopting — but there are no statistics that show this to be true. Likewise, your friend has probably heard the same advice 100 times. If getting pregnant was important to her, you can be sure she has already researched and tried every approach with which she was comfortable. However well meaning your advice, it puts your friend in a position to have to defend her decision to adopt. Additionally, these questions imply her ultimate goal should still be a biological child — which, by extension, means an adopted child is somehow “less than” what she should strive for. Regardless of what has brought her to this point, she is now focused on adopting and is excited about that journey. Simply support her without bringing up any infertility struggles.
Adoption is daunting enough when you first begin the process. Trust me: Your friend has a dozen horrifying “what if” thoughts running through her head with all the worst-case scenarios. There is no reason to add to her worries by dredging up all the horrible things you’ve ever heard about adoption. There are many factors that could have affected the outcome of any adoption story you’ve heard, and it’s highly unlikely you are privy to all of them. The process your friend is going through is likely more secure, especially if she is using reputable adoption professionals to guide her. If your concern is truly that she doesn’t have the same horrible thing happen to her that you once heard about, convey that message to her instead. She will likely be able to reassure you based on all the research she has done.
This question does two things that can hurt your friend. The first is trivializing the adoption process. It takes a lot of thought and soul-searching to begin the journey, not to mention time and money. Having a cavalier attitude about the process dismisses the gravity of her decision as well as the sacrifices she is likely making in order to be able to adopt. The second hurtful thing, of course, is the phrasing of “my own kids.” Let’s say it again: When you adopt, that child is your own. There is no difference in the depth of love that a parent has for a child from adoption and another from biology. Any language that shows a distinction there is insensitive at best.
I’m certainly no example of always saying the right thing. In fact, my metaphorical foot spends a lot of time in my metaphorical mouth. But following the few simple guidelines above can help you avoid the same fate, so think before you speak. If your question or comment is rooted in concern for your friend, make sure that is clear to her. If you’re not sure of the right language to use, just say so. And if you think what you want to say may be insensitive, it probably is — so don’t say it. The most important thing is just to show your friend the same love and care you do when it comes to all other aspects of her life.