Stupid adoption questions

You know how everyone always says “there’s no such thing as a stupid question?” That is so not true. Some of the questions people have asked me over the years about our family have been really stupid. Once the words “we adopted our son from Russia” come out of my mouth, people think it’s open season for random rudeness. I’ve practiced my answers in hopes that as Vlad gets older and is asked equally asinine questions, he’ll be better prepared to handle them.

Adoption advice books tell you to think before you speak—admittedly, never my strong suit. They advise against divulging information you’ll come to regret later. They say to look at stupid questions as “teachable moments,” encourage you to try to look past the intrusiveness to find the real intent of the questioner. Sometimes I’m successful at this approach and imagine benevolent intent: people are just curious, I tell myself.

The books coach wise responses such as “Why would you ever want to know that?” “Are you interested in adopting?” “Why don’t you call me at home and I’ll discuss it with you when we have more time.”

I’ve never said anything like that.

A deeper truth is that these kinds of questions gnaw at my fragile footing as a mother. “Can these strangers see how ill-equipped I feel?” I ask myself. “Are they right?” I worry. “Because I was unable to get pregnant was I not meant to be a mother?” I fret. “Without a blood connection can we ever bond as mother and child?”

What follows is a collection of the ridiculous questions I’ve been asked over the years. My answers are three-tiered: First is my reasoned, by-the-book answer; next is the snarky answer I think of later, when I’m brooding at home; and lastly is the answer that comes from the giant chip I sometimes find on my shoulder.

“How much did you pay for him?”

“Pardon? Do you mean how much did the adoption cost? About $30,000, including travel expenses for two trips to Russia.” It’s pretty common for new adoptive parents to feel obliged to fill in all the blanks for total strangers. As time went on, I found my footing and said things like: “How much did your Caesarian cost?” “Did you have little Bobby through IVF? How much did that cost?” And later still, I was incensed at the implication that my son was a commodity that we could buy and sell after kicking the tires and taking him out for a test drive, so resorted to a cold stare.

“Do you know anything about his real mother?”

I love this one. When I’m feeling generous, I say, “Do you mean his birth mother?” Other times I say, “What isn’t real about me?” And when I feel the weight of the heavy chip on my shoulder, I say, “I think wiping his poopy bottom sixteen times a day, getting up in the middle of the night to soothe him, and lugging him down here to the playground qualifies me as his real mother. Don’t you?” That usually sends the questioner packing and leaves me feeling more than a tad self-righteous.

“He’s so cute, how could anyone give him up?”

Feeling generous: “No one ‘gave him up.’ I like to think that his birth parents realized they weren’t ready to parent when they placed him for adoption.” Snarky: “If he weren’t cute, would it have been okay to ‘give him up?’” Giant chip on my shoulder: “And you’re surprised by this because you thought only ugly kids were available for adoption? And if he were not cute in your view, would he not be worthy of being adopted?”

“Could you not have children of your own?”

I’m sorry, are we just meeting for the first time here in this playground or have we known each other for years and I just don’t recognize you? I can’t imagine how you could feel you had the right to ask me such a personal question otherwise. What am I supposed to say? “Yeah, my husband couldn’t get it up.” Or “I was born without a womb.” Or “I had children of my own but I ate them in a fit of spider-like passion.” How is Vlad not my own? Are they insinuating that because he didn’t spring from my loins are we prohibited from being a family?

“I know where he got those eyes!”

Generous: “Yes, we do look somewhat alike don’t we?” Snarky: “Really, have you been to Russia?” Giant chip: “What difference does it make if people look alike?”

“Why didn’t his real family want him?”

Is there an answer to this question? Even at my most generous I never found one. His being placed for adoption had nothing to do with him and everything to do with his birth parents. We didn’t find him in the discard pile. He’s a wonderful, perfect little baby that I love more than anything, so shut up. (I guess that answers my previous question about whether non-blood relatives can bond with each other at a fundamental level.)

“What if his real family wants him back?”

Generous: “We’re his real family. And our adoption has been finalized as a legally binding agreement.” Snarky: “I’m told when he’s a teenager I’ll beg them to take him.” Giant chip: “I’ll tell them to come get your kid instead.”

“Are you sure you can keep him?”

Intellectually, at my best moments, I like to think that this one speaks to the questioner’s concern for my family. There have so many sensational reports of the very few adoptions that have gone wrong and so few reports of the millions of adoptions that go right. No matter what, does the questioner really think that raising this issue, without knowing the legal situation of my adoption, is a good thing to do?

“Aren’t you worried about some background medical issue?” or “Do you think his mother took drugs when she was pregnant?” or “Don’t women drink a lot in Russia?” or “Are you sure the mother didn’t have any diseases?”

Generous: “He’s very healthy.” Snarky: “Let’s go ask Cindy if she shot up or drank any martinis when she was pregnant with little April. Do you think she has any diseases? Her skin color looks off to me.” Giant chip: “Are you all that proud of your own medical background?”

“Will you tell him he’s adopted?”

Generous: “The days of secret adoptions are really gone now. We’ll always talk openly about his having been born in Russia and reveal information as he’s ready for it.” Snarky: “Looks like you just did.” Giant chip: “Why wouldn’t I?”

“He’ll be really smart. Some of my best students when I was teaching were Russian.”

Generous: “I think that has more to do with the kids’ parents and upbringing than the fact that they came from Russia.” Snarky: “Oh, good, because I certainly don’t want to have to teach him anything.” Giant chip: “Do you really think genetics are the only factor in determining what a person is capable of? And is being ‘smart’ the only bellwether for success?”

“Are there real brothers and sisters?”

Generous: “He does have two birth siblings. We have enough information about them to help him find them when he’s older if he wants to.” Snarky: “You mean other than the blow up ones we have at home?” Giant chip: “We have a large, diverse group of friends and family who will always be a part of his life.”

“Why didn’t a Russian couple adopt him?”

Generous: “Sometimes there’s a stigma in Russia against adoption.” Snarky: “Must have been the horns, we had them removed.” Giant chip: “How would I know, I’m just glad they didn’t so that he could complete our family.”

“So he’s your adopted son?”

There’s only one answer to this one: “He’s my son. The adoption was an action that took place in the past. Now we’re a family. Parents, son.”

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8 Responses to “Stupid adoption questions”

  1. blessed Says:

    I am so sorry you have had to deal with so much rudeness.

    But, um, it was really fun to read your responses. I like the snarky ones best. ; )

    “I had children of my own but I ate them in a fit of spider-like passion”–I about spit out my tea. I’m going to steal this line for when random strangers comment on the apparently unbelievable size of our family (4 kids). “We did have four more, but. . . ”

    Ok, I might not have the guts. But I will think of it and at least smile. : )

    I just found your blog via scmountaingirl, and am so glad. You are a very good writer, and I appreciate your honesty.


    • Hi!

      I’m so glad you’re here and thanks for the comment.

      Whether you have the guts to be outwardly snarky or not isn’t the point–inner snarkiness counts for a lot. Go with that! 🙂


  2. […] Honest Momblog has written up an excellent post on “Stupid Adoption Questions” and she has a great three-tiered approach which she explains here:  “First is my reasoned, […]

  3. Michelle Says:

    Super giant chip: So you are his adoptive mom? So you are his vaginal mom? hehe

  4. Meg Says:

    I’ve also adopted from Russia but don’t know how to respond to this comment I’ve received several times (so I’ve just not said anything to avoid being disrespectful and just simmered inside for awhile): Introductions “This is — and her husband — and their son is adopted from Russia.” He’s my son – it doesn’t matter to me that he’s adopted. I love him like he’s my bio son. Thanks for your thoughts!


    • Hi Meg,

      I know, really, the things people say. I, too, in reality try not to be disrespectful toward people who I tell myself are unwittingly hurting my feelings. But I also think that my son needs to be protected from such unthinking comments. Or learn to address them somehow himself.

      I appreciate your visit and your comment. I haven’t been blogging in a while, but am moved to resume by finding new folks like you checking in.

  5. Cynthia in Denver Says:

    Beautiful. I love the idea of turing the questions around on their conception or lack thereof.


    • Hi Cynthia,

      Thanks so much for your comment. I’m glad my suggestions are helpful! ha! I haven’t been blogging in a while, which is obvious if you check the dates of my posts, but I’m inspired to start again when I see new folks, such as yourself, being touched by my words. More soon, I hope!


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