Monday, August 1, 2016

"Adopting? Now you'll get pregnant!" {what not to say}

Recently, I had the following conversation with someone at a big group dinner (an acquaintance):

Her: So how long have you been married?
Me: We just celebrated our fifth anniversary in May.
Her: (teasingly), kids any time soon?
Me: (somewhat irked) Well, we've actually been trying since we were married, and now we're pursuing adoption.
Her: Oh! That's wonderful. I have a friend who right after she adopted, got pregnant!
Me: That's honestly pretty uncommon...
Her: But it can happen!
Me: (feeling pretty steamed by now) Well, if it happens, we're all for it - but right now we're pursuing adoption for its own sake, and not as a first step to getting pregnant.

(I think she then realized that this was not going well, and began talking with someone on the other side - and I needed a minute to calm down and let the steam roll out of my ears....!)

I felt pretty crummy after this exchange! I should say right up front that I think it's charitable to always give the other person the benefit of the doubt, ascribe to them kind motives, realize that people are generally trying their best, and so on. Sheesh, before I experienced infertility and trying-to-adopt, I'm sure I said some not-so-great things to friends struggling to grow their family! (In fact, I can think of concrete instances.)

All the same, as part of this space is our chance to share what we've learned about adoption, hopefully it's not too much of a stretch to write a post about what NOT to say to people when you learn they're adopting.

The #1 thing based on the conversation above is, please please PLEASE refrain from saying anything along the lines of "now you're adopting, just watch, you'll get pregnant!" or telling any stories to that effect.

I get why people want to share this kind of thing. On the one hand (the better hand), it's beautiful to hear when people who have tried for a long time to have children get back-to-back kiddoes! Hey, we'd love that! So in that sense, they are joyous stories and I understand why people like sharing them.

But on the other hand, what it can feel like to someone trying to adopt is minimizing the particular joys and struggles of adoption. It's like a major case of deflection. "Oh, you just graduated? That's cool, but I know someone who has this amazing job right after graduating!" "Oh, you just bought a house? Wow, but just watch, you'll win the lottery any day now!" It's really frustrating any time you share something - especially something really personal and important to you - with someone only to have them basically change the subject immediately. Booooooo. In this instance, instead of talking about adoption (which I always love talking about, and have a lot of thoughts on) suddenly we're talking about pregnancy, which I have zero experience with and actually is not a particularly happy topic for me. (Not to mention the reminder that we've been married five years....where are the kids?)

The other thing is, bringing up the "pregnancy after adoption" thing makes it seem like these two are somehow related. The fact is, just because some people do get pregnant at some point after adopting (in fact: 3-10%, so not that many!), adoption has absolutely no effect on your ability to get pregnant! Seriously. No effect at all. (And no, the mythical "just relax" infertility cure hardly applies here - adopting and parenting a newborn or young child is all kinds of wonderful things but I don't think very "relaxing"!) So yeah. If we are so blessed to adopt, perhaps it will be the case (God willing) that we conceive at some future point. But even if that happens, the adoption honestly won't have anything to do with it. There's definitively no cause and effect going on here.

Lastly, and I think most importantly, bringing up pregnancy when someone tells you they're adopting comes across (to me at least) as privileging pregnancy over adoption - like despite just getting done saying you're excited to be adopting, what you really, truly want is to get pregnant. Now, of course that would be great! Any time! I do want that! But we're pursuing adoption whole-heartedly, and not with a hidden agenda. If we are so blessed to adopt, we won't at all think our child is "second best" because we didn't conceive him/her. Adoption doesn't cure infertility - the deep longing to conceive and bear a child will probably always be present in our hearts - but we are happy about the adoption path we're on and will embrace our child as our own and not as a kind of "substitute" for a biological child.

So there you have it! Something to avoid when talking with someone who is trying to adopt. A better path? If someone tells you "we're adopting," good answers include:

  • Congratulations!
  • What wonderful news!
  • Tell me about it.
  • What kind of adoption?
  • Where are you in the process?
  • How is it going for you?
And most importantly of all: I'll pray for you.

[Bonus: My blogger friend Stephanie wrote a fantastic post a while back that is much more detailed and witty than this one! Definitely worth a read:


  1. I get irked when people ask us if we're "done"! Isn't that a rather, um, intimate question to be asking in a casual conversation? After a miscarriage a few years ago I avoid asking people questions about their family size casually!

    1. This is irksome! Grr.

    2. I did have to laugh when a Papua New Guinean lady started a conversation with me today by asking "So... you only have three children?" It was so similar to the "are you done" question in the US but coming from the opposite assumption about family size!

  2. I think you handled that conversation rather well. You were much more charitable than I could ever possibly hope to be.

    I believe people want to be helpful and encouraging, but in the process say really stupid things.

    Our niece, Sara, is adopted, and there is not a bit of me that could love her more had my sister birthed that baby! She is the sun, the moon and the stars to us, as will any child will be to you, however he or she comes into your life.