I stood in line at a local eatery in Nashville, TN with my new shirt on when I noticed a large African American family in front of me (it looked like two sets of parents with children aged 5 or 6 up to perhaps 16). The younger kids were a little fussy; so, one of the mothers sat on a bench near us with them. At one point, I caught her eying my shirt with a quizzical brow; and suddenly, my pride in wearing it fell away...I started thinking, "What is she thinking?"
What are people thinking? Do they think I'm pretentious? Just another yuppie, white woman doing a "trendy" international adoption like some celebrity starlet who doesn't really seem to care or know about world events or issues?
Do they think I'm doing a good thing? Do they think I'm "saving" some sick, defenseless, poverty-stricken child - that I'm a "good Samaritan"? Do they admire me?
All of this worries me. Whether kind and empathetic or skeptical and disapproving, an outsider's opinion of what my husband and I are doing is probably completely inaccurate.
We're not "saviors" relieving a child from "darkness" and "doom" (although, yes, at times the environment that the child comes from may not be the best the world has to offer). We're also not adopting to bring attention to ourselves or to follow in Angelina Jolie, Madonna, or Katherine Heigl's footsteps. We want a family, and we want to include an adopted child in that family, because we believe that's what God wants for us - end of story.
There is also the opinion that mothers of adopted children shouldn't readily or overtly "tell" their adopted child's "story" (how they were adopted and from where and why and when, etc.). It is the common belief in adoption circles that this will be the child's information to share or not in the future.
So, by wearing a t-shirt practically exclaiming the fact that we're adopting from Africa, am I giving away too much? Am I somehow betraying my future child's story? Am I doing something wrong?
On one hand, I get angry and answer my own question: NO! Why is wrong for an adopted mother to be excited and tell her child's story? When a biological mother shares how her child was born in a birth story or tells a passing stranger a little about him or her when in passing they stop to "ooh" and "aww" over them, is that somehow "too much"? Why is different for an adopted child? Why aren't the same standards held for biological parent/child relationship?
This child will be MY child; so, why do I have to treat our relationship so differently? Wouldn't all of these "rules" for adoptive parents just cause more issues with the adopted parent/child relationship? Why can't I just treat my adopted child like my child and not worry about the fact that she'll look different (because, honestly, that will be the only indicator that she's not biologically mine)?
When a woman is pregnant, she can wear a big, bold shirt declaring that she is "cooking something" or "she's with cutie (arrow pointing to big belly)" or just regular maternity clothes; but the reaction from the public is not usually one of questioning or disapproval. It wouldn't be the norm to have a stranger look this woman up and down with a skeptical eye thinking, "Why is she pregnant?" Nobody asks what her motivation is or whether she's trying to keep up with her friends or save a marriage or something else equally ridiculous or hurtful. But there, wearing my adoption t-shirt, being analyzed (whether ruefully or not) by a stranger, I suddenly felt as if I needed to defend myself. And I hated that feeling.
I let those feelings swelter in me when later it happened, a lady asked me what my shirt meant. I got to explain what my husband and I were doing, tell her where I ordered the shirt, and most importantly, I got to talk about the severe need for food, supplies, medical support and more in Ethiopia and all across Africa. She was not offended. She did not attack my motivation. She was congenial and interested and in the end even thanked me for reminding her of how lucky we are here in America.
I realized in that moment, that our adoption will be our adoption. We will raise our child(ren) to look beyond the colors of our skin to only see love and family and togetherness. If I want to talk about my child (where she's from, when we brought her home, where she's ethnically from, etc.), I'll talk about it; if I don't, I won't. She will be my child; so, it will be my prerogative. Moreover, if people want to be ignorant or angry or offended, they will always be so. No amount of information will likely change their minds.
And, I need to remember that not every person I encounter is going to be skeptical or judgmental about adoption. Many people are merely interested. I can't always be on the defensive; because when I am like that, I am more likely to push people away, when I need to be open and inviting so that I can spread the correct information about adoption and adoption issues to those who are genuinely curious.
So, it's not the last of my baby pink "Adopting Africa" t-shirt! Next time I wear it, I'll make sure to stand a little taller! :)
Love...so much love,
My super cute African adoption t-shirt! To get one of your own, click the "Adopting Africa" button here on the right-hand side of my blog!