One of the things that we adoptive parents struggle with, especially those of us who have children who actually look like us, is how, when and why to reveal the fact that our children are adopted. It's a strange balancing act: on one hand, we don't want our children to grow up with the notion that their adoption is a Big Deal, something that makes them Different and somehow Unusual; on the other hand, we certainly don't want them to grow up think that their adoption is a big family secret, something Which Should Never Be Revealed. Similarly, I think a small, activist part of me wants to ensure that other people get that adoption isn't that big of a deal -- it's just another way that families come to be. Still, I find myself wrestling with how much to reveal, and in what situations, always mindful of how what I say might affect Alex, if not now, when she's older.
For example: this weekend, while we were in Grand Riviere, my friend Joy and I were speaking with a friend of hers, Max. Joy knew that Alex is adopted; Max didn't. At the time, we were talking about health, and weight loss, and getting fit, and I was lamenting how much weight I'd gained over the past few years, and how much I'd lost since arriving in Trinidad and joining a gym. Max, I'm sure in an effort to comfort me, said, "Well, Karen, of course, you should go easy on yourself. I mean, there's always weight gain with a new baby."
I smiled, and I could feel Joy looking at me, wondering if I was going to tell him. And I responded:
"Well, I'd love to blame the weight gain on Alex, but since she's adopted, I don't even have THAT excuse!" Max's hands flew to his face, laughing, but I suspect somewhat embarrassed; Joy fell into helpless giggles.
Our conversation continued merrily along in a good-health-and-fitness direction, but there was a part of me that wondered: was it appropriate that I revealed Alex's adoption to Max? If Alex were older, would she have preferred that I didn't say anything, and instead, allow her to be the owner of whether her adoption is revealed or not? Of course, I wouldn't have said anything if I thought it out of place; in fact, my reason for saying anything at all was because I feel her adoption shouldn't be held as a deep, dark secret -- if it comes up in natural conversation, then so be it. I guess, though, I worry about whether, in the future, it will be my place to make this sort of decision.
Similarly, when I was enrolling Alex in daycare, I had intended not to reveal the fact that Alex was adopted: as far as I was concerned, it really wasn't any of their business. But then, we came to the part of the enrollment form which asked if Alex had any allergies. I paused, and looked up at Tessa, the teacher:
"Oh. Allergies. Umm, no, I don't think she has any. But the thing is, Alex is adopted. So I can't really tell you if she might have an allergy we just haven't discovered yet, since we obviously can't look to our own medical histories to make an educated guess. So, I guess I'd prefer if you'd be careful with her around any known allergens, like nuts and so on, until we figure this out."
Clearly, I feel like I made the right decision in revealing her adoption -- medically speaking, I think it was important. But again: when Alex is older, is she going to want her teachers and possibly other students knowing she's adopted? Isn't this information she might like to manage on her own? Because, let's face it, people can sometimes say some pretty stupid things when they are confronted with adoption. I can certainly conceive of some instances where she might like to just avoid the topic entirely.
I guess what it all boils down to is that as Alex grows up, I want her to feel special, but not different. I want her to be proud of her adoption, but I don't want it to be an issue. Because, in the long run, the only thing that matters is that she realizes she is loved -- and loved by everyone who was involved in the entire adoption process.