Post-Adoption Issues:
Unsolicited Comments

    When my husband and I became first time parents in 1991 of our then five-month-old Guatemalan born daughter, I felt that after the adoption process I was prepared for anything. On our second day home with our baby I was extremely proud to finally be able to tour our neighborhood, with my new baby in her stroller.

Mother and daughter at long last. We barely made it around the corner when two ladies ran from their homes to meet Kahleah and to express to their amazement that "from a distance you look like you could be her mother!" I politely told them that I was her mother. They giggled and said "? No, you know what we mean? HER REAL MOTHER!" Ouch. That hurt.

Then came the questions.

  • "Where are her parents?"
  • "Are her parents dead?"
  • "How much did she cost?"
  • "Why didn't her real parents want her?"
  • "Can her real parents take her back?"
  • "Will her skin get much darker?"
  • "Why didn't you adopt a Canadian (white) baby?"
  • "How old was her real mother?"
  • "Does she have brothers and sisters?"
  • "Will she ever learn to speak English/French?"
  • "Will you tell her she is adopted?"
  • "Does she carry any disease?"
  • "How tall will she be?"
  • "Who's fault is it that you couldn't get pregnant?"
  • "Did you try IVF?"
  • "Do you suppose that now that you have adopted you will finally have one of your own?"


Then came the statements.

  • "That's one lucky little girl you have got there!"
  • "Just imagine the kind of life you saved her from."
  • "There is a special place in heaven for people like you."
  • "It takes a special person to parent a child like that."
  • "I never would have guessed that you were not her parents?you treat her just like she was yours!"
  • "I would NEVER adopt! You never know what you are getting."
  • "Adoption is a good cure for infertility! Now you will be blessed with a child of your own!"
  • "I hope you know what you are getting yourself into!"

Five years ago I found myself "speechless" many times. I was bewildered, frustrated and hurt. What gives people the right to single out my family, in very public situations, and to expect responses to very intrusive personal matters? I don't understand.

Now that my daughter is five years old and the proud sister to 22 month old Colombian born Tristan, she is an innocent witness to this invasion. She is extremely proud of her little brother and sees him for exactly what he is? HER BROTHER.

Recently, a man in a shopping center took a long look at me, and then my children, then back to me. With Kahleah standing beside me, listening intently, he asked, "They yours?" "Yes." "Are they brother and sister?" Kahleah put a protective hand on her brother's shoulder and replied, "He is my new baby brother."

The man looked to me and said, "They don't look alike, they can't be REAL brother and sister!" I glanced at Kahleah and then firmly, yet calmly stated, "They are brother and sister." He seemed puzzled and continued with , "But I am sure they are not BLOOD brother and sister!" Realizing at this point that what was truly important was what my daughter was getting from the conversation. It was time to end the interrogation. Smiling at my children we proceeded to walk away ending the conversation with, "Sir, trust me. They are REAL brother and sister."

So many times someone comes up to my precious child to inform her what a "lucky little girl" she is. I am quick to jump in with, "No, it is her father and I that are lucky to be blessed with her!" What child deserves to be made to feel like their parents are doing an act of charity by adopting them? Why can't people accept us as a family, built with love and a lifelong commitment? Is it so hard to understand?

Why is it that we seem to know enough NOT to ask people how much they paid for their house. What is their salary? How much they paid for their car? How many months they had "tried" before they conceived a child?

My children are now older and listening. Believe me, the hurt in my child's eyes when racist comments are made directly at her, is much worse than the pain of skinning her knees or falling off her bike. It is harder to put a Band-Aid on her heart or her self-esteem.

As kids get older they will need you to" try" to understand what it is like to grow up a minority, with white parents and a white brother. I too, when I first adopted my daughter in 1991 felt that if anyone teased her, I would understand, because I was teased by other children as a child about my crooked teeth, skinny legs, and unusual name. Teasing is teasing, right? Not so.

Over the last several years I have had the opportunity to attend numerous national and North American adoption conferences attended by the top specialists in their fields. Many workshops dealt with racial identity and self-esteem in transracially adopted children.

I feel I learned the most in the sessions being presented by transracially, internationally adopted adolescents and adults, adopted as infants into white, North American families. I quickly realized as I listened to these brave young people that I had many misconceptions.

Mei-Lin, adopted from Korea explained that she realized by the age of eight that her parents were "in the dark" when it came to what she experienced once she left the comfort of her family and home. When in the company of her family, in the community, they were seen as a tranracial adoptive family. Accepted. When she was alone, she was an immigrant, a "boat person", Chinese, Japanese, Asian, and suffered from countless racial slurs.

She said that when she started first grade, it was herself and one other child that received all the teasing. She was teased about her eyes?"can you see through those?" And her round, flat face?"did you run into a wall?" She shared that the little boy that was also teased was white, cute, but had the misfortune to wear pink socks to school. Mei-lin started to tremble and cry when she explained to us that "he could change his socks". I could not change my racial features".

She proceeded to explain to our group of mostly adoptive parents that we were doing our children a disservice if we did not prepare our children for the "real world", outside our protective homes.

She said it is not right to teach them that everyone is basically nice and that they mean well. She said that we, as parents, have no idea what it is like to live as a minority and shouldn't pretend that we do. She said that to be teased because you are fat, wear glasses, too tall, too short, "bald" could not be compared to the deep pain that can be caused by rejection because of your race or birth culture.

She said we have to start early to prepare our children for the teen years and dating. She said that boys that she knew all her life rejected her as a teen because they said their parents didn't approve, going as far as to say that she was very nice, but wouldn't want to take the chance of having "Chinese" grandchildren (keeping in mind, Mei-Lin was born in Korea). All of us felt her pain in the re-telling of her story.

She said that although as parents we can try to understand, we never will, fully.

When our children share their racial or adoptive hurts with us, Mei-Lin advised that we never say, "I know how you feel". We don't. We should be a supportive shoulder to cry on. We should say, "I don't know exactly how you feel, but maybe you can help me to understand".

Be an advocate for your child. No one else will be. Mei-Lin said that after the age of eight she dealt with her pain on her own, no longer sharing with her parents because she" didn't think they could handle it". Her parents later shared with the group that they were shocked to hear about their daughter's experiences. They felt that at the time of the adoption all you needed to give a child was love. They now say they were very naive.

The hard work begins when the child arrives. We must educate ourselves so we can be the best parents for our children and to try to be "one step ahead". It is true that not everyone we meet is malicious, but we must be on guard.

I used to love when my daughter was a baby and people would stop me and exclaim "what beautiful black eyes she has! Look at that straight black hair! Nice brown skin!" Although I thought these were very positive comments, by the age of four, my daughter had had enough.

One day, in our community, after having numerous people make these same observations over and over again, Kahleah buried her face in my stomach, overwhelmed. She said to me that she was tired of people "always" pointing out the same things. Her hair, eyes and skin. I realized that they were pointing out her racial differences and her differences from me. She was reading between the lines, on her own. Maybe this was just her perception, but she was feeling it. Kahleah and I are very close and I make sure she knows she can talk to me about anything. I want to be ready.

We should not exaggerate and scare pre-adoptive parents. We can learn from each other's experiences. My experience has not been unique. This is not a daily occurrence, but it does happen. Be prepared.

Leceta Chisholm Guibault
March 1996- October 1997

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