This letter isn't to you today. But it's FOR you. Because we've all been there---the time the "professional" bestows upon us the exact wrong thing. It might be a word. A tidbit of advice. And we're frustrated, angry, stunned. So here's what you can do. Hand that "professional" this letter. Tell 'em what's up.
Here ya go:
I’m a mom. Yes, I adopted my children. Yes, that might be clearly evident to you---or maybe not. Yes, I’ve disclosed as much as I can on the paperwork I’ve given you about my child’s insurance coverage, medical history, and/or family health history.
Please do not refer to me as my child’s “adoptive” or “foster” mother. Do not refer to my child as my “adopted” child. Do not assume my child was born drug addicted, premature, or received no prenatal care. Do not refer to my child’s biological parents as their sole “real” parents and ask questions, unrelated to my child’s medical care, about them. (All my children’s parents---whether they are biologically related to the children or not---are “real.”)
When you walk into the room, if you are uncertain of the family dynamic, simply ask the adult (me), "What is your relationship to the child?" Though if you read the paperwork before you walk in the room (see next point), you will already know the answer. OR, ask the child, "And who did you bring with you to your appointment today?" and gesture toward me. Either is a fair question that doesn't assume.
Please read the paperwork I filled out first, and if you have questions that pertain to my child’s medical care, feel free to ask. But please remember, I am my child’s mother: even if we don’t look alike and do not share biology. And my child is my “real” child, and all of my children, whether they are biologically related or not, are “real” siblings. In fact, their birth siblings are their REAL siblings, too.
If you have questions about adoption, I will be happy to give you the name of an adoption professional or organization. It is inappropriate to ask me questions about my child’s adoption story outside of what is medically necessary to treat my child. Even more so, to ask my children questions that are inappropriate. Let me be clear. Adults, "professionals" or not, should not use their size, age, and authority to bully children into answering questions that are private.
I might do things a bit differently than most other parents. You might see me wearing my child in a sling or carrier: sometimes until the child is in kindergarten or older. I might comfort nurse or breastfeed my child, who might be an infant, a toddler, or a preschooler. I might utilize gentle parenting practices. My child is more likely to need special therapies, including occupational therapy, for things like sensory processing difficulty. My child might be wearing headphones or utilizing a chewy necklace or eating a crunchy snack to help him or her deal with being in a medical office. You might see me doing joint compressions on my child. I may practice attachment parenting, doing things such as co-sleeping. I might practice “gentle” discipline and redirection. I might do things that seem uncommon or unorthodox, including how I ask that my child be treated medically. I might insist that some medical procedures be delayed or altered to fit my children's needs, especially if a child has had a traumatic past. This is all because I’ve done extensive research on adoption (including trauma and attachment), and because I know my child best.
I ask that you do not reign down judgment upon those choice or offer unsolicited advice. I need your support and encouragement—and I need my child to be able to trust you when we come in for a visit. I would love for you to learn more about these things so you can better treat not only my child, but other children who were also adopted.
Please learn about Positive Adoption Language. You can find a list online very easily. This means saying a child “was” adopted and not “is” adopted. (Adoption is a legal process that has a beginning and end.) This means referring to a child as being “placed” for adoption and not “given up” or “given away.” I’m not trying to be the PC police, but you should know that your words matter and the things you say do impact my child. Don't put down my child's birth parents based on things you've read or heard or even experienced. Many children, mine included, have open adoptions with their birth families, and birth families do not fit into one mold.
A family like mine is often "othered" by strangers. Please do not be one of those "strangers" who is clueless, ignorant, and nosy. Be the professional by being professional.
I want my children to have a great experience here. I want them to know they can trust those who care for them medically. I want them to feel safe to ask you questions. I don't want them feeling judged, less-than, different, or bothersome. I don't want them to see you belittling my choices, questioning my judgment, or "figuring out" adoption through a live conversation with my family.
I love educating others on adoption, but not at the expense of my children's privacy. All is not "fair game," because this is my child's life and our family story---one that is intimate, complex, and bittersweet. Yes, there is tremendous joy, but even that is private.
Please educate your staff as well: everyone from the person who works the front desk and answers phones, to the billing person, to the nurses, to the other doctors. Teach them to embrace families like mine.
Please be respectful, and above all else, as you promised, "do no harm."
Love, a mom-by-adoption