There’s this perception that if we physically give birth, we know what we’re “getting.” Whereas if you adopt, you have no idea, and therefore perhaps you should be leery. Hmmm. This is a perception that I like to call a myth, and I’d like to take a moment to banish that myth.
I should back up and say that, yes, sadly this is a comment I have received. Prior to adopting, I was asked if I was concerned about what I might “get.” To me, that’s such a ridiculous comment, I just can’t believe people ask it. Alas, for some reason, when it comes to adoption, most people have no filters.
I think I understand where the question might stem from: there is a perception that most children placed for adoption were taken from their birth parents (especially if the child is black, like mine) because of drug use by the birthmother. That inaccuracy is a conversation for another day, but might offer some insight into why people ask that question.
Nevertheless, I’m baffled by the question because it seems fairly obvious that you don’t know what you’re getting no matter where a child comes from. Sure, if you physically birth a child, you’ve got an idea of your genetic makeup (hair and eye color; height; weight; predisposition to X, Y, or Z; etc.), but what if you’re not sure who the father is? (Hey, it happens a lot.) You might have some info based on the two or three people you were with, but I’m going to guess if you don’t know who the father is, you don’t know much beyond hair and eye color, height, weight, etc.
Even if you’re married (with your partner, etc.) and have all the info you could want and then some, you still don’t know exactly what you’re going to get. From a NY Times article titled Genetics: Why children aren't just like their parent, Carey Goldberg had this to say : “There is a multitude of genetic variants that influence who you are, and another multitude that influence your partner, so your children end up a unique mixture that differs dramatically from each of you.” In other words, you don’t know what you’re going to get.
This is of course the same case with children who are adopted, but not because we (as adoptive parents) lack any information about the child. It’s simply for the same reason as cited above. (Note: I can only speak to domestic, open adoption, as I haven’t adopted Internationally; I realize when a child has been adopted from an orphanage or the like, there is probably little or no information available.)
In our case, we have a relationship with our son’s birthparents—and their parents—so we have access to a wealth of information about his genetic makeup, and we knew, as much as anyone can, what we were “getting” before he was born.
Our daughter’s situation is a little different, as we only have the basics—hair and eye color, height, weight, no drug/alcohol use—and a few other minor tidbits of information. Still, it was enough to paint a picture of what we might be “getting” when we brought her home.
The bottom line is that no matter where a child comes from (your belly or someone else’s), there are simply no guarantees. No one knows for sure what messed up genes might be lurking in their DNA. And genetics is a wacky thing—those genes could show up anywhere at any time. All we can do is the best we can with the information we do have.
I’ve learned to tailor my response depending on whom I’m talking with. If it’s someone I know well, or I’m in the mood to educate, I give a lengthy response (much like this post). If it’s an acquaintance or (gasp) a stranger asking, I simply say: nothing. Only because I have yet to come up with an appropriate zinger to hurl at people. I will let you know when I do, or better yet, let me know what you’d say.