Becky Hartung

WRITER. CREATIVE. HUMOR RESEARCHER.

"Was it Hard to Love Her?" & Other Weird Things People Have Asked My Mother About Adoption

I tend to frame my writings around my mother.

As I grow older, I am beginning to recognize her traits in myself.  Some traits very different, some very much the same.

She is a college-educated, well-read history buff, who leaned Republican most of her life because of her small business, rarely has an ill word to say about another person, carries coupons wherever she goes, can’t say the word Netflix right (She says, Net Flick) and is always inclined to help out people who are often seen as society’s outcasts.

My experience as an adopted child has been a central narrative in the way that I view and relate to my mother.  I rarely asked questions when I was young about my mother’s journey as an adoptive parent. She and my Dad were unable to have children biologically, and decided to use adoption to grow their family. My brother, Ricky, was adopted in 1986. I came along six years later after several years of radio silence from the adoption agency. That summed up how my family was created and my understanding of how families were built.

I called my Mom a few months ago to tell her about Netflix’s Grace and Frankie. I thought the humor was clever, but they had a storyline revolving around adoption that I thought my mother would find relatable. Grace (Jane Fonda) had two children biologically, and Frankie (Lily Tomlin) adopted two sons. Towards the end of one particular episode, Grace turns to Frankie and says:

“You know, I became a mother the first time I held my baby.”

Frankie responds,

“Me too.”

I told my Mom about the plot of the episode and repeated those lines to her over the phone. Her voice began to crack. She said, “That’s exactly right.”

No one had ever given my Mom the narrative of what it was like to be an adoptive mother.

I had never even asked. Until that moment.

“What another sort of experiences did you have when I was little?” I asked.

My Mom said she was frequently asked how much we cost, or if she had a hard time loving us right away. She knew these weren’t questions that were asked to mothers who gave birth to their children.

I believe my experience as an adopted child was shaped by the language used by others. The demonization that adopted meant different, and different was not okay was paralyzing as a child. Each time a person laughed at a “You’re adopted” joke on television, I felt like a mistake. I realized now the same language shaped my mother’s story. We have romanticized the experience of childbirth through our words, and have equated natal experiences to motherhood. Building a family through good genes and DNA has become an idol to many people. There is absolutely nothing wrong about building a family biologically, but there can be harmful affects when it is believed that it is the ideal way to build one. When adoption is viewed as a subsidiary way to grow your family, language like "After I have my own..." can promote negative sociological views of how healthy family units are determined.

I believe it is incredible that human life can grow inside of a woman, and I am cautious to write words that negate that experience. However, for millions of parents who choose or cannot grow life inside them, these singular descriptions of family building can be hurtful and negative to families that look different than your own. Motherhood is not growing a child; motherhood is showing up for your child.

Steven and I have no plans to biologically build a family. If we decide to grow our family, we will foster and we will adopt. It is rare to share this idea with someone who don’t respond by saying, “I don’t know, you might change your mind.” Unless it is my Mom, because she knows a secret that most people don’t…there is not one way to create a family.