August 19, 2008

At Least

"At least you were able to adopt."
"At least you were able to be there when he was born."
"At least you got a kid who looks like you."
"At least you know where she came from."

"At least you still get to see her."
"At least you know you're not infertile."
"At least you know he's safe."
"At least you don't have to deal with diapers and screaming kids."

"At least she has some medical history."
"At least he has that one copy of his original birth certificate."
"At least he wasn't abandoned on a doorstep or something."
"At least they'll know you wanted them."

These are all things people have said to me, to my kids' first moms, or about my children. Always in response to us opening up about the harder aspects of infertility or adoption. We crack the door to give them a peek at our emotions and they use the opening to kick us.

I'm know they're trying to be comforting, pointing out the cloud's silver lining and all that. (Although sometimes they're lashing out of their own hurt.) I admit that I've done it to others in the past, especially when I was younger and hadn't yet experienced core-shaking grief. Looking back, I'm ashamed at how I tried to mitigate their loss.

There are experiences in life which permanently change us. To have someone minimize those is deeply troubling. I love the mis-matched, not-genetically-related, adoptive family we are. I wouldn't change who my children are for the world. But the parallel losses--not knowing what a biological child of ours would look like, not being my children's sole mother, not knowing them from the womb--are still there. Even though they no longer hold the emotional power they once did, they have shaped the ways I identify myself. When someone minimizes those losses, they are minimizing me. The same goes for my children or their first parents.

There will be a moment when you're confronted with a friend's anger, grief or fear over an injustice or loss. Maybe it will make you uncomfortable. Maybe it will dredge up a hurt of your own. If you find yourself about to point out that it could be worse, please don't.

At least you could honor her experience.


Anonymous said...

Yes. You said it very well.

Megan said...

"But the parallel losses--not knowing what a biological child of ours would look like, not being my children's sole mother, not knowing them from the womb--are still there. Even though they no longer hold the emotional power they once did, they have shaped the ways I identify myself."

Perfectly said. The pain of fertility issues is mostly gone, but it has changed me permanently. In some way for the better, in some ways for the worse.

I know I have been the one to say the "at least" comment on many occasion. I can do better.

Anonymous said...

Ohhhhh yeah. It's stunning what will come out of people's mouths. I really don't feel like listing some of mine in a public forum, but I'm right there with you on this.

Lori said...

I think nearly every "at least" on your list has been uttered in my direction. My OBGyn even dropped the "at least you're not infertile" on me after my first miscarriage. Guess what? We never conceived again.

In a vain desire to ease another's pain or (gasp) "fix the problem," we often say the worst possible thing. The hardest thing to do is to simply listen and empathize. Not every problem needs to be solved.

Well said.

Anonymous said...

Well Said! its always the "what ifs" and the "at least" that will always be in my mind since I am a birth mom.

But I know my birth daughter is in a great family and loves to torment her older sister who's also adopted.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this one, Heather. For each and every line, and in my own personal case, especially for "...the parallel losses...not being my children's sole mother...." I've been dwelling on this one and feeling a lot of guilt for feeling that way this past week. This was good affirmation for me that I don't need to feel guilt over acknowledging that as a parallel loss (at the same time that it is still M. and K.'s loss, too)...

And a good reminder not to ever say much more than "I'm sorry" when comforting someone for their never use an "at least."

Again, just thanks.


Tammy said...

This sums up most of what I've been trying to say the last umpteen months as I've struggled through. And it is a reason I shut down in so many relationships IRL and turned to blogging to work through stuff. I honestly don't expect people to understand what I've been through/am going through/will go through, and honestly in passed expecting people to care, but please don't minimize the losses. Please, just don't. You've said so well what I feel as well.

Yoka said...

That was very well written. Thank you for being so open. Those comments can be so hurtful and people don't mean bad, but they just haven't gone through the experiences we have... They just don't get it.

luna said...

this is such a perfectly beautiful post, heather. I may direct others here too. thanks.

Anonymous said...

This says so much and so well. I'm not infertile or directly involved in adoption, but my family members are -- so I'm just that person who doesn't automatically "get" the hardships and the joys of open adoption. But I AM trying and your beautiful post (and blog) show me so much.

Do you (or your readers) have thoughts on how one CAN be supportive when one of the adoption triad chooses to share their experience? I know I can't take on my sister's pain at the loss and the anxiety that comes with the hope of a healthy match, but if there is something more I can do beyond being excited when she's excited and sad along with her when she's sad, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

I have also been struggling (especially as I talk to my mom about my sister's hopeful adoption)with what to do with the aphorism that goes "adoption is a beautiful gift". This just does not seem RIGHT or truthful -- the prospective birth mother who may choose to let my sister raise her baby isn't considering this a GIFT, at least I hope not. She doesn't and shouldn't care about my sister's inability to carry a child, right? but what IS it? Do you have a response for when someone throws that "adoption = gift" out there?

Your family seems so rich. Thank you for sharing it.
Thanks, Mar

Juliette said...

My first stop here, but not the last one...
So well said.

Missives From Suburbia said...

Oh, thank you for this. It's perfectly said.

I have a child now and one on the way, but we struggled so much to become parents and it permanently altered who I am, who my husband is and our marriage. I wish people understood a hug is enough.

M de P said...

Just want to add one more "perfectly said". Yes, yes, yes.

I, too, look back and think about reactions I have had in the past to others' situations and cringe. Our IF and journey through adoption has made me so much more aware of others' situations, and I am very thankful for that.

Anonymous said...


Mama Bear said...

great post! at least - I thougt so!

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