Responding to the Question, “Do You Have Children?”
I made a pledge to my son, before he was born, that I would never deny his existence. If people asked me – as is so often our way when we make new acquaintances – “Do you have children?”, I would never duck the question and always answer in the affirmative. That hasn’t proven to be 100 percent possible – occasionally, it has just been necessary/easier to say “No” and keep moving. But whenever possible, I have kept my pledge.
In the early years, when the pestering follow-up questions would come, I might simply say, “He doesn’t live with me,” not caring what conclusions the other person might draw. Depending on the time constraints and my relationship to the individuals, I’ve offered a number of people specific details about the adoption on initial meeting. But if I felt a person were asking with no concern whatsoever about the answer – or if I felt that telling them was going to take me down a rabbit hole that would be difficult to exit – I would curtail my answer.
Over the years, Kathy would send me snapshots and Eric’s annual school pictures. For the duration of my Investment Banking stint at Lehman Brothers, I kept a framed photo of him on my desk, just like other proud moms. One of my friends, Wayne from the mailroom, would occasionally ask how my son was doing, and I would give him the latest update if I had one. Interestingly, a birthmother friend of mine told me that by doing that – embracing my son so publicly – I was putting the people I worked with in an awkward position. Project much, Alissa?
My position has always been that if my honest answers and public acknowledgment of my son made anyone else uncomfortable, that was their problem – not mine. I’ve often suspected that Alissa might have had some shame or guilt or other unresolved negative emotions about her own adoption that made her feel squirmish because I was comfortable talking about my own situation. It wasn’t a competition, but neither was I willing to pretend to be uncomfortable to make her feel better.
I had long heard that people’s responses to birthmothers was often, “How could you do such a thing?” I think Alissa was worried this would be their response if she told them about her birthmom status, so she chose to keep quiet. The thing is, I believe that we get back whatever we put out into the world. If we expect people to accept us, they will; if we expect them to judge us, they’ll do that instead. I was happy with the family I chose for my son – and though I naturally had some grief issues, I never felt guilty about my decision. As I told the other mothers in the birthmother support group, if I’d felt guilty about it, I never would have chosen to place. So it was fairly easy for me to talk about my son and the adoption with almost anyone who asked.
Over all my years as a birthmother, only two people have questioned my decision. One was the petty woman who was my boss’s boss at Lehman Brothers. She was a terrible manager who treated her staff like Joan Crawford did her daughters in Mommie Dearest, sowing division by pitting them against one another. I believe I may have been the only one of the 14 females under her direction whom she never made cry, perhaps because I never gave her the ammunition or power to do so. I was always cordial, but never friendly, having learned early that this woman would sock away bits of information like a mad squirrel, bringing them out later to use against you if/when it suited her. So it was no real surprise to me when she asked, at one point, why I hadn’t just gotten an abortion.
The other person was a man named Tim, with whom I was madly in love in my mid-30s. We had an emotional affair, but never dated. He knew the whole story of the adoption, and would celebrate my son’s birthday with me every year. I don’t really remember the context of the conversation, but once when Eric was about 8, Tim said to me, “I don’t know how you did it. I just don’t think I could have gone through with it,” – it being the adoption.
“It feels like you’re judging me,” I said in response.
“I’m not – I’m just saying…” Things got quiet then, and he apologized.
But that was it. In 23+ years, virtually no one has had what I have perceived as a negative or judgmental response to the news that I placed my son for adoption at birth.
It used to be that I didn’t know a person five minutes before I revealed that I was birthmother in an open adoption. It was just important to me that they know up front, so that if it ever came up in conversation later, they wouldn’t look at me and say, “You have a son?” I realized at a business meeting recently that this is no longer the case. It’s a monthly meeting where we share our accomplishments since the last meeting, and I mentioned starting this blog. As I began speaking, I realized that most of the people in the room probably did not know about Eric, so I had to explain. I’m not sure what has changed – after 23 years, the novelty is gone? Familiarity has set in? My life is in a different place now?
Regardless, I still typically answer yes to “the question” and brag about the kiddo when given the opportunity.
Laura Orsini is an author who works with other authors to help them make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.