All parents grapple with the boundaries of “sharenting” — the modern parenting trend of oversharing images and details of a child’s life online — but for adoptive parents, the boundaries are even more blurred. Is it our place to reveal our child’s adoption to strangers? Is it an invasion of their privacy to post adoption day photos on social media? Don’t we mothers have a right to openly share our parenthood journey if we so choose?
As the founder of an online resource and community for non-traditional families, I’m an unapologetic sharenter and believer in the power of storytelling. I actually find it easy to control the reveal of my son’s adoption online, but it’s much more challenging in real life. Questions can blindside me, and are often asked in front of my child. After five years as an adoptive parent, these are the rules I’ve established regarding how I share Levon’s adoption story and my own motherhood journey with both friends and strangers alike.
MY STORY STARTS WITH HIS ADOPTION
My #1 rule is that I never share any part of Levon’s story that took place before I adopted him. If well-meaning people ask about his birth mother’s pregnancy, the cause of his prematurity, or why she chose adoption, I simply respond, “I don’t share those details because that is his birth mother’s story, not mine.” People are generally very respectful of that response.
SHARING OUR NICU STORY
While the details of his birth and prematurity belong to him and his birth mother, the time he spent in the NICU is the beginning of my motherhood journey. Just as biological mothers have the right to share their birth stories and photos from the hospital, I have a right to share my NICU experience and photos of us during that time. It’s nearly impossible to share our NICU story without revealing Levon’s adoption because everyone’s first question is always, “Why was he early?” Again, I respond, “He was adopted, and those details are his birth mother’s to share, but I’m more than happy talk about our NICU stay.”
REVEALING HIS ADOPTION
Given Levon’s age, motherhood and childbirth come up in conversation quite often, and while I don’t lead with his adoption, I often end up there by the middle of the conversation. When he was a baby, people would often ask, “How did you lose the weight so fast?” Now that he’s five, it’s usually questions about our frequent trips to Tucson.
“Do you have family there?”
“Yes. Levon’s grandparents.”
“Your husband’s parents?”
“No, his birth grandparents.”
Levon is often in earshot of these conversations, and it’s important for me to give answers that leave him feeling confident and proud of our family structure. What message would it send to him if I was anything less than open about his adoption? I would never pretend that my stepsons don’t have another mother, so why would I pretend that Levon doesn’t have a birth mother? His adoption is not a shameful secret that we hide or something that we “reveal” to others. It’s simply the explanation of how he joined our family.
It’s also important to provide him with the words to use when he faces these questions from his own friends. Unfortunately, children still make ignorant and painful remarks about adoption on the playground. Our society has made it a point to give children the words to use when talking about race, gender, sexuality, and even consent, but somehow we’ve forgotten to teach them about the many ways that families are formed.
Some of the questions that come our way are a bit more complicated to answer. Since we have a relationship with Levon’s birth mother’s family, people often ask, “So do you know who the father is?”
After being blindsided by this question more than once, I came up with my go-to answer: “We do not have a relationship with Levon’s birth father or his family.” Because we don’t. Whether or not we know his identity is the perfect example of a detail that is not mine to share. In the context of Levon’s adoption, it’s nothing more than gossip.
SHARING THE COST OF HIS ADOPTION
The cost of childbirth and fertility treatments in American is widely reported and discussed, yet talking about the cost of adoption is still considered taboo. I am extremely open about our adoption expenses for two reasons: First, I want to clear up any misconceptions that adoption is the purchase of a baby. Birthing a child costs money. IVF costs money. So does adoption. Having a kid is expensive, no matter how you welcome them into the world, and talking about the cost isn’t shameful. Furthermore, I’m an advocate for adoption, and many people who want to adopt feel that they don’t have the means, which isn’t true. Foster care, private adoption, and international adoption all have different price tags, with foster care costing far less. If having this discussion leads just one family to fostering a child, let that be my legacy.
IT’S MY STORY TOO
Aside from the fact that my son is adopted, everything I share about my motherhood journey is my story. What inspired me to pursue adoption instead of biological children is my story. How I navigate parenthood as an adoptive mother, how I’m building a relationship with my child’s birth family, and how growing up the child of an adoptee inspired my parenting are all my stories to share. My passion for building a community of adoptive parents, birth parents, and adoptees in an effort to educate and empathize with all sides of the triad is not only my story, but my mission. Revealing that my son is adopted is not oversharing, it’s acknowledging and celebrating who he is and how he came into this world.
Jessica Butler is the co-founder of Raisel stepmother of two, and adoptive mother of one. Prior to Raise, she was a writer on USA’s "In Plain Sight" and TNT’s "The Last Ship." She and her husband, writer/producer Warren Bell, co-created the Nick at Nite series "Instant Mom," based on her life as a stepmother. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and six-year-old son, Levon.