adoption isn't a punch line

"That's it, I'm putting you up for adoption," joked the mom at the playground splash pad with her on-purpose messy ponytail to her unaware toddler, sharing a round of uproarious laughter with her friends. Just a few feet away, my two children wandered into the splash pad: my son, running in excitedly but cautiously, and my daughter, still crawling but far more adventurous and less concerned with safety. I felt my stomach tighten to the point where my knees felt weak under me, and I felt the familiar feeling of heat flush into my cheeks. I tried to discreetly stare at them, to assess the faces that looked nice enough and yet could be so unintentionally cruel. It wasn't the first time I'd heard adoption as the butt of a joke, and it sure wouldn't be the last time. "My sister doesn't look anything like the rest of us," a mom at the library joked to her friend, "so when I'm mad at her, I just tell her she's adopted."

I have heard people make racist jokes, likely because I'm white and they have no idea that my daughter is black, and they wrongfully assume that such jokes are funny if no one in the audience is impacted firsthand. I wholly reject that ignorant theory with everything within me. Racism, rape, misogyny -- these things aren't funny, regardless of the experiences of the person listening to your joke. The same goes for adoption. The pain and life-altering turmoil and sacrifice that my daughter's birth parents had to make aren't a punchline to some silly joke that does nothing but perpetuate the stigma that one must be defective, somehow, someway, in order to be placed for adoption. Adoptees grow up bearing the brunt of a lot of that stigma, sometimes believing themselves that they were unwanted, unloved, not good enough. Older children sometimes believe that they did something wrong, something bad, something that warranted them placement -- and I can't blame them, because these are the jokes we hear on a regular basis. The notion that an adopted child is loved less than a biological child -- that learning of ones adoption is an insult -- has been perpetuated a thousand times over in the memes I've seen pop up on my timeline last month alone.

I'm not an adoptee, but I am an adoptive mother. I know that in my daughter's brief year of being a part of our family, I've gotten countless stares and inquiries over the fact she looks different from the rest us. I am sure that soon she will feel the stares herself, and internalize the comments from well-intentioned strangers who are eager to know in the inner-workings of our family dynamic. I am sure that in her quest to know herself, as all adolescents go through, she will find a more intricate path to trudge through than most. And if she had been a little older that day at the splash pad, I can only imagine the way that stranger's joke would have held onto her heart and not let go.

Adoptees aren't throw-away children. They aren't children who were unwanted, or unloved. I can empathize with the ache in my daughter's birth mother's heart that she will have to live with for the rest of her life, and sometimes this is what I think about when parents make jokes about placing their child for adoption over a tantrum over a cookie or broken toy. I think of the battle that my own family fought to get to the point of bringing our daughter home with us through adoption -- the pain, the tears, the moments of feeling like our lives would forever be incomplete. I think of the struggles my friend faced in multiple failed adoptions before bringing home her beautiful daughter, and the level of heartache there that most people will never be able to comprehend. I think of the infertility treatments, the needles jabbed just to the side of my belly button, and the physical pain that paled in comparison to waking up with a half-broken heart and empty arms each morning. And I think of my daughter and the other adoptees just like her -- innocent, loved beyond measure, just trying to exist in a world that turns the very essence of who they are into a joke.

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