Awkward questions

For just about any sensitive topic you can imagine (and really, what isn’t a sensitive topic?), the web is littered with lists of “things not to say” and “questions not to ask.” Adoption is no exception–whether it’s being out and about with a child who doesn’t resemble you, or trying to tell people about the process, the internet would have us believe that interacting with any other people at all is A DEADLY MINEFIELD OF EXPLOSIVE OAFS!!!!

Well….I don’t know if we just know all the coolest people in the world, or we happen to live and work in a community or moment where this just isn’t that big of a deal, but in general (…so far!) we have found our friends, family, co-workers and neighbors to be supportive, chill, and generally thoughtful and polite throughout this entire process.

Here are some of the awkward, uninformed, intrusive, de-humanizing, or plain old rude questions and comments that are apparently common, but that (so far!)  not a single person has sprung on us: 

  • But…why?
  • Do you think you love her as much as a “real” child?
  • How much did she cost?
  • What is she?
  • Where did you get her?
  • What’s wrong with her biological family?
  • Are you going to tell her she’s adopted?
  • What if her birthmom changes her mind? Aren’t you afraid they’ll take her back?

I do expect that we’ll encounter plenty of these as time goes on, though…only a lifetime of being parents to a person with different DNA lies ahead of us!

In the 18 months we were waiting + 3 months we’ve been parents, here are some of the less-than-ideal questions and comments we have faced:

  • You know, my [friend/sister/neighbor] thought they couldn’t have kids, so they adopted, and then they immediately got pregnant! So that will probably happen to you too.


  • My [friend/brother/neighbor] adopted and [insert horror story here]!


  • My [friend/aunt/neighbor] adopted and their kid is super cute! So, things will probably work out fine for you.


  • So, you’ve had all the tests to rule out your other options?


  • (Re: open adoption/maintaining contact with her biological family): why should the birthmom get to have her cake and eat it too? She made her choice and has to just live with the consequences.



  • You’re so brave.


We read about likely reactions, thought about strategies, talked about how to model for our child that she needn’t answer every question asked of her–and that sometimes a death stare is actually the best response (that one, I’ve got down pat!)

But there is one awkward question that we weren’t expecting, and that we get All. The. Time. From her daycare providers. From the teenage waitress at Steak and Shake. From strangers on the street:

Photo on 4-11-15 at 11.00 AM

Can you guess what the question is?

The number one most frequent awkward question we get from strangers since we adopted our daughter is, without contest:

Did you have a lot of heartburn while you were pregnant?


You know, because of her hair.

Before we started getting this from everyone, I was only vaguely aware that hairy fetus = heartburn was even a thing. This doesn’t even make biological sense. Somehow the baby’s hair, inside the placenta, inside the uterus, is supposed to interfere with your digestion? (Huh: apparently there is a correlation between pregnancy heartburn and newborn hair though of course it’s not the hair causing the heartburn or vice versa. A third variable, hormonal, natch, causes both)

And, even if I did give birth to her, this is your business…why? (I mean, I know asking intrusive questions of pregnant women is an Olympic sport all its own).

So, how are we supposed to respond? Obviously, this adoption is not a secret. But do we really want to explain this to every random person who comments on her hair? (The exception is her daycare provider: it makes sense and may ultimately be important for them to know that she is adopted; this particular caretaker didn’t know that at the time she asked, but she does now). A few possible answers come to mind:

  • Yes.
  • No.
  • Thanks!
  • Yes, these cheese fries are giving me heartburn!
  • She’s adopted!! (Inevitable awkward/stunned silence from the other person)
  • Oh yeah, I’ve heard that can happen.
  • Hahaha. What?
  • Why do you want to know? (Miss Manners’ favorite)
  • I wouldn’t know. (This one actually just occurred to me and I love it. Problem solved.)

Basically all variations on your three choices for dealing with awkward questions: truth, lie, and misdirection.

So…I won’t publish my own list of Things Not to Say, because it turns out that no matter what, people will always find a way to blindside you. Apparently the river of awkward questions never runs dry! But I will gently suggest, people of the planet, that you think before you ask.

The thing is, I am actually perfectly willing to talk about adoption in general and our experience in particular (even things like cost), if you actually want to understand. If you ask a thoughtful question in conversation as part of a relationship/friendship that we already have, and if I feel that I can answer it, I will.

How about this for a deal: I promise that I will put as much thought, effort and sincerity into my answer as you do into your question.


3 thoughts on “Awkward questions

  1. I’m betting this will get better as she gets older and has a more vocal/visible personality. It can be challenging on the spur of the moment to know the right thing to say about really small children. I’d assume the people who ask about the hair/heartburn thing are largely good intentioned or trying to say something meaningful beyond the standard “What an adorable baby!” This especially makes sense coming from your daycare provider whose business depends on having a good relationship with both you and your daughter. I guess this just goes to show that sometimes standards are standards because they’re inoffensive and convey appropriate sentiment (even if they are sometimes taken as less sincere just because they’re used so often).

    • Yes, you’re definitely right that these folks are trying to be friendly/have good intentions. “Not that I recall” might be a less hostile/deliberately confusing response than “I wouldn’t know,” in cases where it’s just a passing interaction with strangers, and there’s no need to be rude, but also really no desire to get into a big conversation about it.

      I feel like as a general rule, commenting on what is will always be safer than speculating about origins/cause. So, “Wow, look at all that hair!” we hear all the time, but it doesn’t bother me, because hey, she has a ton of hair, and it is ridiculous/adorable/awesome. But asking questions or speculating about why/whence/how the hair came to be is taking things in a needlessly tricky direction.

      Actually, in general, it seems to me like an observation–even an outlandish one–is easier to respond to than a question, because if the person doesn’t want to get into it, they can just say, “Hmmmmm” and move on, or agree/disagree/elaborate if they feel like it, while a direct question puts them on the spot and forces a response.

      Again, everything is different among friends, family, and people who actually know each other. But with strangers you really can’t go wrong with “What a beautiful baby!”

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