The other week, I was in a medical appointment and making small talk with the nurse. I happened to mention that I was coaching my daughter’s soccer team. Later in the appointment, while giving her my medical history, I told the nurse that I endured through three years of fertility treatments. Remembering that I had a daughter, she said, “Oh, so the treatments must have been successful!” Quickly, I responded, “No, I’m an adoptive mother to my three children.” She cocked her head and said in a sympathetic voice, “Aww! So you weren’t able to have any little babies of your own?”
A rush of possible responses ran through my mind. The one I really wanted to say was something like, “Are you deaf? I just said I have three kids. And why are you looking so sad? I certainly didn’t sound disappointed when I said I was an adoptive mother.” Instead I replied, “No, I did not have any successful full-term pregnancies, if that is what you are asking.” The nurse then continued on with her questions, clueless that I was offended by her statement.
This is not the first, nor will it be the last, time someone will refer to my children as not my “own.” I don’t recall learning in any of high school health classes, that pushing a baby out of you makes you “own” them. Honestly, I never even think of parents “owning” their children. They are responsible for them. They take care of them. They love them unconditionally. But “owning” them? I find that an odd way to describe the parent-child relationship.
With just a slight change of syntax, the nurse’s question would have been acceptable. If she had said, “So you weren’t able to have any little babies on your own?” then it would not have bothered me. This question opens the door for me to respond about fertility treatments, adoption or other routes to parenthood.
Usually when I receive an insensitive comment about adoption it is from a stranger at the grocery store or park. It surprised me greatly to hear it while in a medical exam room. With a push from my outraged friends, I contacted the manager of the office and explained the situation and requested not to have that nurse at any future appointments. I also stated that her comment could have caused me to become quite emotional had I just come off of a miscarriage or were a new adoptive parent.
For some adoptive parents, the pain of not giving birth to a child is always there. Sure, they may be completely happy with their choice of adoption, but may still long for the birthing experience. To hear someone, especially a medical person, be sad for them that they were unable to have biological children it could really be upsetting. This is yet another reason why adoptive parents cringe when people refer to their children as not their “own.”
I truly hope that my concerns about the nurse are mentioned directly to her and to the rest of the staff. I am not one who regularly complains about service providers, so it wasn’t easy for me to contact the office manager. Yet by doing so I may have helped educate their medical office about how to talk to adoptive parents. At least that is what I’d like to think.
I am curious if anyone else has encountered a similar, insensitive comment about adoption in a medical setting. How did you handle it?
Danielle I. Pennel
Three Yellow Roses