She raised her eyebrows and leaned forward. Her arm made a sweeping motion over her stomach, pantomiming the belly of a very pregnant woman. “Can you not have your own?!”, she whispered conspiratorially. I laughed too loudly and informed her, and the bored occupants of the waiting room of the Brooklyn Tow Pound, that we “hadn’t tried but wanted to adopt first”.
This was not the first time that a complete stranger felt the need to ask me if my lady parts are in working order. Perhaps it’s the anonymity of being strangers or just blatant curiosity, but one of the most common responses I hear about adopting is the Intrusive Question.
I get it: we all love a good story, adoption is unusual and 99% of us speak before we think. Most of the time, I find this laughable and give an honest reply. But a part of me feels enraged.
Infertility is a long, hard and heart-wrenching journey. I have cried and prayed and waited and been disappointed alongside friends who have struggled with conceiving. I’ve rejoiced when those who have waited for years announced that they were finally pregnant. And I’ve admired and loved and supported as couples we love have decided to lay to rest their desire to conceive and pursue parenthood through adoption. No matter how you slice it, struggling with fertility is an unpredictable and difficult experience.
When strangers ask me about the condition of my ovaries and uterus, I picture the beautiful faces of the women I know who have experienced infertility. I imagine a shadow of hurt and memories darkening their eyes in response to this question. I imagine the feelings stirred up and the difficulty of telling a stranger the facts that have stolen dreams.
So I find myself at an impasse. I want to be friendly and kind to strangers, I want to tell people about the joy we have experienced in pursuing adoption from the get-go. But I also want to tell them that this question is not okay. I want to protect my friends and every would-be-Mama from experiencing the intrusion of the pregnant-belly-pantomime.
I should also note that it’s not just strangers. I hesitate to write this as I’d hate for anyone to feel embarrassed or awkward. Acquaintances and friends are curious as well; their questions are usually more veiled. What was the impetus for this decision? What made you decide to adopt? Have you ever thought of having your own*? I feel these questions are a bit more fair. If I wanted to answer and tell you about my lady parts, I can. Otherwise, I can easily dodge the question.
So friends, what do I say? How do I respond with grace, but also in a way that teaches and informs the questioner that this question is unkind? I’ve been stumped on this one for a while, and I’d love any input you have—satirical or serious! Help!
*Someday soon I will write a post on the use of the word ‘own’ before children. For the record, the child who comes to us via adoption will be 100% our own.