How much did she cost?

January 26, 2007

Hard to believe it has almost been a year since we held Camille for the first time in Taiwan. With that happy anniversary quickly approaching, I have been thinking a lot about our first year with her and also our first year as adoptive parents. There have been so many wonderful moments, a few scary ones, and also a few that have caught us offguard. We are always happy to share our adoption story, but we have been shocked by some of the questions we have gotten. The first time this happened was just a few weeks after Camille came home. I was in the produce section at the comissary when I heard a voice saying "how much did she cost?". Thinking I had misheard I looked up in disbelief as the woman repeated the question. And stupidly because I was in shock and didn't quite know how to respond, I told her our total costs and her response was "wow, that's more than a car" and then she walked away. It left me feeling shaky, angry, and sort of violated. I was most upset with myself for not having a quick response like "none of your business". It has happened two more times since that first encounter. All have been strangers who didn't have any real interest in adoption and all were strangers who didn't even stop to consider how rude they were being. We will talk numbers with those seriously interested in adoption, but not in the middle of the produce section and not in front of our kids. I have a problem with this question on so many levels.

One is that it is just plain rude. I would never approach a stranger in the grocery store and ask how much their plastic surgery cost. In this age of reality tv, people seem to have forgotten manners and assume that others' lives are on display for them to question and critique.

Two, we are discussing a child not an object. Referring to my beautiful baby girl in such an objectified way is disgusting. Luckily, Noah has never been with me when I have gotten "the question" and Camille was too young, but unfortunatedly it will probably happen one day. No one has ever asked us how much Noah's delivery cost or how much we spent on him in his first year of life, but they don't have any hesitation to ask about Camille's "cost".

Three, how can the cost and value of a child ever be "calculated"? They are truly priceless....every kiss, every smile, every milestone is worth more than anything in my life. I would do anything for my children and it offends me that someone would have the audacity to open a conversation with a stranger about the cost of the most precious parts of another's life. When I hear those words coming out of a stranger's mouth, it is like having a dagger plunged in my heart because it attempts to calculate or question how my family has been family, my life. On another shopping trip (interesting that these convesations have always taken place in very public spaces..shops or restaurants), a woman asked the dreaded question and before I could comment she followed it up with "we talked about adopting but it cost too much and we didn't want to buy our children". Why would you say that to anyone, especially a family that has been created through adoption? Why? People can be so thoughtless, rude, and cruel. I wish I had a tape recorder to play back their question in hope they would hear how crude they sound...but they would probably just repeat themselves.

In addition to the dreaded money question, we have had some conversations during the past year with others about our motivation for adoption and our attempts to raise a child from a different culture. In Japan and Taiwan, adoption is still fairly uncommon and taboo (kept secret from the child and others outside of the family) so we have had some interesting cross cultural conversations about adoption. Sometimes these talks were painful. Painful to hear questions about why we would want to raise a child that someone gave away and their assumation that something must be wrong with her or her family for this to happen. Painful to hear their fears that we will be raising a "white girl with an Asian mask" and their belief that children should be raised in their own culture. As uncomfortable and as angry as some of these conversations were, I can only hope that our willingness to also be frank will perhaps have an impact on their view of international adoption.

As a parent, I want to protect my children from harm, discrimination, and injustice but I know that there will be times in the future when they will encounter ignorance and hate. They will be picked on or discriminated against because of their religious beliefs, their skin color, their transracial family,their favorite color (Noah's is pink) etc. I just hope that we can help them prepare for those moments, encourage them to be proud of who they are, and hopefully chip away at that ignorance and hate.
Nana and Poobah said...

The world is full of thoughtless people, but I like to think that it is just that, thoughtless and not cruel. Nevertheless this kind of thoughtlessness can be very cruel and hurt those we love the most...our children. And that kind if hurt is worse for us than if we ourselves were physically harmed. One of the best skills we can give our children is the ability to cope with whatever comes their way. Sometimes those things are positive, sometimes negitive. Whether it is coping with coming in first place or last place, loosing a best friend who moves away, or dealing with discrimination.
If we are able to give our children a sense of who they are and how loved and important they are so they have a strong sense of self, then maybe when lifes events take place they will be better able to put them in perspective. I have no doubt that you and Adam are already doing that for your children.

dojodiva said...

My answer to that rude question is "Not enough". Then I say, "Why are you interested in adopting?". That usually ends it. It's hard, but I'm trying to learn how to answer those intrusive questions in a non-defensive manner, because I'm setting the example for Dominic. The way I react and respond should be a model for him, even though it's hard to do when you're seeing red sometimes.

There is a great blog with some hilarious responses to those rude questions. Responses I wish I had the guts to use. I'll try to find the link for least it will give you a good laugh.


Allen & Angela said...

I hate it when people ask me how much William's adoption cost. I want to ask them how much money they make and see what their reaction is. Although, I must admit that I never actually have the courage to say that to their face. I try to be really vague to see what their motives are. If they are interested in adopting, then I am happy to go into more detail.

You are definitely right that it will get harder as our kids get old enough to understand what is being said. I am still trying to figure out how I should react then.


the clan mccawley said...

I remember the joy, trepidation, anticipation and countless other feelings you & your family felt as the dream of your child became the reality of Camille. I've never understood the need of some to be so intrusive, thoughtless and crass, but it is unfortunately a function of our somewhat broken society. I can only tell you that I have always thought you to be one of the most thoughtful, caring and giving people I've had the joy to know and I know that you and your family will always handle "those people" with the grace and dignity that defines you. (And sometimes that grace can certainly be defined as just whispering a really NASTY comeback so that you get to say it, but your little punkins ears don't.) I've just caught up on my blog reading, so forgive my late comment! I hope your Hanukkah was wonderful and that Noah's impending GALA doesn't send you over the proverbial edge. And I'm right there with ya. Whatever happened to cake and ice cream with a few games thrown in for good measure!
Miss Ya!

Francesca said...

This is all quite shocking.
I had the same question "how much is it costing?" although never from a stranger and referred to a long history of lost pregnancies and stillbirths: you cannot quantify love or emotions or dreams. International adoption and children from transracial families raise questions, hopefully not just out of ignorance, and you do well to prepare your children.

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