What NOT to Say to Prospective Adoptive Parents. And What to Say Back.


Would you walk up to a pregnant woman and tell her about your friend’s cousin’s daughter whose infant died of a rare disease, offer her the unsolicited tale of your hairdresser’s daughter’s home birth gone wrong, tell her about every mother you know visiting her teenager in rehab, etc.? Would you walk up to a woman expecting a baby and volunteer every horrific possibility parenthood could potentially offer?

Of course you wouldn’t. Because it would be both entirely inappropriate and cruel.

Yet, when you’re involved in the adoption process, this is precisely what many people do. Mention you’re adopting, and people will often lean in with bizarre schadenfreude shining in their eyes and share some terrible story of a friend of a friend whose adopted kid with an attachment disorder burned their house down.

I can give you my ten-cent analysis of why this happens- I think it basically boils down to the fear of difference. For our purposes, the motivation behind the behavior isn’t really that important.

I’ve been at this for a while now and have, by trial and error, developed really good boundaries. In fact, this kind of ignorance affects me personally so little now that I see it as an opportunity to educate- hopefully with gentleness and compassion.IMG_9752

But when you’re first in the midst of the adoption process, it can be shocking and disturbing, and, worst of all, can hold up a mirror to all your deepest fears.

It’s not my mission in life to talk people into adopting. It’s a very personal decision and it’s not right for everyone. I do know that if you choose to walk this adoption road (this, in my opinion, glorious and rewarding road) you won’t be doing it alone. Make sure you seek the wisdom of the people walking beside you, not the onlookers shouting from the sidelines.

A friend sent me desperate late-night email yesterday. It echoed so many emails I get I decided to address it here. This is some of what she said:

I’ve been afraid to talk with a few of the women I know and love  about our plans to adopt b/c they talk about how:

One’s sister adopted and the child ended up in prison.

Another’s cousin adopted and the kid had such a learning disability he ended up dropping out of school and is working a minimum wage job with no future (both adoptive parents are college professors).

How Nature cannot be corralled by Nurture – it’s a huge crap shoot.  Everyone thinks she’ll get lucky by getting a “great kid” but not everyone does.

How I am irresponsible to adopt when I already have two kids, and my resources will be taken from my lovely children when they need me.

In fairness, I know they care about me.  They are coming from a place of great concern.  And they are trying to help me reconsider this whole adoption thing from a rational POV.

They are basically playing a track of GREATEST FEARS Volume One.

Exactly. Greatest Fears Volume One. A tape which, by the way, all expectant parents have in one way or another. But most women walking around with a baby bump don’t have every random acquaintance at Pilates echoing her tape with a terrifying anecdotal story.

If you want a thousand antidote stories of incredible adoptive families, call me. Or talk to any adoptive parent you know. Read the literature. For inspiration, I love Carried in Our Hearts, by Dr. Jane Aronson or More Love Less Panic, by Claude Knobler. For instruction, I love The Connected Child and everything else ever written by Karyn Purvis. Those are just a couple of an amazing plethora of offerings.

I adore this post from Jen Hatmaker called “How to be the Village.”

Reach out to your adoption community. If you don’t have one, start building one. Read the blogs. A few of the greats: Rage Against the Minivan, Flower Patch Farmgirl, White Sugar Brown Sugar, A Musing Maralee, The Eyes of My Eyes are Opened…. there are so many.

More immediately, here is a general guideline of how I deal with it:

Secondhand experience is irrelevant. Only people speaking from the inside the adoption community are allowed to tell you anything right now, unless it’s about how they just bought you a duffel bag full of awesome baby clothes from Chasing Fireflies.

People are often ignorant and careless about adoption related issues and they will rarely ask if you want to hear what they have to say. They’ll  just launch in. This is where you get to work on boundary setting, which I realize can be very hard for women because we are so reticent to offend anyone or create an awkward social situation, regardless of the personal cost.

Try to look at it as excellent opportunity to develop this very important skill. I’m sure it’s a skill you want your children to have. You can better impart it if you’ve cultivated it in yourself.

Say, “Thank you, I understand you mean well (or love me, or want the best for me, or whatever is appropriate to the relationship), but I don’t want to hear any negative stories about adoption right now.”


When they say, “BUT….”

And they will. I don’t know why this is, but the need to tell these horror stories is almost compulsive and they will not want to shut up.

This is the hard part and it’s very important….

Cut them off. Then repeat yourself verbatim.

Do this as many times as is necessary for them to hear you.

Rehearse this at home. I’m not kidding. Have a friend or spouse role play it with you. It’s not an easy maneuver, and you’ll be much better able to execute it in the moment if you prepare in advance.

Then hold your head up and proudly walk your path and know that, whatever trials and joys it brings, you will not be walking it alone. Reach out your hand and you will find there are so many on this road who will hold it.

I’m an adoptive mama who has had a pretty challenging go of it. In spite of (or maybe because of) our struggles, there has never been a day, not one, that I haven’t thanked God for all adoption has brought to my life. It has brought my own parents for one (I’m also adopted)! It has also brought my beautiful children, immeasurable love, personal growth, a stronger marriage, a profound sense of gratitude, a faith in the world and in myself that I never believed possible.

IMG_9667I’m copying and pasting the letter I sent to friends and family when we were in the thick of things with Bright Eyes, and I was sitting in a hotel room after having visited him in his foster home every day for a week, preparing him for the transition to our home. It was a hard, scary, wonderful, transformative time. I was touched by the outpouring of support and curiosity from friends and family, but was also totally overwhelmed and unable to respond personally to everyone. Instead, I wrote this.

Please feel free to use any or all of this, if it seems useful to you:

Dearest Friends and Family-

We wanted to reach out to our inner circle to let you know the new developments with Project Lil’ Shriner #2…

This information is strictly private right now- just close friends and family- so please be conscious of not sharing anything publicly until we do so first. Also- legally no pictures can be posted until there is an official adoption. So if we’re ever hanging out and things start to get instagramm-y, please be aware of that!

And now I have totally buried the lede…

As you all know, we’ve been embroiled in the process of a second adoption for the past year and it has been moving at roughly the speed of a Tarkovsky film. But during the last couple of weeks, things have ramped up to the pace of a Transformers sequel! We are wildly excited to tell you that next week we’re scheduled to meet a precious 3 yr old boy- let’s call him Bright Eyes for now. If all goes well with the next couple of steps, we’ll proceed to visiting and transitioning him slowly, and hope to have him home by mid-December. Possibly earlier!

We need to stress all the maybes and probablies and ifs in that paragraph….

We know that adoption is super confusing, so here’s a little primer of what’s going on. We’re adopting through LA County DCFS (Department of Child and Family Services), so Bright Eyes is currently living in a foster care placement. There are many, many steps before we can legally adopt him, and a number of things could come up that derail the process. It could take months. It could take years. It could not happen at all. We just don’t know. There will be lots of court dates and visitations and ups and downs and, well, we don’t even know exactly because this is such a different process from last time.

We ask that you live in the moment, with all of its uncomfortable uncertainty, along with us. Right now, we’re proceeding with cautious optimism. We promise to tell you when it’s time to jump up and down and truly celebrate. Trust us- we can’t wait for you to meet him when the time is right. See the FAQ below for more details.

The next few weeks will tell us a lot, and during this time we will be very, very busy and focused on our family-in-transition. We won’t want to discuss every detail of the process. We will most likely miss your holiday party. We may not send a card. We may not call you back. Please know that we love and treasure you. We could never do this without you- our beautiful extended family, both given and chosen.  We’re so grateful for all you bring to our lives.


Jillian and Scott


1.Wait, what happened to Baby J? 

We were fostering Baby J. on an emergency basis. Baby J. wasn’t up for adoption and we were never under the impression he was staying. We were lucky enough to share a brief moment with him. We all miss him. We will think about him with both joy and sadness for the rest of our lives. Hopefully we’ll see him again somehow. Bright Eyes is a totally separate case and the two have nothing to do with each other.

2. So do you get to keep this one? What’s the deal? Is he yours or not?

 We hope so. We think so. We don’t know for sure yet. I know- it sucks, right? But that’s the deal.

3. All of this is so exciting! I really want to talk to you about it! But I’m so busy and I don’t have the time to read this whole email. Will you explain this to me over and over again every time I see you?

We know it’s confusing and we know everyone is excited. We’re also excited- and overwhelmed and nervous. Every email from our social worker could either be the best or the most heartbreaking news ever. It’s a heavy time. It’s a lot for us to have to explain every step of the way. We promise we’ll let you know about the big milestones.

4. I just heard a terrible story about an adoption that fell apart (and/or read an awful adoption story in the news) and I really want to share it with you for your own good- should I?


 5. I went through this and I have some tips or legal advice that I feel could help you- should I share them with you?

 YES! Please do. The process is pretty opaque and most of the useful things we’ve gleaned have come from other adoptive families, who have been through a similar process.

6. When can I meet that little nugget of joy and give him a squeeze?

We don’t know yet. Probably not right away. Every child processes the trauma of separation and the transition into a new home in their own unique way and at their own pace. We plan to give him all the time he needs to feel safe before all you crazy pirates start coming around. Again- we’ll let you know!

7. Will you be having a baby shower or a welcoming party?

Yes! We need to see how it goes, and how everyone is settling in. When it’s time, you can be sure we’ll have a party. We’re the Shriners, after all.

8. How can we support you?

 We treasure your messages of support. We need all your love and cheerleading and prayers and good thoughts and white light and GF brownies and whatever else you get into. And we’re so grateful for your understanding if we’re MIA for a while. Also- extra special love for Tariku (movies, playdates, airplane-spotting expeditions…) will be very much appreciated over the next couple of months.


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The Last Five First Days

I did a little round up of the last five first days of school…

  1. 2010. I loved his little outfit here. He lasted exactly 4 days at his first preschool. He was not, as the director put it, “Ready to contract when the group contracted.” Which is hippie language for sit still during story and snack. He was definitely more of an expander than a contractor. There were tears. Mostly mine.



2. 2011. This year he was an honors student at the School of Life! Mostly because he’d bite ya. A lot. So school-school wasn’t so much his thing.


3. 2012. The first year he lasted! We finally found him the right school and he’s still there. It was a rocky year but he got a toehold and it’s been getting better and better ever since.


3. 2013. Kindergarten.  He had one of those miraculous life-changing teachers who helped him turn the corner. Thank God for gifted teachers who cherish the kids that need a little extra help, and just shower them with love. She believed in him and he shone. fd2013

4. 2014. First grade. Another great, nurturing teacher and a year with much progress.


5. 2015. Today folks. Second grade. Bless him. Look at that face.



I can remember each of these days so clearly. Mostly because we were so worried about him. Transitions are Tariku’s toughest thing, and back-to-school is a seismic shift. In the past, the resulting tremors have shook our home to its very foundation. For years, he came home from school ricocheting off the walls. There were daily talks with his teacher. We thought the rest of our lives were pretty much going to be spent in a parent-teacher conference, like we were stuck in some existentialist play: You just think you’re at back-to-school night, but really you’ve died and gone to hell and you’re never leaving.

But Tariku went off for his first day of second grade today, and on the ride home, Scott and I were pinching each other. “Did you see how he walked in there like a champ?” “Did you see how he said welcome to the new girl?” Did you notice he didn’t say anything bizarre or inappropriate?” “Did you notice his body was pretty calm?”

I’m actually not surprised it went so smoothly. I’ve suspected this year is going to be different. Yesterday he woke me up at five in the morning and said, “I’m nervous for my first day of second grade.” He crawled into bed and we cuddled. I told him it was totally normal and fine to be nervous and that he was brave and I was proud of him. We talked about some of the things he likes at school- his friends, playing bounceball, pizza day etc. This little scene may seem totally mundane, but it signals something is changing for Tariku. It’s a huge leap for him to identify anxious feelings and talk about them.

Then we Googled dinosaurs for what seemed like 11 hours and when I looked up it was somehow only 7am. I’m really ready for school to start.

I’ll still be biting my nails until the pick-up, but mostly I’m heaving a huge sigh of gratitude. As if I’ve been holding my breath for five years, and I’m finally allowed to breathe out. How lucky we are for all the help we’ve received along the way. How blessed we are with this amazing kid, who teaches us every day about healing and hope.

Friday Faves 2/20


1. Chicken with Cardamom Rice, from Jerusalem, by Yottam Ottolenghi and Sam Tamimi. This recipe will change your life. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t love it. It’s great for a last-minute dinner party. Once you get it down, you can bang it out in under a couple of hours and it’s both impressive and the perfect one-dish comfort food. I’m wild about the entire cookbook.


2. Remembrances of David Carr. Carr’s brilliant The Night of the Gun forever changed the way I think about memoir, journalism, memory, storytelling and healing. I’ve enjoyed reading the many remembrances of him online and have spent a lot of time this week meditating on what his writing means to me. All our love and prayers go out to his friends and family.


3. Millihelen beauty blog. I met the delightful Jane Marie backstage at Margot Leitman’s Origin Story show at UCB, and was delighted to learn about Millihelen, her smart, sassy new beauty blog at Jezebel. For those of us who like beauty and fashion but don’t like being made to feel like crap about ourselves by people trying to sell us stuff. It’s funny! You’ll like it!


4. Rockin’ Baby Sling. My favorite shower gift. T was nearly 11 months old when we brought him home but he was the size of a 6 month old, so I got a few good months of being able to carry him in the sling, which is a terrific attachment-promoting activity. I still treasure the memory. These are made in America of such pretty fabrics, and for every one you buy they donate a sling to a mom in need.


5. National Day of Unplugging. I’m really excited about this campaign and the discussion it inspires. Scott about falls on the floor laughing every time I tell him I’m going to do this, saying things like, “I last saw you without your phone in your hand in 2006.” I’ll show him. Probably. I’m sure as heck gonna try. Will you join me?

The Dreaded Phone Call

Yesterday, I was sitting in my snazzy new office space with an unfamiliar feeling- maybe it was stability or contentment or some amalgamation of the two. I had half-finished a blog post about how great T did at Thanksgiving, how much progress we’re making, how much healing we’re seeing in his trauma-related behaviors (you see where this is going, right?).

And then…the dreaded number lit up the cell phone. The call from school in the middle of the day.

T bit someone. Again. The last time it happened, I marched in there and said, this is not going to happen again; he’s not a danger to other kids; this incident was an anomaly. I’m embarrassed that I was wrong. But mostly, I’m just panicked about what happens now. He’s home today and we have a meeting with the school tomorrow afternoon and I’m having one of those hopeless moments. I find myself thinking- I have been praying and reading and googling and arranging meditation lessons and OT sessions and martial arts and therapy. What now? Where do we go from here?

I deleted the whole Thanksgiving post, but I’m kind of sorry that I did, because that day happened (it did! it was awesome! I was there!) and I could probably benefit from reading my own words about it right now. We have been having so many days lately that end in overwhelming gratitude, as opposed to crushing anxiety. Even in my despairing moments, I try to remember that we’re making progress. Healing rarely happens in a linear way. For him or for us.

Right now I’m vascillating between feeling bad for him (he loves that school) and being so pissed (he knows better than this! wtf are we gonna do now?). I’m semi-successfully trying to not to take my anger out on him. Really, I’m angry at my own helplessness in the face of his hurt and fear. My instinctual reaction is, how could you do this. That’s a pretty sucky reaction. I can do better than that. At the very least, I can tell him, I know we’re all upset, but we’re going to work this through together. It lets him know he’s not alone on this journey.

Memories of…

T is still unexpectedly napping in the car and I’m sitting a few feet away in the dappled shade under our camphor tree, having one of those quiet moments that seem deliciously stolen out from under the day. I suppose I should wake him but I just can’t bring myself to do it.

I’m thinking about an afternoon few days ago, when Tariku made friends with a group of older boys at the beach and told Scott to vamoose, saying, “You can stand over there near my mom.” This was a first. T is not a kid who likes to be without one of us for even five minutes. He insures that we’ll be glued to his side by doing things like “cleaning up” by dumping a glass of water into the DVR player while I’m making dinner. So it seems like a huge step that he wanted to fly solo with his new friends.

Of course, we were by the water so we were only about ten feet away, but it was still kind of amazing to watch the boys show him how to dig for sand crabs. You should have seen his delight when they dumped a few of the hapless creatures into his outstretched hands. I didn’t even know we had sand crabs in Malibu. I’ve only ever seen them at the Jersey Shore, where I summered as a kid.

What struck me was that many of my dearest memories of growing up don’t involve my parents. All of my most secret and treasured discoveries happened by myself or with friends. What I most remember about the shore was being part of a wild wolf pack of kids, running over the burning hot sand, holding crumpled dollar bills for Creamsicles from the ice cream truck. I remember the orange-stained tongues, the sand-scrubbed sunburns from burying each other up to our necks. I remember I first held a boy’s hand at the amusement park there. I know that my parents were nearby, because I was nine, but I have no memory of that. Just the whirling lights, the smell of the sea air, the tentative press of palm to palm.

I wonder what T will remember. I spend my days so obsessed with his every move that I often forget- if he somehow remarkably remembers those sand crabs, I won’t be in the picture at all. I find it liberating to think that his interior world is entirely his own. One day he’ll discover a band that blows his mind. One day someone will break his heart. These will be the moments that grow to define him, and in his memories of them, his mom will be rightfully absent.

I try to remember that I’m just here to love him like crazy and figure out how to stand far enough away to pretend I’m invisible, but close enough to protect him when the water gets too rough.