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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Talking Forgiveness


On Sunday, I attended a brunch hosted by my friends Kristen Howerton and Laura Tremaine. We were privileged enough to have Robi Damelin and Bassam Aramin of the Parents Circle- Families Forum (PCFF) come tell us their remarkable stories and speak about their efforts toward peace through radical forgiveness. The PCFF is a joint Palestinian Israeli grassroots organization of over 600 families, all of whom have lost a close family member as a result of the prolonged conflict. It promotes reconciliation as an alternative to hatred and revenge.

Robi (her story here) is a bereaved Israeli mother whose son was killed by a Palestinian sniper, and Bassam (his story here) is a grieving Palestinian father whose ten-year-old daughter was killed by Israeli soldiers.

You may not think of me as a shrinking violet, but there are a couple of subjects that shut me right up. Top of the list: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Though it affects me deeply and personally– I have family in Israel, including my brother and my nephew– I don’t engage about it publicly very often. I tell myself that when it comes to Palestine and Israel, I am overly emotional and under-qualified, and that whatever I say, I’ll be hurting someone I care about. Until now, I’ve dealt with that by avoiding the subject. I went to the brunch with the hope of changing that, of beginning to reach for my own voice. I challenged myself to learn, to get in the discussion, to be unafraid to make mistakes. I never could keep my big yap shut for very long.

Hearing about the losses of Robi’s son and Bassam’s daughter felt like being kicked in the chest. It was not an easy morning, but it was a hopeful one.

Robi was quick to point out that she doesn’t have an easy definition for forgiveness, or any definition at all, really. I relate to this. I’ve always thought forgiveness is a word that’s bandied about way too easily. I’ve wondered- can forgiveness be manufactured? Can you just decide to forgive someone because you think you should? Or is forgiveness an action? And if so, what action?

Robi fielded the question to us:

What is forgiveness?

“Forgiveness is owning your part,” one person answered. “Forgiveness is giving up your just right to revenge,” said another.

“Forgiving allows you to stop being a victim of that circumstance,” said Robi.

The PCFF uses art exhibitions, film, dialogue meetings, and various other creative and humanitarian projects to discuss the human side of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and why mutual understanding of the “other side” and a reconciliation framework is necessary for any sustainable peace agreement.

I was especially captivated by Bassam and Robi’s emphasis on the importance of storytelling– of narrative– in relationship-building.

“Once you understand how the other sees their story, they become human.” said Robie.

If I’m impassioned about anything, it’s the healing power of narrative, both on individual and larger cultural levels. I left feeling emotionally wrecked, but also mobilized and inspired.

You can sign up for the PCFF newsletter here, to learn more about their ongoing programs. Please do!

I Wrote a Book!


Hey, my site got a makeover, with the help of the brilliant Arthur Avary. Let me know what you think! I have some cool new features. You can now subscribe to the posts by email and/or sign up for my monthly newsletter. Please do! I’ll include tons of cute kid pictures.

There’s a lot of exciting stuff going on that I want to share with you…

It’s been over six years since we brought Tariku home, and it’s been slightly longer than that since I began writing this blog. I originally started it because I was so overwhelmed with the whole adoption process and I didn’t feel I had the time to properly communicate with all of our friends and family about it. It was meant to be a small thing- just a document of our family pictures and stories for our loved ones. I didn’t dream anyone else would be interested. I was wrong about that.

Throughout our long, circuitous, sometimes funny, often painful journey to start a family, Scott and I frequently felt alone. In our immediate circle, we didn’t know anyone who was experiencing what we were going through. It was during this time that I started reading mom blogs like Rage Against the Minivan, Dooce, Welcome to My Brain, Storing up Treasures, The Eyes of My Eyes are Opened, Jamie Ivey… I could go on and on. These women quickly became a lifeline for me. In their blogs, I found inspiration, connection, hope. Now, some of these bloggers are my dear friends.

Writing about our trials and joys over the years has given me an outlet for my thoughts and feelings, as well as being the place that I create meaning for myself out of chaos. It has blown my world wide open. Now, when I have questions related to adoption, or parenting special needs, or transracial families, or how to cook great Ethiopian food, I’m only a few keystrokes from connecting with answers and encouragement and support. This is what can happen when we share our stories. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. When we let others know us.

In fact, I liked the experience so much that I wrote a book about the whole glorious disaster that is us.

And now it’s mere months from publication! I just got the galley copies (the advance uncorrected proofs that go out to reviewers and press) in the mail yesterday.

books 2

It’s not the first time I’ve opened a box to see, finally, after years of work, my book between two covers. But it was certainly the most thrilling. It was also the least fraught. That’s a picture of Tariku from behind on the cover (he’s pissed that it’s not his face, actually). It makes me happy every time I look at it. I had a whole lot more ego and anxiety wrapped up in the release of my other books. Nothing can suck all the joy out of an experience quite like having something to prove.

This time feels very different to me. With this book, my hope is simply that someone out there will be made less lonely by it. I hope you read it. I hope you loan it to your friends. It’s called Everything You Ever Wanted and it’s going to be released May 5, but you can pre-order it now.

I’ll be announcing the tour dates soon. If you have a book club or an event in your town and you’d like me to come speak, let me know. I can be talked into almost anything if you offer me cheese.

Thanks for all your support and cheerleading and love over the years! I couldn’t have done it without you.

#$%@ People Say To Transracial Families…

Kristen Howerton, Deborah Swisher and I got together with our clans one Sunday and made a little video about the #$%@ that gets said to us every day at the mall, the playground, heck, on our front yards! Being in a transracial family is a very visible way to walk through the world. I look at dumb remarks as a chance to advocate for adoption and to educate people who are usually well-intentioned, but insensitive. This video is in that same spirit. Plus, we had a blast making it. Hope you enjoy it. If you do, please circulate it!


I love Cesca Leigh’s Shit White Girls Say To Black Girls. Can’t get enough of it. It so eloquently addresses micro-aggressions.

Micro-aggressions are described by Chester M Pierce as: brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of other races.

I’m not a comedian, per-se, but I am a storyteller and I often find myself sharing a stage with comics. So I’m pretty comfortable getting in the ring and slugging it out with big, loud racism or sexism, or ability-ism (please tell me the right word for this if you’ve been to a liberal arts college more recently than me, which is to say anytime since the industrial revolution). I’ve cheerfully burned a few professional bridges by standing up at the mic and saying, “Hey, you’re an asshole and here’s why…” I have fond memories of an evening during which a woman stood up ahead of me and told a story in which the humor depended on the collective assumption that she should be horrified that her internet date turned out to have an adoptive kid with special needs. I followed and took it upon myself to point out that I could see why she was staying single.

But micro-aggressions are often more confusing. For some that I face regularly, I have memorized responses (He’s so lucky. No, we’re lucky.). But when I’m caught off guard, I often don’t know what to do.

For instance, I was recently in a doctor’s office getting ready for the painful removal of a surgical dressing, when he told me a story that involved a “big black guy” coming to his door at 6:30 at night. You know- someone who just didn’t look like he, “belonged in the neighborhood.” And I sat there with my mouth shut and didn’t say a thing. My friend in the waiting room heard the whole exchange. She put a picture of Tariku in my face when we walked out the door and said, “You know this is going to be the big black guy who doesn’t belong in his neighborhood, right?” And I was like- sue me. I didn’t want to have a big confrontation with the guy about to rip a bandage off my face, okay?

But then I was at a reading a couple of weeks ago and another reader began by describing a “dark lady with a mustache” on an airplane and I knew we were in for it. He went on to mock her accent and her eager friendliness, calling her “Gunga-din.” And again, I sat silently. I meant to speak to him afterward, but I was talking to readers; I was signing books. Then I had to run out so I could get home and let the babysitter go. I told myself there simply hadn’t been time. But there probably had. I was just overwhelmed with everything going on. I didn’t have the right words.

There isn’t always a mic in front of my face. And even when there is, the situations are sometimes delicate, the offense subtle. I can’t always find the right joke with which to counter. And those are the kind of moments that haunt me for days. Why did I stay silent? Was I being cowardly? Opportunistic? Should I have said something? And if so, what?

I don’t think there’s a way to get this perfect. But I’d like to get better at it. I think that opening up a dialogue is always a good start.

I’m fantasizing about doing a “Shit People Say to Trans-Racial Families” video (with all my spare time, but what the hell). Who’s with me? Leave a comment and tell me your pet-peeve micro-aggression. And if you’re in the LA area, let me know if you want to be in it!

I’ll start…

Is he yours?

This is T with Kristen Howerton’s kids, btw. Man, I love those peanuts. I’m totally recruiting them for the video.