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A Striking Resemblance!

Families who "match" don't have to answer many nosy questions. Instead, they must decide whom, when, and what to tell.By Joni S. Mantell



New parents are often asked "Who does your baby look like?" or "Where was she born?" But such questions evoke complex emotions in new adoptive mothers. Some may proudly reveal that their baby was adopted; others are reluctant to do so. In same-race adoptions, when adopted babies closely resemble their parents, mom and dad can decide how much to share. As new mom Diane Wilburn says, "When Marisa and I are out meeting new people, it's not obvious that she was adopted. In fact, many people say she looks just like my husband or me. I have to make a conscious choice about whom I wish to tell."

Becoming a "Real" Mom
 
Sharing a family resemblance certainly makes life simpler. Look-alike families get fewer double-takes in restaurants and probing questions from strangers. But some mothers need time to believe (and adjust to the fact) that they are, finally, parents. After years of infertility, they may have been afraid to get too hopeful during the adoption process. Only when a baby is placed in their arms do some mothers absorb the fact that they are truly parents. As brand-new mom Chris Tolleson says, "I do feel a bit like my baby isn't really mine. But, honestly, this is just in my head, as everyone's reaction has been to tell us how wonderful it is that we adopted."
 
Being able to "pass" as a nonadoptive family can ward off uncomfortable questions. Mothers may prefer to avoid insensitive comments that trigger shame or guilt over infertility. Comments like "Couldn't you have your own baby?" or "How could his real mother give him away?" can be disconcerting when a woman is settling into motherhood. Being peppered with questions can also put a new mom in the role of educator. Talking broadly about adoption is fine when a woman is in the mood, but there will be times when she simply doesn't want to discuss it.

Give yourself time to process your feelings, and to become comfortable with your new role. When you begin to believe that your baby is truly your own—and is your child to parent forever—you'll find it easier to handle certain questions, and to announce to the world that your family was formed through adoption. 

Psychotherapist Joni S. Mantell is director of the Infertility and Adoption Counseling Center, in New Jersey and New York.

Help for New Moms
If you find yourself feeling that you're not a mother quite yet:

  • Take time to bond. In the first weeks and months, spend a lot of one-on-one time with your baby. (It's OK to limit visits from family and friends for now.) Also, be sure to get enough rest and schedule "private time" breaks.
  • Claim your baby. As you spend time together, allow yourself a sense of entitlement. Know that you (and your spouse) will be the ones to meet your child's needs, and that you are his "real" parents.
  • Explore unresolved grief. Some women experience renewed grief over infertility shortly after the adoption. If these feelings become overwhelming, or make it hard for you to bond with your baby, seek counseling. A therapist who specializes in adoption, infertility, or grief can help you process your emotions.
  • Go public—at your own pace. If you need time to get settled, or if you're not in the mood to talk about your child's adoption, it's OK to withhold information from strangers. You are not obligated to share your story.
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