August 12th, 2009
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“Oh, so your daughter is from Guatemala? How wonderful! She is so lucky to have you. My sister’s friend’s cousin’s daughter-in-law once went there in the eighties and she said it was anarchy and poverty. You saved that little girl’s life!

Ugh.

The aforementioned excerpt—with the exception of the sister’s friend’s, etc. classification—is a word for word sentence I heard from a well-meaning stranger as I was having a “mom-and-daughter lunch” with Beauty about a year ago. I say well-meaning because I do believe this is true; I do feel she was sincere in her feelings and meant no offense in her words. That said, I can’t even begin to express how deeply I disagree with her statement on all counts.

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Regardless of the country of your child’s birth, there’s always someone who has heard of the dreadful living conditions, poverty, and the like of said country and just thinks you deserve a humanitarian award for electing to “save” a child. I hate that. No, really—I hate that.

For one, all countries have places of poverty with poor living conditions. Clearly, that’s not necessarily “how it is” in every square inch of the country, though. But to be honest, that’s not even the part of the statement that really gets me. I just can’t stand the implication that I’ve done a “good deed” by “saving” Beauty’s life.

It’s not the first or last time I have heard or will hear something to a similar effect, I know. A year ago, however, Beauty was too little to understand mostly everything that was said in this exchange. If the same situation presented itself today, she would probably still be too young to fully comprehend what this “stranger” was saying to her mama. What about in another year? Two more years? Five more years?

She will one day understand the implications of those words, and while I will make it my life’s mission to show her that I didn’t “save” her, that she isn’t indebted to me in any way, she will question—if only to herself—what has been said. She will form her own conclusions, her own opinions. Maybe she’ll share them with me, but then again (especially depending on her age at the time), maybe she won’t. Adoption is sometimes a very complicated issue on so many different levels, and even with the best attempts at communication, I don’t expect every conversation to be carefree and lighthearted.

Did I save Beauty? No. I’ve never thought of her amazing presence in my life as a “gift” to her. Am I happy her birth mother couldn’t raise her? Not in the least. But am I grateful for the opportunity to do so, to see her beautiful smile every day of my life, to watch her grow into the most amazing woman I know she will? Yes. To say I’m grateful, well, that merely skims the surface. The truth of the matter is, though, that Beauty will one day understand what is said and I will be unable to shield or protect her from other, similar, well-meaning comments. But I will make it my life’s work to raise her to be proud of who she is, where she’s from, of her birth mother and of me, and I will trust her to take what she hears or is told, process and handle it with grace, and move forward knowing that it wasn’t a matter of anyone saving anyone else; it is, in the simplest terms, a mere matter of love on so many different levels.

Photo Credit.

2 Responses to ““Saving” a Life: When Well-Meaning Comments Leave a Bad Taste in Your Mouth”

  1. Mandy W says:

    Well said! I hate the “saving the child” sentiment. It’s hard not to roll my eyes at it!

  2. Lisa B says:

    The “saving the child” sentiment cuts both ways as most people who think like that also think that the child should show unending appreciation for a choice that they had no part in making.

    I can’t tell you how many times I was told how “lucky” I was and how much undying gratitude I should have for my family “saving me.” As a kid, I never understood that attitude–my parents were my parents, end of story.

    Thanks so much for this article–I just found myself nodding all the way through!

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