Adoption Kids

Adoption is Not Second Best

Adoption is Not Second Best
Written by Danielle Helzer

Maybe it’s my “mom hair” (thanks, New York Times, for that label) or maybe it’s that I look perpetually tired that encourages near strangers to ask me how many kids I have. At my last dental cleaning, my hygienist (whom I had only met one time prior) asked this very question.

“Two,” I replied.

“Oh! That’s great!! How old are they?!”



I tried to stick with one-word answers because A) she had her hands in my mouth and B) our kids’ entrance to our family is complicated, and I often don’t divulge the details to strangers because I don’t want my kids’ story to overshadow who they are as individuals. But this lady just wasn’t picking up on what I was throwing down.

“TWINS!” she squealed.

“Nope. We adopted them both from foster care. They’re two months apart.”

“Oh. [Pause….more pausing…some brow furrowing] Well, that’s just great. That’s so great that you can give those kids a home.”

Those kids is how many people refer to my kids. The phrase rings with an air of pity and a twinge of thankfulness that someone else was willing to step in and adopt those kids. It’s a phrase often used with no harm intended, but the connotations are heavy. My kids aren’t those kids; no kids are those kids…kids in foster care or available for adoption are simply, kids.

Unfortunately, the conversation with the hygienist continued as she casually scraped the plaque from my teeth.

“Ya know, I had a friend once…”

Oh God…there’s always a friend, I thought to myself.

“….she and her husband struggled to get pregnant. So, they adopted a child, and right after they were placed with a baby, THEY GOT PREGNANT! Isn’t that something?”

I wanted to tell the hygienist about our infertility. It’s hard for doctors to say pregnancy is impossible when they have two people sobbing in their exam room. Medically speaking, it is highly unlikely you guys will ever be able to get pregnant. Doctors don’t want to destroy anybody’s hope at having children, even when it’s a medical impossibility. I wanted to tell her that we spent much of our savings trying to uncover our infertility because insurance doesn’t deem exploring infertility as “medically necessary.”

“You see,” my hygienist persisted, “there’s still hope for you!”

It’s a good thing her hands were still in my mouth to prevent me from lashing out. I probably wouldn’t be so frustrated had it been the first time someone told me a similar well-meaning story. I can’t tell you how many times people have responded to my kids’ adoptions with stories about their friends who got pregnant after they adopted as if adopting brings a person good fortune and solves 97% of infertility issues. I can’t tell you how many times people have said There’s still hope…as if adoption is second best.

I wanted to tell my hygienist that, at one time, I wanted to be pregnant with every thread of my being, but over time, my desire to have a biological child disappeared. I wanted to tell my hygienist that even though I don’t want to be pregnant, I sometimes long for a birth story that would connect me to my husband and connect my kids to me and make me feel more like a “normal” mother in our society.

I wanted to explain that my experience is similar to a traditional mother’s experience. The attachment to a new child is not immediate but a gradual process as mothers move from the abstract idea of having kids to literally holding their children. I didn’t know this before I had kids. When my kids moved in after each having been in foster care for 2-4 years, I thought I was expected to love them right away as my own. I loved them, but my kids never felt like mine. It seemed more like an extended babysitting arrangement. When they wanted to share their food with me, I cringed a little because my kids still felt a bit like strangers; who wants to share a fork with a stranger? For a few months, I didn’t know how to help them fall asleep or what their favorite foods were. I couldn’t fill out paperwork about their medical history. I couldn’t trace their quirks back to any source. They called me by my first name; their mom was someone else.

Over time, though, they began to feel like my kids. I shared ice cream with them and did not cringe. I learned that J needed his bunny and a back rub to help him fall asleep, and K needed her polka-dot blanket and a night light. I learned that J has his birth mother’s curly hair and his daddy’s sense of humor; K has her birth mother’s eyes but my feisty personality. In family team meetings prior to their adoption, I disagreed with caseworkers as I fought like a mother to protect my kids’ hearts from disappointment. In our own time, we accepted one another. I wanted to tell my hygienist that I now love my kids as fiercely as if my husband and I made them.

But more importantly,  I wanted to ask this woman to refrain from telling me there’s still hope for me like my life isn’t already fulfilled. My life is complete with them. I don’t hope for a biological child; I hope for a healthy relationship with my two kids. The way I became a mother may not be preferred for some, but I wouldn’t trade it even for a biological child. I found my kids when I needed them and when they needed me. I wanted to tell this woman, a near stranger, that my kids: They aren’t second best; adoption is not second best. For us, it was the best.

About the author

Danielle Helzer

A former high school English teacher, Danielle now splits her time as a stay at home mom and a Writing Coach at a local community college. She is a wife and a new mother of two hilarious and resilient first-graders who she and her husband adopted from foster care. Danielle has a passion for writing and living purposefully. She enjoys listening to NPR, running, reading, music, sipping on coffee, making lists, and diversifying her collection of cat tchotchkes. You can find more of her writing about parenting, faith, teaching, and living at Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter (@DMHelzer).


  • Oh my goodness! My heart was in my throat and tears in my eyes for this whole post. I am looking forward to adopting one day and getting to learn all about MY future kids that I haven’t met yet. This was beautiful and heart wrenching. It kind of gives me a heads up of what to expect in a few years.

    When I mention that I want to adopt to friends and family, the reactions are usually negative. I’m sure you’ve heard most of them already. I can’t believe how society views the desire or act of adoption. I’m hoping this will eventually change. I loved reading this, thank you for sharing!

  • Not of us but for us. That’s how my mom described it once. As a kid and a grown up too, when reveal that I was adopted, I often get asked if I know my “real” parents. Knowing what they really want to know, politely explain that no, I have never met my biological parents (closed adoption in the late 60s) but my real parents are my mom and dad who changed my diapers, kissed my booboos and made sure I was doing my homework. They are as “real” as anyone else’s mom and dad.

    • “Not of us but for us.” That’s great. I’ve always loved the wording that was on the birth announcement my parents sent out: “Not flesh of my flesh, nor bone of my bone, but still, miraculously, my own. Never forget, not even for a minute, you didn’t grow under my heart, but in it.”

      The phrase “real parents” drives me crazy, especially since it inevitably always comes from a person who is neither an adopter nor adoptee and has no clue what it actually feels like. But we who have lived it know the truth. Our parents are and always will be our “real parents.” <3