Why Oh Why Are These T-Shirts Still Available?

by Anti-Racist Parent columnist Paula, originally published at Heart, Mind and Seoul

On numerous occasions in the past, I’ve been fairly unsuccessful in trying to convey how many times I’ve felt that the messages and attitudes perpetuated by our society about adoption often leads me to feel that I am reduced down to nothing more than a commodity. . .a tangible item that people with the right kind of credentials and qualifications can pick out and pick up. . .a product that in theory, shouldn’t be available for return, but in fact, sadly is. . .an object that is believed to come from some other place, manufactured by another country instead of being born to two living, breathing human beings.

And time and time again, I’m told that somehow along the way I must have lost my sense of humor or the ability to empathize or that I should really try harder see other people’s points of view. After all, they probably had good intentions behind whatever it was they said or did.

So I’m trying to find the humor and the good intentions behind these t-shirts. But I have to be honest; I keep coming up with nothin’.



I don’t think any of us would be especially pleased to hear our child referred to as an “it”, an object, an import or a scrap. And yet, I don’t see how these t-shirts aren’t committing the exact same offense.

I get that parents are excited and proud of their children and their families. I understand that many of the messages in our society about adoption infer that adoptive families somehow aren’t as worthy or as “real” as those who claim a biological connection only. But I don’t see how these kinds of t-shirts and the scores of others like these do anything but undermine the legitimacy of their own family and especially the dignity of their child. Do people really feel that they need to slap a t-shirt on their child to proclaim to the world that their kid, too, is indeed an American? Seems to me that those confident enough in their own skin as adoptive parents wouldn’t feel the need to use their child as a moving billboard to announce any such kind of message.

So I’m trying to locate my sense of humor about these t-shirts and I’m trying to see the perspective from the other person’s point of view. But from where I’m standing as both an adoptive parent and as an adoptee, I find no redeeming qualities in either of these shirts. I know there are plenty of people who will see these t-shirts as completely innocuous – as a fun and light-hearted way to take pride in their family. And of course they will continue to be purchased, along with the others that bear the slogans:

  • “I AM the real mom!”
  • “My favorite book says we’re ALL adopted
  • “YES, all these kids are mine!”
  • “So I’m adopted, you were an accident”
  • “Forgive me, I’m paper pregnant”
  • “I’m living proof that adoption is beautiful”
  • “I WILL be a mother”
  • “Growing in my heart, expectant adoptive mother” (Arrow pointing to a heart with the word “baby” on it)

and the numerous others that I feel only feed into the existing inaccurate, misunderstood and negative perceptions about adoption in our society which ultimately and – most importantly – do nothing to advocate for the voices, the realities, the losses and lived experiences of many, many, many adoptees and first parents.

Yes, it’s just a t-shirt. And Gotcha Day is just a phrase. And “China doll” is just a term of endearment. But it doesn’t mean they each don’t exist without impact and without consequences. . .maybe not to the people who employ them, but perhaps to someone else. Why shouldn’t their feelings matter, too?

Sure, one might think it’d be oh so witty, cute and harmless enough to create and sell a shirt that reads:

“Adoption. It’s not just for infertiles anymore. Just ask Angelina.”

and put it on themselves or their child. But somehow I don’t think they’d go over nearly as well as the other witty, cute and harmless ones available for purchase. Something tells me I don’t think they’d even be allowed to be sold in the same place as the other witty, cute and harmless ones.

I think it’s important to stop and ask ourselves why. Could it be because the impact would be felt by the the group in adoption whose feelings are often the most protected and taken into the greatest consideration; the voices of those who are most always first and foremost represented when it comes to how society thinks, acts and talks about adoption?

Contrary to what others may think, I really do make a very earnest attempt to look at things from the other point of view; to contemplate how my words could potentially impact another person’s feelings, regardless of how cute, funny or fitting it is for me personally. Regardless of how good my intentions might be.

In the case of these t-shirts and others like it, it’d be refreshing if those making and buying them could take a moment and think of how they could potentially impact another person’s feelings too. Regardless of how good their intentions might be.

* * *

EDITED TO ADD on 3-13-08: Shortly after this post was published, I received an email from a waiting adoptive parent who designed one of the t-shirt slogans listed in text portion of the post (not either of the actual t-shirt images). With her permission, here is an excerpt from the email she sent to me:

“While I might not always feel comfortable reading your blog, I think that’s a good thing. When I first designed the shirt, I hadn’t yet thought of how my child might see it one day. . . at that point, I hadn’t fully processed the necessary tragedy that would occur for me to have a chance at this joy.”

She went on to say that she hadn’t realized how offensive they might be to her future child or other adoptees and has since removed her design from the location where the other t-shirts are sold.

I was deeply moved by her email, and I let her know. I told her that I know of course that not all adoptees share the same thoughts and opinions that I do, but that I was truly appreciative of the fact that she was willing to hear the voices of adult adoptees, including my own. She said in a subsequent email that she reads the stories of adoptees and first parents because she wants to learn. Based on our email exchanges, I truly believe that she approaches her future role as an adoptive parent with an open heart, open mind and a great deal of humility – all of which I believe are necessary characteristics for every adoptive parent.

So, thank you, Ms. “X” for your email and for taking the voices and experiences of adoptees and first parents to heart. I have received other emails from prospective adoptive parents and adoptive parents alike who share your sentiments and I am both heartened and encouraged by the future dialogue and changes to come that will help ensure that all voices in adoption are heard.

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