She’s Lucky

IMG_8861Most well meaning lines that don’t come across the way people wish they would, have to do with an innate misunderstanding of what it’s like to be in the other person’s shoes. So many times, we want to help or mean to flatter, but our attempts are clunky or just wrong or only partially on the mark. Note: I believe the attempt counts.

These days the thing people say that doesn’t come across correctly is this: “Your daughter is so lucky you adopted her,” or some iteration of that sentiment. Although it’s happened many times in the last five years, there’s always a beat of silence before I respond, as if I have to recover from the surprise and perhaps tame my own complicated response. After that split second, I say what’s true: “I’m the lucky one.”

I’m lucky because she’s awesome. I’m lucky because she’s adorable and feisty and sincere and sassy and smart and silly. I’m lucky because she’s got more energy than nearly any five year-old I’ve ever met. I’m lucky because she has brought verve into our family. I’m lucky because she’s made all the brothers into bigger brothers and brothers of a sister. I’m lucky because there are two girls in the family, now.

I’m lucky because she’s brought lots more family into our family. I remember a friend who adopted a baby from China telling me that she felt the world got smaller once she met her daughter halfway across the world and they became a family. Their family of two spanned the world—and therefore their family included the world and they were part of the world. It seemed to make her perception of family fall into a larger context. I concur. I’m lucky because she’s our family and we’re hers.

What trips me up about the she’s lucky idea is really not the ways we’re lucky. It’s the notion that adoption is altruistic. It’s not, not like that. I didn’t think to myself (and I’d be curious if anyone out there did), “Wow, I’d like to help others. I think I’ll have children.” I wanted to become a parent. That was, ultimately, selfish. Once they’re here, a great deal of what feels like altruism is required, sure. The ones I gave birth to made me throw up countless times between them, expand to near-bursting, and experience all sorts of other discomforts and emotions even before they arrived as tiny, completely helpless humans. And then of course, they were all tiny, helpless humans.

Sacrifice is required to raise children. Loss of control occurs, regardless of how much you can’t imagine this before you are in the position of losing it so profoundly. The fifteen-second thing the flight attendant says before the plane takes off about how you need to put your oxygen mask on first suddenly becomes a philosophical quandary, one that like a Möbius strip can seem one thing then another and then another still, unendingly so. “Parenting is relentless,” my dear and very patient husband says sometimes late at night or early in the morning or when one calls us upset about dinner during the one overnight away we took this summer.

But if it were completely cut-and-dried I probably wouldn’t feel so churned up by this notion of my daughter’s good fortune. I love her first mother. I understand now that I’ve been more intimate with the process of adoption the kind of obvious truth that any woman contemplating an adoption decision is in crisis. Whether it’s acute or not, and every single story is different; every woman, every family, has a unique situation, so while that sounds like a blanket statement, it’s more like a very broad statement. So, then the lucky question becomes different again. Yes, I guess, she is. Lucky is a complicated term when such huge loss is mixed up in the fate that she is where she is, right? Lucky feels like a breezy term, like winning a raffle is lucky. It feels too breezy. What word would work better? Is there an idea to convey the complicated roil of circumstances and emotions that do make a certain sense, if what we’re trying to say is that given the fates, which made this girl “ours,” we’re collectively fortunate? I can’t go, as some do, to some notion of karma. Rather than nodding when someone says this was meant to be, I settle more upon this is. Without any over-thinking, I’m comfortable with the notion that this is our family and we’re so lucky to be a family.

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This entry was written by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

About the author: Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Brain, Child Magazine, and Salon, amongst others. Follow her on twitter–@standshadows.

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

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  • Risa

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for that wonderful blog!!!!!!!!! I’ve adopted two infants out of the foster care system and I can’t stand it when someone comments on how “lucky” they are. I am the lucky one, I get to be their mommy!!!!! I get to have a family!!!!! They got to suffer pre-natal and/or post-natal neglect and an unimaginable loss that’s likely to impact them the rest of their lives, no matter how much I’d like to think I can repair that damage. Are they “lucky”? They’re fighters, they’re strong, they’re resilient, and, of course they are wonderful, bright, courageous, silly, energetic, creative, etc. I am so lucky! Are they lucky? I like to think we’re blessed to have each other, however we got to this place.

    • Sarah Buttenwieser

      I love that notion: that we’re all blessed to have each other, regardless of how we got together.

      • Laura

        I especially love (and agree) with what you said about shying away from “meant to be” and going with “this is”. It is so good that i get to be my daughter’s mom and I think it is equally good that she got me. But I’ve never thought it would really be right or fair to take the perspective that it was “meant to be” that a child’s first mother was too poor, or was too alone, or that it was meant to be that a child was neglected or abandoned–if any of those ( or other harder or less hard circumstances) were part of the circumstances surrounding adoption. We can revel in the present reality, exactly as it is–without any other justification than– this is and it is so good.

  • meghann

    This is perfect. Thank you so much for sharing it. xo

    • Sarah Buttenwieser

      Thank you!

  • Nina

    I love that conclusion: “We’re lucky to be a family.”

    Beautiful piece, Sarah.

    • Sarah Buttenwieser


  • Harriett

    We’re lucky you write! Thank you for bringing your insights into words we can read.

  • jzzy55

    I came to the conclusion a long time ago that “she’s lucky to have been adopted by you” most often refers to the obvious fact that there was a problem/s in her family of origin, so adoption was the best option for this child at that time. Therefore, what these people are trying to say is, ‘I’m glad it worked out this way for everybody.” Awkward, but not ill-intentioned exactly. And in some cases a child IS lucky to have been adopted out of a pretty dire no-hope situation. Really, I believe that most people are just trying to say something nice about a subject with which they may have little or no familiarity and some level of discomfort. But I too used to respond, “We are the lucky ones!” These kinds of comments go away as your child gets older, anyway.