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Where Do Babies Come From? The Adoption Edition

My daughter looks nothing like me. That's just a fact. With her straight, dark hair and almond complexion, she is actually a perfect contrast to my lighter features and curly locks. We look so different, in fact, that strangers routinely come up to me and ask if she was adopted—a question I usually laugh off by saying, "That obvious, huh?"

It doesn't bother me that we look nothing alike. If anything, I am in awe of those differences—my daughter is gorgeous. I regularly joke that I never could have made one as pretty as her. But I wonder sometimes how she will process those differences herself as she grows older. What will it mean to her that she can't look at me and see the source of her nose? Her mouth? Her eyes?

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I was watching my friend's two children recently, a 4-year-old boy and his 8-month-old sister. It was a beautiful day, so I decided to take all the kids for a bike ride down to the lake by my house. I got the two older ones into their helmets and then strapped the baby into an Ergo on my chest and off we went.

We didn't make it a block before a woman stopped us, cooing at the little girl in my arms and saying, "Oh, let me see your baby! She's so pretty—and she looks just like you!"

I could only laugh as I shook my head and said, "She's not mine." Then, pointing at my raven-haired toddler, I added, "That one is."

Surely, at some point, she's going to wonder why it is that strangers so quickly pinpoint the fact that she didn't come from me.

The woman looked back and forth between my daughter and I, seeming shocked and uncomfortable, before finally replying, "Oh … I … The baby just looks exactly like you!"

For whatever it is worth, I think that sweet little cherub I was carrying is the spitting image of her mother, who is gorgeous, but doesn't look especially like me in any way. Other than the fact that we are both Caucasian.

I couldn't help but wonder if this is, perhaps, just one of those things people say when they see babies. If the differences between my daughter and me hadn't been quite so obvious, would people have said it to us, if only because that's just what you say?

Either way, the whole interaction reminded me of a conversation I'd had with the same little boy I was now watching on his bike, not too long after his sister was born. He had been explaining to me how his sister had come from his mommy's belly, and then pointed to my daughter and said, "Just like JoJo [the nickname he gave my little girl in the hospital on the day she was born] came from your belly!"

His mom and I both laughed awkwardly and exchanged looks, before she said, "No, JoJo didn't come from Auntie Leah's belly. She's adopted, remember?"

He looked at us thoughtfully for a moment and then said, "So where did she come from? Las Vegas?"

At that point, his mom and I both burst into laughter. Her sister, another very good friend of mine, had needed to pursue IVF to get pregnant. She traveled to Las Vegas to do so, and we all still joke that her little boy came from Vegas.

I wish it were as simple as, "A penis and vagina came together, and then I carried you in my belly until you were born."

It suddenly became very clear that answering the, "Where do babies come from?" question has become so much more complicated.

I talk to my little girl about adoption all the time. We have children's books on the subject, pictures of her other mama hanging in her room and an album full of pictures of the three of us together. There will never be a point in her life when being adopted will come as a surprise to her—it is something she has simply always known.

But, she's only 2. And I wonder how much of that origin story she actually understands. If the confusion of my friend's son, two years her senior, is any indication, then not much. Because, no, she didn't come from my belly. Or Las Vegas.

Surely, at some point, she is going to have all these same questions. And she's also going to wonder why it is that strangers so quickly pinpoint the fact that she didn't come from me.

In truth, that's the only reason those comments from strangers ever make me cringe at all. I don't mind them personally; I'm proud of how we came to become a family. But I don't like the idea of my little girl one day feeling singled out because of that commentary.

My daughter has another mommy. She grew in her belly, where she was loved and cared for over the course of a 9-month period when I didn't even know to hope for her. A week before she was born, a chance encounter and a last-minute adoption plan that had fallen through had her other mommy asking me to be the one to take and love this little girl. And through fear and tears in my eyes, I said, "Yes." It's the best decision I've ever made. I was there when she came into the world, the first person to touch her, talk to her and hold her in my arms. And the three of us sat in that hospital together, overwhelmed by the love and loss permeating the room; a mix of emotions that could never quite be explained in words.

So how do I ever go about actually explaining it all to my daughter in a way that makes sense?

I wish it were as simple as, "A penis and vagina came together, and then I carried you in my belly until you were born." But the dynamics are more complicated than that.

And no one will ever come up to us and say, "She looks just like you!"

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Though for that, I remain grateful. Because for all the other complicated explanations ahead of us, I still maintain—I could never have made one as beautiful as her.

Image via Leah Campbell

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