Monday, January 30, 2012

Am I racist for wanting a white baby?

One of the many things I don’t think people are prepared for when they dream of adopting a baby, is the day they have to sit down and fill out a form full of little boxes and make decisions as to what you will or won’t accept in a child.  You choose everything from age, gender, medical history (not just of the child but of both birth parents), developmental status, and race.  It is an overwhelming task.  When you birth a child, you get what you get.  And though maybe you might want the option of choosing some of these things, the upside is that you don’t have to make those choices.  You feel like you are picking out a new car—I want red, with under 5,000 miles, a V-8 engine, DVD player and it must do 0-60 in 4 seconds.  Check.  Check.  Check.   

But this is a child.  You feel incredibly selfish saying you will not accept a child whose mother’s family had a history of schizophrenia because the risk of the child inheriting it are so great, even though the baby shows no signs.  I will talk about those choices another day, but right now, I want to talk about race.  Such a hot topic, but one you have to face.

I’m sure many of you feel as I did when we first went into the process.  “Love conquers all!”  “I’m not racist…I don’t mind having a child of another race in my family.”  But let’s get real.  Let me back up to one of the first classes we were required to take during the process to acquire our home study so we could even get on the list to adopt (we adopted through San Diego County Adoptions).  It was about transracial adoptions, and it stopped me dead in my tracks.  Two things in that class had a huge impact on me, especially as an all white woman.  John is actually one-fourth Native American, however, he looks very white.  So basically, we’re white.  White, white, white.  And I think it’s important to accept that and be okay with it.  Everyone wants to have a little something else in them these days--I guess it makes us feel a little more exotic!  But frankly, I don’t have anything but whiteness in my family line (at least beyond the yet to be proved, possibly Native American great-grandfather rumor). 

So for the two things in the class that had a huge impact us.  First, we did this experiment.  Here’s how it goes.  We were given a plate of M&M’s and a plate of white mini-marshmallows, and each of us was given a cup.  Each color of M&M corresponded to a race.  I know it’s very general, but for the sake of this experiment, it worked.  Then, our instructor read of a list of relationships.  For each race represented in that relationship, you put one M&M of the corresponding color in your cup.  So, referring to my photograph of the chart, here is an example.  They started with yourself.  Enter one white marshmallow.  Next was your family (your parents and siblings).  Even though there are six people in my family, I only put in one representative candy.  Enter another white marshmallow.  Extended family.  I have one cousin who married a man from Trinidad who is black.  The rest of my extended family is white.  So, I drop in one representative blue M&M and one white, white, white marshmallow.  Coworkers.  White marshmallow, a brown, yellow and red M&M, to represent the races of the people I worked with.  Your boss.  Your church.  Your best friend.  Your circle of closest friends.  Your neighborhood.  The school you went to.  Etc. Etc. Etc.  Marshmallow, marshmallow, an occasional M&M and more marshmallows.  You get the point.  In the end, my cup looked something like this.  Nothing wrong with it, I'm just being honest.

I want to explain the second thing in the class that had a huge impact before I explain the moral to the experiment and to the story.  The second thing was a video we watched of grown adoptee adults.  All all of them were at least part African-American.  They all had been adopted by white parents.  The thing that was so apparent was the struggle and the bitterness most of them felt at not being raised by, or around other African-Americans.  I was really taken aback.  You could feel their pain at having been “the poor black kid saved by the generous white people”.  Some were more bitter than others, but they all struggled with it.  And these were kids who loved and cared about these white parents, but still felt great pain at being raised in a white life—white family, friends, schools, etc. 

Now, I will say this, the video is a little older, and I do think inter-racial families are not only much more common, but much more accepted than they used to be.  However, the point brought up in class after the experiment and the video was this.  Don’t think for a second that “love conquers all”.  It was never said that you should not consider adopting a child of another race.  The point was that you need to be aware that it does matter.  Race matters.  As much as we want to push that we all should love each other no matter what, it’s not just about least not solely about love.  Race is a big part of our identity.  It’s what we see physically when we look in the mirror.  And if you are going to adopt a child not of your race, then perhaps that race should at the very least be represented in your cup of candy.  Even if a child doesn’t see any resemblance when he looks at you, because maybe he is brown and you are white, maybe he should at least be able to see some brown when you go outside in the neighborhood, or to church, or to the grocery store, or to a family reunion.  Kids need to see other people that look like them in some way.  That's what these adult adoptees had missed growing up. They need to know that they are normal--that people that look like them are normal and a part of your circle.  It was  real eye-opener.

But, let’s look at the facts now, and try to see why this is so difficult.  The majority of couples waiting to adopt are Caucasian.  The majority of kids being adopted are not.  The largest percentage of non-white kids up for adoption are African-American.  (These are the statistics for San Diego County, so this may vary a little from state to state, but in my research so far, I’ve found it’s pretty similar everywhere in the U.S.).  The most requested child in San Diego County Adoptions is a newborn white girl, which does not come available very often.  So, you do the math.  Then I ask, is it worse for an African-American child to be placed with all white parents, than to sit in foster care for the rest of her life?  There is an African-American girl up for adoption right now who is fourteen.  She was removed from her home as an infant and has had more than thirty placements.  She has been up for adoption since she was about six, and has still not been placed.  I don’t know all the reasons, but it breaks my heart.  Would it be better for her to now go with an all white family or graduate out of the system with no family? 

We have, on more than one occasion, had white friends say to us “I would love to adopt a little black child….they are the cutest kids!  I think it would be so fun to have a little black child.”  I am not lying.  We have heard this comment numerous times!  Frankly, they are cute.  But these are children, not puppies!  That is not why we should adopt a child. 

Where do we stand?  I don’t know.  We were more open before we got D.  If you look at my post about our failed adoption “The One That Got Away: Memories of a Failed Adoption”, you will see that we took a bi-racial child the first time, mostly because I thought we would have one or two more, and as long as we all looked a little different, then it would be okay—no one child would be singled out.  I never expected to wind up with a child that, aside from the black hair, looks like he could be our biological child.  Now, we are looking to adopt a second child, and we are presented with a dilemma.  If D looked more ethnic in some way, I could see being more open.  We are most likely only going to adopt one more time.  I’m hoping it’s a sibling group, so we can have three children.  But frankly, we aren’t getting any younger, and as long as the process takes, this is our last time through either way.  So, now we have three family members who look very white, and I don’t want one child to feel like odd man out.  I don’t want that one child to be the only one everyone points out and asks if he/she is adopted.  If D had looked different, it wouldn’t be such a big deal, but now it’s more complicated.  I’m not saying we won’t adopt a child who doesn’t look white.  I’m just saying we need to be realistic about the needs of the child.  It’s hard to talk this way when you feel it’s just not politically correct.  But it is honest.  And I think it’s better to be honest about what a child will face, then to make him your social experiment.  Am I racist?  Absolutely not.  But, I don’t want to put a child in a position to always be singled out and talked about differently.  I don’t think our children should pay the price for us trying to change people’s perceptions.  That’s just me.  I want to raise a family that changes the world in positive ways.  But, I just don’t want that to be at the expense of one particular child.  Don't let the title of the post fool you--we are still open to a transracial adoption, but he/she has to be the right fit for our family, and we need to be the right fit for that child.  What that is, I don’t know.  But when it happens, we will know, and we will be educated in our choices, and we won't care if someone thinks we are racist for thinking that skin color matters, because in my opinion, it is more racist to assume a child should not care about, or need to identify with his or her race.  To ignore a part of who you are does just as much damage as to make that one thing seem more important than anything else.  There has to be a balance.  I hope we can find that it if the situation arises. I still think about that fourteen year old African-American girl in foster care, and know I could be a good mother to her.  Frankly, the age gap between her and D is the bigger issue, and that's a post for another time. 

P.S.  Maybe this brings up something else I should add to my list of things not to say to people waiting to adopt....I'll have to think about that...  Check out that post.  Open letter to friends and family of someone dealing with infertility, and perhaps looking at adoption as the next step: 7 THINGS NOT TO SAY, in no particular order:

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The One That Got Away: Memories of a failed adoption.

My little Isaac has been on my mind a lot lately.  I don’t know why.  It’s been just over four years since we lost him.  It’s not the anniversary of anything—not his birthday, or the day we took him home, or the day we lost him back to his biological father.  Maybe it’s because we have finally gotten back on the list to adopt our second child in the last couple of weeks.  Whatever it is, I’ve been thinking about him a lot more than normal.  Sometimes when people hear about our failed adoption, they make comments about how it’s good that we’d only had him five months or else it would have been even more difficult.  But the thing is, I always saw him as my child.  I bonded with him the first moment I heard about him over the phone, and by the time I held him for the first time at the foster mom’s house, I was done.  He was mine.  He was a low risk adoption—99% guaranteed to go through.  His mother relinquished rights and hand-picked us out of the pool of waiting couples.  She told us she didn’t know who the father was, and that she’d hidden her pregnancy from everyone, so nobody knew about this precious baby boy except herself and the social workers, and of course, us.  After years of failed fertility treatments, including two very difficult and unsuccessful runs at invitro, and then more than a year and a half getting through the process to get on the list for adoption, this amazing boy was ours.  I was elated.  I finally got to be the one at the baby shower on the receiving end, holding the cute little baby and telling my story.  It was a most wonderful time.  And then, the hammer fell.  To keep the story short, the birth mother had lied about everything, and after placing him with us, called the birth father to tell him he had a son, but that he couldn't have him because he’d been placed for adoption.  She looked us in the eye and told us she didn’t know who the father was and that she hadn’t told him, but she had.  It took a while for him to get the paternity test, and a few weeks before Christmas, he came to take his son.  That is all a story for another blog entry, but I just wanted to say that it didn’t matter that it was “only five months” (and it is still very painful to hear that comment from people).  We were devastated.  We had lost our long-awaited child.  We had a deep bond with him, and he had become a precious part of our lives.  I still have a hard time talking about it, and this is the first time I’ve written about it since just after it happened.  We still miss him.  I think about him every day, and I still shed tears every now and then when I look at photos and think of that difficult day when I put him in the car seat and kissed him good-bye, so afraid that he would feel I had abandoned him.  He is doing well now.  These pictures were taken two days before his father took him home.  I had been crying all week, and praying for strength.  I asked my friend to take some pictures of us so I could have some final shots of us together.  And in an answer to that prayer (although not the answer I REALLY wanted!) I woke up that Friday morning calm, and more prepared to face the impending weekend events.  
The strange thing was that I could not get him to smile, and that was very unusual.  I tried playing with him, as you can see in the photos, but no smile.  It was as if he knew a traumatic change was coming and he just wasn’t his normal self.  But, I’m happy with the way they turned out, and glad we were able to capture a sweet moment with him before he went away.I still consider him my first son, even though when people ask, I say that D is the first.  In my mind, D is our second, but I keep Isaac tucked in a special spot deep in my heart that I can only pull out in private.  D will never take his place, although he did fill a deep void when he came to us a year and a half later.  If you know someone who had a failed adoption, I hope you never say "well at least he was only ____ months old", and I hope you never assume the next child will ever take his place.  You would never think that if you lost a biological child.  It is such a painful experience, and it doesn't ever go away.  I know he is with his father who wanted him so deeply, and I know that’s where he needs to be, but my sweet little Isaac will always be the one that got away. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Open letter to friends and family of someone dealing with infertility, and perhaps looking at adoption as the next step: 7 THINGS NOT TO SAY, in no particular order:

1.   “Take my kids for a weekend and see if you still want any.”  It’s not the same thing.  I don’t care how much you love a niece or the son of a friend, having them for a weekend would not soothe the desire for a child nor would it eliminate it.  Anyone who has felt the great blessing of being given the opportunity to raise their own child should know this.  I don’t want a weekend baby.  I’m not looking to babysit.  I want a son or a daughter.  This comment only pours salt in the wound that not only do I not have a child, but you aren’t enjoying the ones you have.  I remember Madonna making a comment once about how money was over-rated, and I thought, then why doesn’t she just give it all away?  It’s easy to say money is over-rated when you're loaded.  But when there is $10 in your bank account and you have a child to take care of, it doesn’t seem so over-rated.  A comment like this from someone who already has the one great thing you would love to have just hurts.  It isn’t funny.
2.  Adopted kids are just different/difficult.”  Well, thank you for raining on my parade!  I have one option to have kids—adoption.  So, for you, with your three kids, to tell me that my only path is subpar is insensitive.  I am not an ignorant girl who thinks kids are about people at the park telling me how cute my child is.  I know it will be hard.  But, frankly, there are no guarantees with a biological child.  There is disease and mental illness and hard-headedness and rebelliousness.  None of us are given a free pass.  I know plenty of adopted kids that have thrived in a loving home.  There may be issues.  Or their might not be that many.  But, I am thrilled at the chance to adopt, so although I appreciate your concerns, I’m not going into it blindly.  To me, having children is not about the picture-perfect Christmas card, although I love that as much as the next person.  Having children is about providing a child with a chance to learn and grow and thrive and be a better person, and that is as true for an infant as it is for a 10-year-old kid who’s been in foster care a good part of his life.  Maybe he will have more struggles, but the point is that he has a family, and someone to spend time with him and help him sort through the things that have happened to him and help him to be a better person.
3.  “Maybe if you adopt a child you will get pregnant.”  This is quite possibly the absolute worst reason to adopt a child.  We, as adoptive parents, need to be 110% on board with adopting a child because we want that child.  Not because we are hoping it will have some magical effect on our bodies and we will suddenly be able to conceive the child we really want.  An adopted child has already been through a lot, and older children have been through so, so much.  It is so unfair to expect that child to now be the sacrifice for something supposedly greater.  Most of us who adopt don’t feel this way.  And you, as family and friends, need to not think that way, either.  And if it does happen, and we get pregnant after we adopt, you need to know that to us, those kids are the same.  They are both ours and we love them both equally, so please don’t treat them differently.  Please don’t think because your family’s DNA runs in the veins of one and not the other, that that child should be the one to inherit the special family heirloom, or get the family name, or any other special treatment.  To us, these kids are our flesh and blood.  We don’t see them differently, so you shouldn’t either.
4.  RE: any fertility treatment:  “I just know this is going to work!”  I don’t know how many times I heard this.  The thing is, I know you mean well and are trying to be a cheerleader, but you CAN’T know it’s going to work.  You aren’t God.  None of us KNOW what is going to work.  And believe me, once you’re on your 6th or 7th or 10th fertility procedure, no one wants it to work more than you do.  It’s better to say things like “I sure hope this works!  I am keeping you guys in my prayers” or “You have been through so much, you sure deserve this” or “we love you and are there for you no matter what.  Please let me know what I can do to help.”
5.  (While in the middle of a difficult moment with your child) “Are you sure you want kids?”  It’s similar to the “Take my kids for the weekend….” comment.  I know parenthood isn’t easy.  But I do know it’s worth it.  I know that I desperately want a child, and if yours is acting up at the moment and you are frustrated, I also know that that will pass.  I don’t want your screaming child.  I want my own screaming child.  And I say that because I know my child will scream sometimes.  In fact, as I’m writing this, I’m in the middle of a battle of wills with my 2 ½ year old wonderful son, and he is screaming because he doesn’t want to pick up a handful of raisins he has thrown on the floor for the third time.  And though I'm frustrated, I am secretly smiling, because hearing him scream is a reminder that I have a son.  I know you are frustrated in that moment, and I know that sometimes, we say things out of frustration.  But, it is more salt in the wound. 
6.  “Just have faith.”  If everyone who wanted something in life was able to get it by just having faith, none of us would want for anything.  I believe faith is about believing that God will direct you in the path that is best for you, and often that means accepting a different path than you thought you were destined for.  And that’s not a bad thing.  I hear stories all the time of people who thought they wanted to follow one road, and an accident or tragedy or just a chance happening (if you believe in chance), led them somewhere else and it turned out to be a wonderful thing—better than the original plan.  I have faith that if I try to do what’s right, and pray to know what I need to be doing, then I will be led to the thing(s) that is right for me.  Infertility and chance meetings with different people led me down the road to adoption, and it has been the greatest blessing in my life.  I wouldn’t wish the disappointments we suffered on anyone, but I wouldn’t change it for us.  When you tell someone they could just have something if they just had enough faith, it is a backwards criticism.  In other words, you are saying you had enough faith because you have a child, but I must not because I don’t.  And I hope we all know that is not true. 
7.  “You are so great to give that child a better life.”  This is another comment that seems like a compliment, but it’s not a good thing to say, especially in front of the child.  I didn’t go into adoption to be benevolent or charitable.  And I know it may be a fine line, but it’s not a service project.  It is a human life.  And that human life needs a family, not a benefactor.  We want our family and friends to know that we want a child, period.  It is %100 selfish.  It is not to do a good deed, or at least it shouldn’t be.  A child deserves to be wanted.  Every child deserves that.

I'm sure there are more, and I know that we need to not be overly sensitive to everything people say.  But sometimes, in the middle of such an emotional, hormone-involved situation, hearing these comments for the 10th time can lead to a complete meltdown.  My biggest advice is to just be supportive and positive and don't avoid eye contact with us or avoid inviting us to baby showers because you don't want to upset us.  We don't want to feel alone because nobody knows what to say.  Just express love, support, and let's have conversations about other things, too.  We are going to cry, and that's okay.  Just cry with us, or buy us ice cream.  And when we get the call that we are getting a child, whether straight from the hospital or 10 years old, be super excited for us.  And love our kids as unconditionally as you would if you had been present at a live birth.  We will love you forever for it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

When should I be allowed to feel this child is mine?

I'm still not sure I'm ready to talk about the failed adoption we endured four years ago, but something I read a couple of days ago got me thinking about the whole event again (not that I ever stop thinking about it, but it made me want to express a thought).  To condense a long, painful story into a few sentences, we were in the process of adopting a baby boy in 2007, and due to a number of lies the birthmother told, the supposedly "unknown" father found out about his son, and got him back after five months.  We were devastated, to say the least.  And even though we are thrilled with our son, now, and even though we knew the birth father was not at fault and had every right to have his son, it was the most painful experience I've ever endured.  We cried every day for months, and that's not an exaggeration--not all day, but at some point every day, I broke down.  I read a post on an adoption-related site on Facebook a couple of days ago that referred to adoptive parents as sometimes feeling "entitled" to a child that isn't officially theirs yet, and there was some discussion in comments following about how it's such a difficult decision for the birth parents and that we need to respect their right to take some time to make that decision.  And although I completely agree that it must be an extremely difficult decision, I have to say that I think it is unfair to think that adoptive parents should just care for a baby until the birthparents make up their minds as to what they want to do.  It think it's unfair to the adoptive parents and also to the child.  I hold no animosity towards our first son's mother.  And I have absolute compassion for our current son's birthmother (who actually passed away from a drug overdose before we even finalized our adoption).  But I think there are sides to consider all around.  In California, where we are, I believe the system weighs too heavily in favor of reunification, to the point where many children are dragged through the process for years until they reach an age where they are much less likely of being adopted.  I know of a girl who has been in foster care her entire fourteen years of life and is now struggling to be placed in a family, desperate to have parents and somewhere to call home.  During the first twelve month's of D's process, there were still chances for his birthmother to change her mind and fight to get him back.  It would have been difficult but not impossible.  Such painful decisions all around.  I think after a child has been with you for twelve months and the birth mother has made little or no effort to get him back, that perhaps you should be able to feel a little entitlement.  And I don't mean that in an arrogant way.  I have love for everyone involved, but at some point, enough is enough.  When is that point??

Friday, January 20, 2012

To say or not to say ("he's adopted").....that is the question....

D looks enough like my husband and me that I don't often get people asking if he's adopted.  But, that jet black hair is the one kicker.  The look at John...they look at me...and they just know that genetically it is unlikely that two people with brown hair will produce a child with such beautiful jet black hair.  So, then the conversation gently turns to "wow, he has some great hair!  What's his ethnicity?"  or "where did he get that black hair?" or, if I'm alone with him, they will ask if his father has black hair.  Which then leads me to usually tell them that he's adopted.  Now, don't get me wrong.  I don't have a problem with telling people.  I'm proud of it.  I couldn't love D any more if I'd birthed him myself, so I don't mind sharing my story.  But recently, I heard another adult adoptee say how he didn't want his mother talking about all the time.  He didn't want it pointed out, and he felt it was his story to tell when he wanted to.  Which has led me to ponder the whole issue again.  I don't want D to feel that it's something to be ashamed of, but on the other hand, I don't want to spend his whole life pointing it out to people, when maybe he just doesn't want it to be brought up all the time.  Maybe he just wants people to think more about the fact that we're a family and not just an adoptive family.  I don't know the answer.  I guess as he grows older, I will let him have a say in that.  It's hard to figure out how to answer questions sometimes without explaining it.  People are just curious, and that's okay.  I've tried to just give general answers, but at some point, you have to just say what it is, or you have to lie or say you don't want to discuss it, which I think is much worse, since it makes it sound like there is something to be ashamed of.  I'm sure this is something we'll be sorting out for awhile.  And as we look to add a second (and hopefully a third) child to our family, I think it may get a little more complicated sorting through how each child feels about their adoption and how much of their story they want everyone to know about.  I don't want him to feel like a conversation piece, as much as I do love sharing the story with people.  But I have to remember he's not just the subject of an incredible story, he's a person with feelings and thoughts and a history that already includes some pain, even if he doesn't understand it all just yet.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Here we go again.

It's been over a year since, in the glorious aftermath of finalization our long-awaited adoption, I set up this blog with the intent to document all those feelings and thoughts through writings and artwork.  But, I suppose motherhood took over, and between working and raising our sweet little boy, this just fell by the wayside.  However, I am recommitted, spurred on partly by receiving a phone call today from our local county adoptions social worker that we are officially back on the list to adopt a second child.  It only took a year from the time we began our paperwork--patience is a virtue, right??  Or so I hear.  Our little D is not so little any more.  He is fast approaching his third birthday in a few months, and I can't believe how fast the time has gone.  I so want to him to have a sibling, and wish he could be experiencing that right now.  But, God has other plans for us, and so we wait.  Like so many days before, we wait.  One of the cool things about adoption, that can also be the most frustrating, is not knowing.  You don't know when that call will come in.  It could be this afternoon, or a year from now.  And though that can be difficult at times, when it comes in, it's very exciting.  There is a whirlwind of emotions and a flurry of activity to get ready for a child that may be in your home within just a couple of days of even knowing they existed.  They say to consider yourself pregnant when your home study is complete, because you could get the call at any time.  But the thing about being pregnant, is you have a pretty good timeline of when that child is coming.  Yes, he or she might come early or late, but it's usually a difference of weeks, and you know you are getting a newborn.  With us, this child could be a newborn, or two or five.  It could be a boy or a girl.  It could be a sibling group of two with multiple possibilities of combinations of ages and sex and race.  How do you prepare for that?  How do you buy clothes or bedding or toys or anything ahead of time when so much is unknown.  And though it's a little crazy to think about that, personally, that is just one of the coolest, most exciting things about adoption.  In many ways, I love the unpredictable, unknown nature of it all.  And so, the waiting begins.  Or continues, really.  But in a more exciting way, knowing that the call could actually come in now that everything is complete.  As Shakespeare wrote in Richard II (albeit about a completely unrelated story!) "Heaven hath a hand in these events."  I truly believe that is the case, and it is that knowledge that allows me to let go, live my life with my precious son that I didn't know I would ever get the chance to raise, and wait for the child that God has chosen for us.  His or her road to our family might be a little less direct, but it is mapped out nonetheless.