race


When we started the adoption process, one of the questions that naturally popped up (along with closed vs open, domestic vs international, etc) was if we were open and ready to adopt transracially. And my considered-for-a-whole-20-seconds answer was, duh! of course we’re ready! Well, in the admirable and amazing way our agency has of doing everything, they make folks really consider what they think and put it to paper. One is encouraged to read specific books on transracial adoption and raising multiracial children, and talk to other parents who have adopted transracially.

Amidst all this reserach, I was driving home from work and listening to NPR. February 1st was the anniversary of the Woolworth’s Sit-In, so they asked one of the four men who participated to relate his experience. I was brought near tears by how scary that must have been, and how brave they were for doing it anyway. And I thought about how I’ve maybe been judged for having pink hair or wearing black, brown and navy blue in the same outfit, but never discriminated against in the way people of color were or are.

While race may not matter inside the four walls of your own house, it sadly does outside in the real world. The “ready to adopt transracially?” is really a number of questions rolled into one:

- are we as parents ready for the comments and assumptions people will make when we’re out with our child who may be of a different ethnicity than us? that we’re not their parents or that they’re not our child?

- are we prepared for dealing with the comments that people make to our child? will we be able to prepare our child with a healthy self-esteem to deal with and deflect such comments?

- can we step outside of our comfort zone to find resources for our child to grow into their ethnic identity?

- are we ready to deal with not only a) parenting, b) adoption, c) open adoption, d) open adoption of a child who may be of a different ethnicity, but e) all of the above?

It may be really challenging, scary, awkward, and life-stretching, but after much percolation (which I won’t go into at this time, but we’re happy to discuss), we think we’re ready for it. Carefully considered this time, the answer is still, “Yes. We’ll do our best.”

After going to a meeting with the first agency, we had a pretty good sense of what type of questions we had to ask ourselves. Those questions were:

  1. Agency or Private?
  2. Infant or Child?
  3. “Healthy” or “Special Needs”?
  4. Domestic or International?
  5. Traditional or Open?

Private or Agency?

The idea behind a Private adoption is that the adopting couple retains the services of a lawyer to handle all of the paperwork and to give legal council, but to not work with an actual agency. Instead, the couple will advertise in local papers, magazines, websites, and send out letters to friends and family, searching for a birthmother in need. A well-chosen lawyer will have some experience with the advertising process, but the couple is largely on their own.

Maybe when we’re on our twelfth adoption and the process is old hat, but for now? No thanks! We need all the support we can get.

Infant or Child?

Again, this was a pretty easy question for us. We are definitely interested in raising our child from as early of an age as possible – as mad as it might sound, we look forward to the dirty diapers, the sleepless nights and all the craziness of that process. It would have been difficult for us to give up those early months and go for a child already past that stage.

“Healthy” or “Special Needs”?

One of the fields that WACAP (the agency who hosted the first meeting we went to) works in is with Special Needs children. During the presentation, they showed us a book full of children currently looking for placement, with any number of physical or learning disabilities.

It’s extremely difficult to look at these children, in need of a home and a loving family, and to have to admit that you simply aren’t prepared for that responsibility, both in parenting skills that we have not yet built and in emotional strength and durability.

When I was in high school, our parents were friends with a family who was heavily involved with the foster care system. The father in the family was someone who was always willing to help where he could – whether that meant lending a tool, providing an extra set of hands for a weekend chore, or driving an hour in the rain down from Marysville to help his friend’s teenage son get his car up and running when he left the lights on in the IKEA parking lot. My parents have had a lot of friends like that (and are people like that themselves), and as I grow older, I’m trying to look more for opportunities where I can be a friend and a source of help to others. With this family in particular, I’ve always been especially impressed by their willingness to bring children into their homes and to provide them with love – even if the children stayed with them for only a few months, I know that the children’s lives were measurably improved by that stay.

Betsy and I have talked a lot about participating in the foster program, and trying to do our best to help children with “special needs”. And if the child that we end up adopting through the “healthy” program ends up having special needs, we will do everything in our power to help them grow up strong and happy, and I know our families will provide us with the support we need to get through those obstacles. But we’re simply not ready to volunteer for the more difficult path today.

Domestic or International?

The other packet WACAP gave us included pictures of several children from each of the countries they worked with. As I flipped through the packet, trying to “feel” which country was right for us, I kept on returning to the Kazakhstan page. I tried to figure out what it was about that country that was intriguing to me – I had little to no knowledge of the culture or the people, and I had never felt particularly drawn to them before. In contrast, I’ve had a lot of “touch points” with some of the other countries – a cousin born in Korea, a burgeoning interest in Ethiopian jazz, love for the food from Vietnam, Thailand, India… admittedly, not a huge interest or knowledge about these diverse cultures, but it was still far more than I knew about Kazakhstan.

Until I realized that I kept on returning to that page because the baby was white.

It was a stunning realization – I’ve never been concerned about race among my friends or coworkers, I have non-caucasian cousins who I never think of as anything but as part of my family, I have great respect and interest in other cultures… but I couldn’t deny the fact that when I looked at pictures of babies, my “father instinct” kicked in way harder with babies who looked like me. I returned to the pictures of the other children, and tried to force myself to imagine holding them, playing catch with them in the backyard, teaching them to ride a bike, but it just didn’t feel as natural as with the caucasian child.
I left the meeting more confused about my stance on International adoption than when I had gone to the meeting. Was race important to me, and I wasn’t aware of it previously? Was I overreacting? If I went ahead with a non-caucasian adoption, would I subconsciously regret it later on?

Over the next couple of weeks, I continued to think about it, and to “try on” the images of different races of children in our house. As I worked through this mentally, I realized that my reaction actually wasn’t about the race of the child in the picture at all. What I was reacting to was the first realization that the child we would be raising was not going to share our genes.

Up to that point, I don’t think I had really worked through that part of my own grief. For myself, I was never going to carry a child, and seeing Betsy pregnant would have been neat, but it wasn’t what I was looking forward to. What I wanted was a child of my own, and I had convinced myself that the method of bringing the child home wasn’t important to me. But when I was confronted with a picture of a child that obviously would not share my genes, that part of my loss became more real.

Once I finally gave myself time to “own” this loss, to deal with it and to start to move on, I realized that race was not a consideration for me. There are definitely some people from the outside who may have an issue with a mixed-race family, but I decided that that was something I was willing to work with. However, in the time that it took me to come to grips with this and to understand my initial reaction to race, Betsy and I had made other decisions that answered this question for us. Those decisions will be the topic of my next post.