Thursday, July 10, 2008

Thoughts on transracial adoption

In case you are new to this blog or haven't noticed, my husband and I are both of European (German) descent. Olivia although VERY light-skinned, gets her beautiful dark curls from her fairly dark-skinned African-American (AA) birthfather.

When we first started researching adoption, one of our considerations was whether we'd be open to adopting a child of a different racial or ethnic background. We discovered quickly that with many agencies, it is both less expensive and quicker to adopt if the couple is interested in adopting a baby who is fully or partially AA. The reason for this is that such babies are considered "difficult to place". Frankly, there are more birthmoms carrying AA or biracial babies who want to place their babies for adoption than there are couples willing to adopt them. The agency we were planning to use had stated that their average placement time from homestudy approval was 3-6 months.

My heart went out to these babies, who were just as precious and unique and beautiful as any other babies and just as deserving of a loving family who could support them.

However, there are many things to consider when signing up to become a transracial family. We weren't comfortable with the idea at first. We had actually ruled it out on our preference form for the agency's information session.

It seems funny to me, looking back, because we were comfortable and willing to consider any other mix...Asian, Hispanic, Caucasian or any mix of these that may be available...but AA was out of our realm of consideration.

That is, until our counselor friend called us about this birthmom who wanted to place her baby. I truly did not think my husband would go for it, but he was willing to meet the birthmother as soon as we learned about her and her situation. From that point, there was no turning back.

We still had our doubts. During our whirlwind of a homestudy, we sat with our caseworker and listened while she discussed the challenges involved in a transracial adoption. We participated in the colored beads exercise (which I hate). We began to understand how snowy white our world really was. We had to watch a video on transracial adoption in which a handful of adoptees explained how their world was affected by being raised in white families. A video in which only one of the interviewees was entirely satisfied with her life situation. A video which left us feeling like complete losers who would ruin this child just by being her parents.

We met with friends of ours who had recently adopted a biracial child so we could learn more about their experience. We were stunned by how dark-skinned their half-caucasian child was. Were we really prepared to become a minority family?

We were, however, committed to this birthmother and this child. We had decided that God had handed this situation to us and expected us to make the best of it. After all, there are no guarantees with any child, biological or adopted, but it is up to us to do the best with what we are given, and that's what we were determined to do.

Despite the doubts and questions, we marched on, bugging our caseworker about the homestudy completion date and buying up baby clothes and items on ebay. We prayed for the birthmother, made plans to travel and discussed baby names.

If you've read our adoption story (see sidebar), you may remember the dream I had the night before the C-section. The dream in which I saw our daughter for the first time, with her light skin and full head of hair.

That next day, we both saw and held our daughter for the first time. From that moment, she was our baby. There was not a shred of doubt in our minds that she was meant to be a part of our family.

Life is weird like that. We spend so much time planning and worrying and preparing for all the things that could possibly happen, wondering if things will go well, wondering if we can handle the challenges. And then life happens, and it's not anything like you had imagined. You get through this challenge, and life takes on a new state of normal. You start to forget what life was like before entering this new reality. You finally realize that your life would not be as full without the experiences and circumstances that brought you to where you are today.

As we start thinking and talking about a second adoption, we'll revisit the whole transracial issue. In truth, most people don't realize that Olivia is mixed race. Most people think she's Italian or part Hispanic or something, and a few people don't even bother to realize that she's not biologically related to us. I guess they think the hair is just some wild gene that has been lying dormant in us. If we choose to adopt a biracial child the second time around, he/she is very likely to be much darker and obviously mixed race.

What would be Olivia's reality, though, if she had remained in her birth family? She'd still be a biracial child in a white world, except she would only have one parent and likely live most of her life in poverty. This is the reality for a lot of biracial children, who are often born to young, single, white mothers who are ill equipped to give their children a positive perspective on their AA heritage. Many of these children are not born into happy circumstances.

Over the years, we will undoubtedly become more familiar with the many issues we will face in raising Olivia and our other future children. We will learn more about other cultural and racial realities. We will help Olivia discover her identity as an adoptee of caucasian and AA descent. But most importantly, we will help her understand her identity as a unique and precious child of God, with gifts and talents and a story all her own. We will take what God has given us and do our very best. We will never deny Olivia's racial identity because that is a part of who she is. She is beautiful and wonderful and we are so blessed to be her parents.

There is always going to be a lot of debate "out there" about the merits of transracial adoption. But it doesn't matter to us. We didn't choose was chosen for us. And it is a perfect fit.


Jen said...

And she is perfect!

Maygy said...

by13Beautiful post - thank you for sharing it. And, of course, an exceptionally beautiful little girl! :)

Maygy said...

Oops - ignore my typo at the start of my comment! :)