(photo by Posy Quarterman)
I have been trying to figure out how to preserve some of this writing (print it? book? pdf to hard drive?) and in doing so, I have been reading back through the last 9 years. I wince. I laugh. I think, "woman, you used to sew a lot of clothes. You used to sew a lot of everything". I'm happy I wrote about the kids when they were little. This is their baby book in so many ways. I am doing a lot of remembering which is great! The typos are making me crazy. You'd never know that I aced AP English in HS.
I was thinking about an all day seminar Paul and I took after we had submitted our adoption application. It was an orientation at the agency for prospective parents. They covered a lot that day, but the part that has lived with me– haunted me!– is the presentation by a woman they had brought in to cover cultural competency. She had been raised in a town South of Portland. She had brothers. She laughed about learning how to hunt and fish as a child while simultaneously learning (as most black and brown kids on this coast learn) "I-5 Stay Alive". She talked about "black hair" and what shampoo is good for babies. She left a card for a salon she liked. She talked about her life. She answered a few awkward questions. She was lovely. It was fine.
WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? This was not the information these families needed. This was a woman who had been raised by the parents that she was born to. She had a large family and support system. She did not indicate that she knew anything about adoption. Had she placed a baby? Had she been placed as one? At the time, I remember leaving that day feeling like it had been a giant waste of time. This was not helpful. Where were the adult adoptees in the room? Where were the people to say "I grew up in a home like yours and I turned out all right. Here is why"? Or better, where were the people in the room to talk about how it gone horribly wrong? They were missing, and for good reason. This is not a narrative that most agencies have sought to understand.
This was most frustrating because we felt like our agency was sensitive to these issues. As a part of our home study we had to complete a course covering racial identity and the ways it affected our worldview. We were asked to write a series of small essays detailing our history of prejudice, how race had affected our lives, and what practical things we were doing to prepare to raise a child of colour in the place that we had chosen to live. There was required reading. I read beyond the list– books by adult adoptees– all of which left me sobbing. I watched documentaries. I read about the history of transracial adoption in this country which included a lengthy account of how and why many social workers and adoption professionals lobbied against it. I read blogs by first/birth/natural parents who had placed their children. I read about the politics of hair and skin. I made sure our bookshelf was full of kids books that would reflect all the colours in our family. We had purposefully chosen to live in a multiculturaI neighborhood. In many ways, we had spent years preparing for this time. I told myself we would figure it out. I told myself that we were as ready as anybody. I told myself it would be okay. It was a baby! All babies need the same thing, yes?
I was reminded about all of this in the last few weeks after the fallout from Melissa Harris Perry's segment and subsequent (moving) apology. In response, NPR then aired a segment last week from an adoptive parent and author detailing their own experience parenting very young brown children (this is a beautiful and powerful response to that segment). This was a VERY difficult piece to listen to. This interview was not the story that prospective adoptive parents need to hear. These are not the kind of stories that should instill confidence in the adoption industry. These are, instead, the stories that we tell ourselves to make each other feel better. White folks, these are the stories we tell when we are trying to ignore the fact that we are participating in a system that is built around a crisis of poverty and inequity.
I want to make it clear that I love my children with the fire of a 100 suns. This love moves me to talk about things that make me uncomfortable. This love moves me to find peace in the way that multiple narratives (some of them conflicting) around our story can exist simultaneously. I recognize that this is our story. I know that no two families are the same. My understanding of these issues is evolving and I'm grateful for the people in my life who have suffered through those changes with me. That said, being a parent is not easy and it is often defined by heartbreak and a level of selflessness that would bring a monk to his knees. Being a family built by adoption, particularly transracial adoption, thrusts that heartbreak into the public sphere. If you are an adoptive parent you must make peace with that heartbreak. We have been complicit in our child's lost history. If we cannot acknowledge and seek to understand that loss, how will they be able to?
There is a Part Two somewhere in me. (And some of that aforementioned sewing… This is the only way I can think to maintain this space. Multiple narratives, people!) There are folks that write about these issues with far greater poise and power than I do. If you are a person who is looking at becoming a parent through adoption, SEEK OUT THESE PEOPLE. Seek out the hard stories. Make room for criticism of your choices. Understand that much of the criticism might be valid or may come from some place outside your experience.
Do not buy into the myth that Love Is All You Need. If that were true, my babies would not have been placed.