I’m one of those people who does not believe in accidents, and if it is not immediately obvious, at some point in the future I think you can go back and connect the dots that led from Point A to Point Z. That is why the day I drove in 14-degree weather into Gary, Indiana and met my son for the first time, I knew the moment I looked in his eyes why my life had taken me on the zig-zag journey to him.
I was born to be his mother.
November is Adoption Awareness Month and though the fact that I was destined to be my son’s mother is simple, everything else about it is complicated.
Before adopting Tin, I had read books on adoption, then followed by books on transracial adoption, and then I walked the walk of being a white mother of an African American son. There are statistics of adoptees who suffer from what is called the trauma of adoption and yet, I’ve met adult adoptees who are not stigmatized by this fact in their lives. At one point, since every book I was reading was about suffering, I began to wonder if it was only the voices of those adoptees that had suffered I was hearing from – where were the voices of those who had actually felt happy and fortunate?
They seem to only come from the oral histories I have heard – the adult who told me that when she was very young, she had a fever that almost killed her and she can remember her mother on one side and her father on the other, worried, caring about her and her father going out in snow up to his hips to walk a few miles to the drugstore to get the medicine she needed. She remembers this – she feels that her parents were a gift from God. Or the women from Australia who told me her mother was adopted by a woman who was 80 years old. Or there was the man I met who was a client of mine and he had adopted three children because he’s said he had had such a positive experience being adopted himself. Or another friend from California who was adopted and said that her and her mother shared the same birthdate but that they had fought her whole life, just like any other mother and daughter. She never had any desire to find her birthmother, and she and her mother are close now.
Because I am an older parent, the babies who came up on my radar to adopt were always African American, so I started reading about transracial adoption and I thought I had gleaned a thing or two about what I needed to do to be ready to adopt a child of a different color. Then I met the first birthmother, Kenyetta – a thirty-five-year old woman with three grown children who did not want to start all over again. Her daughter asked me point blank what I was going to do about hair. I said I would learn or take the child to someone who could do hair. I left our meeting and went straight to Sally’s and got a doll head with nappy hair and began learning how to braid.
Years later, in the bathroom with my son, I was putting in his hair cream and picking his hair and he was squirming around as usual and I turned to the 14-year-old daughter of my friend who was at the house and said, “He thinks I’m killing him.” She (who is African American) said, “Every mother hurts when they do their kid’s hair.” Little did she know that she erased the foreboding I have felt from the getgo that my son would grow up and write a memoir about his white mother and how “she didn’t know how to do Black hair” – because that is what every other African American transracial adoptee story I’ve read has told.
Hair – it’s a lightning rod in transracial parenting.
I think about this with a shrug because I lost all my hair to Hashimoto’s Disease in March 2012 – my thick gorgeous long hair just disappeared overnight. And having had that crown of glory my whole life I had to relegate hair to the list of things you don’t need in life. And while I do think that white parents have a LOT to learn about African hair if they are adopting a Black child, I think that there are some things that fall under general parenting issues – like doing your child’s hair and dealing with their torturous cries begging you to stop.
Today, my son came up to me and said, “I think you are turning Black.” I capitalize that because I think he meant Black as in culture, not dark skin. I wasn’t sure what preceded that statement, but I looked at him and said, “And what?” That is where that conversation ended like many conversations that one has a with a four and a half year old – most start or finish with nonsense. But I do believe being bald has made me less racial in some fascinating way to him and to others.
To go back to that day in December of 2009 when I met my son – I had endured eight to ten miscarriages in their first trimester while I was married to my husband, who did not want to have children. After our divorce, I had been involved with a birthmother, Kenyetta for seven months – taking her to the doctor, moving furniture for her, taking her to lunch – until at the last moment she changed her mind about placing her child for adoption; I had then hired another attorney and paid all sorts of money to move into the next adoption, with a birthmother, Wendy, who I drove to South Carolina to meet – again a mother and father with four children who said they could not afford the fifth, who used to call me in the middle of the night wanting me to send them $100 here and there, until I learned they were federal felons. All of this happened the way it did so that I could be standing by the phone on December 4th when an attorney called to say there was a nine month old boy who needed a home yesterday.
All the dots that I can now so easily connect brought me straight to that small brick house with the pitched roof on Van Buren Street on that icy cold day where I walked in and was handed my son wearing nothing more than a diaper. My journey to him was complete.
My journey with him had just begun.
One day, he will leave me and go out into the world to find closure on his identity as children do, and more specifically as adopted children are want to do. The last four years of my life have been about educating myself as to my own identity, which was completely reframed by us becoming a family of color. These years have also been about turning my writing towards race and racism and fostering awareness in the adoption community.
I don’t want to sound pollyanna about my son’s journey that awaits him as an adopted child. I am certainly not saying every prospective parent is cut out for transracial adoption, because they are not. However, I’ve come to believe that all of the miscarriages and misadoptions were my preparation to meet my son – for me to be an adoptive parent – for us to be a transracial family – there is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that he was the one I had been waiting for all my fifty years.