Navigating Adoption, Part 2

In Navigating Adoption, Part 1, we talked about beginning the adoption process and what it all means. Now let’s get into some of the most frequently asked questions once we adopted our baby bundle… 

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FAQ #1 – How did your family and friends react to you adopting a black baby

We started the paperwork process with our agency and began making announcements to our friends and family just like we would if we found out we were pregnant.  For the most part, everyone reacted with excitement and congratulations, but I was getting a feeling that my mom wasn’t thrilled with our decision.  After a little prodding, she admitted that she was concerned about us adopting a black child.  We had a very honest conversation – she was concerned for the new baby, but also for our biological kids.  Her biggest worry was that they would be teased and singled out for having a black sibling.

The thing that I realized while talking to my mom was that adoption has changed drastically in the last couple of decades.  My mom didn’t grow up with openly adoptive families.  And even when I was growing up, adoption wasn’t something anyone really talked about publicly. More often than not, families sort of just pretended the kids were biological.  But that’s kind of a hard act to pull off when you’re vanilla and the kids are chocolate.  (Kind of reminds me of that scene in Elf when Buddy realizes he’s a human and not an elf.  “Santa?! I KNOW HIM!”)

But the truth is that it would be very unlikely that my kids would be singled out – in fact, they wouldn’t even know a world without transracial families.  I think it was hard for my Mom to imagine that world – especially since she grew up in the South in the 60s.  In fact, my mom is one of the most loving and nonracist people that I know – and truthfully I was just glad she was honest with me and we were able to have that conversation.  And of course now he’s just another grandkid to her! A giant, steak eating, rough and tumble grandkid, but a grandkid nonetheless.

So we brought our little chocolate bundle home from the hospital and headed straight out of town for Thanksgiving with him.  Our family was excited to meet him and we were anxious to see initial reactions.  We definitely had several “Oh he’s gonna be a NBA/NFL player!” comments which we would immediately respond to with “OR a SCIENTIST.”  Of course now we are pretty sure hitting people for a living will be much more appealing to him than the periodic table – but we could be wrong.

Honestly, the adjustment was pretty minimal for us.  Our friends and family have loved our adopted kids the exact same way that they love our biological kids.  The saddest part for me was hearing that one of our family members’ best friends essentially cut off all ties because of Jones.  Isn’t that the saddest, shallowest, most heartless thing you’ve ever heard?  It broke my heart for our family member and for that person – their loss.

FAQ #2 – What is an open adoption and why did you choose that?

We have an open adoption with Jones’s birthmother (Faith).  In the world of adoption, the word “open” has a hundred different meanings because really there is a sliding scale of openness that is ultimately up to you and the birthparents.  During one of our trainings at Bethany we learned that most of the research is now showing that the more open you can be (so long as it’s healthy for everyone), the better for all parties involved.  Open can mean anything from just sending pictures once a year to having the birthparents babysit.  Obviously there are quite a lot of circumstances that don’t allow for this, but we decided that day that we would prefer an open adoption if possible.

I hear from Faith pretty often.  We text a lot and I see her every other month or so.  Nothing formal and sometimes Jones isn’t even with us.  But it has been SO great to have her in our lives and to know that she knows that he is being loved well.  I’m sure as he gets older that relationship will evolve and adapt to what they both need.  But for these past 6 years we have all been grateful that there are so many people who love Jones and want what’s best for him.  She is a courageous woman who has all of my respect and gratitude.

(Unfortunately we don’t have a relationship with his birthfather.  We are hoping as the years go by that we can at least get a photo of him so that Jones can know what he looked like.)

FAQ #3 – What the hell do you mean you breastfed him?

You read that right.  Go ahead.  Read it again.

Ok, so you might have drawn 17 conclusions about me at this point and decided to stop reading here.  And if you’re still reading you’re at least curious.  As in train wreck curious.  And I’m ok with that.

I breastfed my first two babies and while it wasn’t necessarily my favorite thing in the whole wide world (being milked really shouldn’t be your favorite thing in the whole wide world, people), it was still a great bonding experience and ultimately the best thing you can give to them in those early weeks and months.  So when I heard that it was possible to breastfeed a baby even if you hadn’t birthed them yourself, I was definitely curious.  I won’t go into all of the technical details here, but suffice it to say that you can indeed produce milk without a pregnancy – in my case not enough by itself, but definitely enough that it’s worth it.  At almost every feeding I would breastfeed and then give him a bottle to make up the difference.  I did that for about 2 months before I realized that he wanted steak and not 2 ounces of breastmilk to supplement his formula.

 FAQ #4 – Do I have to know how to do African American hair?

The short answer is no.  The longer answer is kind of.  This may not have even occurred to some of you, but hair is kind of a big deal.  Did you know that you really shouldn’t wash African American hair but once every week or two?  Or that it’s customary to let a little boy’s hair grow until his first birthday?  Or that little girls need to sleep in a silk hair wrap on a silk pillowcase so that cotton doesn’t take all of the moisture out of their hair?

In Memphis, the population is over 50% African American.  And the last thing that I wanted to do was take my sweet little chocolate baby to the grocery store with nappy, unkempt hair to be seen by all the grandmas who were talking about me under their breath to the cashier.  So I did my research.  And more importantly, I asked for help.  Because here’s the thing – people LOVE to help.  We now have a “dream team” for our kids’ hair.  The great guys at the barber shop clean up Jones’s lines and tell John which hair lotions to put on his scalp every night.  And Vanja.  Thank God for Vanja.  She has taught me how to do cornrows, box braids, twists, you name it .  And even better than that she will just DO Abigail’s hair for me when I just can’t muster the time or creativity.  And really, that’s all the time these days. Which brings me to my last FAQ, which really isn’t a question….

YOU NEED A POSSE. 

Listen, I know we’ve all heard that it takes a village.  And it does.  But it takes a COLORFUL village.  A village of grandmas and aunts and friends and cousins and teachers and church members and neighbors of all ages, colors, beliefs and personalities.  Because ultimately, this whole parenting thing isn’t about you anyways.  It’s about your kid.  It isn’t about making your kid just like you, but helping them figure out who they are and surrounding them with all kind of people doing all kinds of things that look very different from you sometimes.  It’s about admitting when your experience falls short of what they might need and asking for help.  And to do that you have to have a posse.  People you know and trust and can be in community with.

For us, that’s come from our neighborhood, church and schools.  All of the kids have gone to a predominately black preschool and now elementary school. Our neighborhood is incredibly diverse.  And we are very intentional to make sure our relationships aren’t too vanilla.  This isn’t just to make sure we have someone to do their hair.  We want to surround our kids with people that we want them to be like.  People who leave goodness in their wake.

So make some new friends if you need to.  Friends that don’t look like you or live where you live or do what you do.  Honestly, isn’t what we need more of anyways?  Regardless of whether or not you adopt?  People that are willing to step outside of comfort and familiarity in search of something fuller.  It’s probably one of the greatest things you can do for your family and yourself.  And I GUARANTEE it won’t be boring.

To be continued….Stay tuned for Part III – Up late and making major decisions about African orphans…

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