A Letter from an Adoptive Mother: How an Interracial Adoption Made Her Family Whole
Dear Adoptive Parents-to-be,
I am writing this letter to let you know of our amazing experience regarding the adoption of our daughter, Alexa.
I know that while the adoption of a baby or child will bring you tremendous joy in the years to come, you have probably been faced with some struggles along the way to your decision to adopt, struggles with infertility or perhaps miscarriages as well.
Though the hardest part may be over, if you’ve made the decision to adopt, there will be a few more difficult decisions to make along the way. As an adoptive mother, I would ask that you consider one more alternative on your road to becoming parents, something that may not have occurred to you until now, and that is to consider the adoption of an African American or part African American child.
You see, my husband and I are both Caucasian. Our daughter, Alexa, is half African American and half Hispanic. Despite officially being biracial, I would say that to most people, she would appear to be of African American heritage, if they had to pick only one.
When we started the adoption process, we did not go into it with the idea of adopting a child of African American heritage. We definitely were not against this idea, it’s just that we didn’t feel we were knowledgeable enough about Black History, as well as what it might be like to grow up in this country as an African American, to pursue an interracial adoption outright. It was as almost as if our being Caucasian made us unworthy of taking on such a child.
When Alexis’s adoption situation was presented to us, she had been born only hours before Mardie Cadlwell, founder and director of Lifetime Adoption, called to ask if my husband and I would consider adopting a little girl of her racial background. We asked Mardie questions that were much more important to us, such as how the birth mother felt about placing her child for adoption, if there could be problems with a birth father wanting to raise the child, the health of this little baby, and other questions adoptive parents ask.
After Mardie answered all of our questions, the situation sounded exactly like what we had been looking for. The birth mother was positive about her decision to place her baby for adoption. The birth father was not interested in becoming a parent, and the baby was a healthy newborn girl.
We told Mardie we’d like to discuss this situation with each other and call her right back The birth mother had not yet chosen a family, and Mardie was on her way to the hospital to present her with the profiles of several different families.
During the discussion with my husband, we came to realize that, although we were not experts on Black History, and certainly did not know what it was like to grow up African American, we really were not experts on “white history,” and did not know what it would be like to grow up as a child of any racial background as we approached the 21st century.
It suddenly became rather obvious that we would raise a child of any background exactly the same as we had been raising our other two daughters, Jessica, then 13, and Jordan, then seven. We had always raised our children to be respectful to others, kind, compassionate, and pretty much color blind with regard to race. For example, when we would see a positive role model on television or in a book, we wouldn’t say, “Look, there’s a good black man,” or “a good white man,” just “there’s a good man,” and then explain why. Race never had anything to do with it.
We had been raising girls for 13 years, long enough to realize that children encounter a number of obstacles while growing up, whether they are the shortest or the tallest, the skinniest, the least developed, if they wear glasses and their friends don’t, and so on. We have taught our children to be proud of their own features, realize their own talents, and to have confidence in themselves. We encouraged and praised their unique beauty and their individual accomplishments. We would teach this new child the same things if the birth mother would entrust her very special child to us.
We called Mardie back, and within hours learned we had been selected by Alexa’s birth mother to parent her precious child.
It is now five years later, and we have raised Alexa exactly like our two older girls. She is in kindergarten this year, and is confident, intelligent, respectful, and loving. We read her fairy tales, as well as books about such heroes as Nelson Mandela and Abraham Lincoln, as we have with all of our children. While we have made it a point to ensure we have enough books with African American characters, and dolls of all colors to play with, we do not point out such traits. These things just are.
While the majority of our friends and neighbors are Caucasian, we also have African American friends and neighbors. Sure, Alexa has noticed that her skin is a darker color than the rest of her family’s. Similarly, she has noticed that her dad and younger sister (we were blessed almost three years ago with a fourth daughter) are in her words, “really, really white,” and yes, they are extremely fair skinned. I am olive-skinned and she says that my skin is “more like hers.”
It is not like Alexa is pointing out that one is black and one is white, she is simply pointing out that we are all unique in many ways. Alexa is “special” because she is the only one in the family with brown eyes, just as Mom is “special” as she has green eyes, and everyone else in the family has blue.
While at times Alexa wishes for straight blond hair like her big sister, Jessica, this does not trouble me in the least. What girl or woman doesn’t want her hair to be different than it is? In preschool my oldest daughter, Jessica, would get mad at me because I couldn’t make her hair look like a little girl in her class (the little girl was African American and wore her hair in braids).
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying there may never be an issue with her having Caucasian parents. What are the possibilities?
Someone might say, “Your parents are white!” I would hope she would look very seriously at them, and perhaps respond, “They are?”
Someone might say to her (or any adopted child), “Those aren’t your ‘real’ parents.” We have taught Alexa that being a parent is not about giving birth. It is about loving, caring for, laughing, and crying with each other, and always being available for your child to talk to. These are the things that make a parent “real”.
On the crueler side, I have heard of African American children being raised by Caucasian parents being called, “oreo”. We teach our children that anyone who intentionally insults and hurts another human being and gets joy out of doing so, is not worth wasting even one moment on. It may hurt, and we will, should we face this, acknowledge her pain and comfort her, but the person who said it is not worth wasting time on.
Children always deal with insults. My kids have been called stuck up (this means being smart), four-eyes, and have been made fun of for being Christians. If kids can insult each other for being smart or Christian, well certainly we would expect them to notice when a child is of a different racial background than his or her parents and find some way to make fun of them for it.
I suppose you might ask, “Why knowingly place a child into a situation that could cause pain?” To this, I would simply respond, LOVE. We believe our love is strong enough for Alexa and her love is strong enough for us, that if she encounters a situation where someone is making fun of her racial identity, it won’t much matter in the bigger picture.
We teach Alexa that it is the teaser who is the problem, and that there is nothing wrong with her. We let her know ahead of time that kids might notice her parents are of a different race and think it is strange, and we go over with her the appropriate ways to respond in these situations. We teach her the difference between those who are just curious about fact, and those who are trying to make trouble where there is none. We teach her that just as we are not embarrassed to have a daughter who wears glasses and braces, we are similarly not embarrassed that we have a daughter whose skin is a different color than ours.
Quite the contrary, we are proud when our children can go into the world a little bit different (each child is in some way), and not let these differences weigh them down, but use them to become stronger over time. We have read stories to our daughters about people and children being treated in a cruel manner because of their skin color, and have discussed with all of them how wrong and absurd this is.
If we truly want to live in a world where racial prejudice doesn’t exist, we must all be willing to take steps to end it. In our home we don’t just talk about this, we live it.
Now, I am not so naïve that I don’t realize there are situations in which interracial adoption just will not work, such as for certain areas of the country, or those with extended family members that might not be accepting of a child whose race is different from their own.
However, there are many situations where interracial adoption can and will work, as is the case for us. If the latter situation is yours, I implore you to take some time to consider this option. The sad fact of the matter is that there just are not enough homes for these children, and so many end up as foster children, never really having a permanent, stable home.
While my husband and I do not consider ourselves heroes by any stretch of the imagination, beside the joy of being Alexa’s mom and dad, we have the added satisfaction of knowing that as a result of our choice, there may be just one less African American or bi-racial child in the foster care system today.
Although our experiences parenting Alexa have been so rewarding and such a joy, being parents to four daughters, we now consider our family to be complete. We will not be pursuing any other adoptions for our family. Both my husband and I agree, however, should we ever decide to adopt again, we would begin the process not only considering a child of African-American heritage, but pursuing it. It is our sincere hope that you will consider this option as well.
May God bless you in your journey toward parenthood.