First comes infertility.
Then comes discerning whether or not to adopt.
To transracially adopt or not to transracially adopt?
When John and I first set out on our adoption journey, we were pretty unsure about transracial adoption.
By the way, when I say "transracial adoption," I'm talking about specifically about White parents adopting Black children. While transracial is defined as "across or crossing racial boundaries," and this can cover tons of different combinations, the transracial adoption we've discerned only relates to us adopting a Black child.
Also, I mean no offense using the terms Black and White. I prefer to use Black over African American since a child of color may not have any connection to Africa. Also, I make it a point to capitalize both Black and White because it makes it more formal and respectful when you do it that way. Hope you don't mind!
Alright. Now that that's out of the way, let's get to the heart of it...
At first, John was actually a fair bit more open to transracial adoption than I was. We had discussed it a little bit, but I was just so scared of doing something so different that I basically ignored it as an option.
During one of our home study visits, I remember saying to our social worker, "Adopting a child of a different race just seems too... foreign to me." I think that was my polite way of saying "I'm uncomfortable." The honest truth was that I just hadn't given it much thought yet. Which I think happens to a lot of adopting couples. It's not that they couldn't adopt a child of another race. They just hadn't really given it much thought since it's not how "normal" families look.
And that's where I was about 5 months ago. Until one special day, when I received one ever-so-slight call from above. All it took was a moment downtown, realizing that all people, no matter their color or race, need love and care and Mommies and Daddies. Seeing the diverse crowd around me changed my heart. My eyes were opened.
That's really when our discernment process began.
Now that we're on the other side of our discernment and I can firmly say, "We're called to transracially adopt," I feel comfortable writing about this. But while we were still in the middle of processing, it was hard sharing these many feelings. No one wants to seem close-minded, or disrespectful, or even *gulp* racist. So I get it if you're feeling that way too. Lucky for you, there's hope yet! Be assured that as long as you go about this the right way, you are likely none of those things.
I hope you don't mind me sharing a few things we've found helpful while discerning transracial adoption. While we are not experts by any means, and will spend the rest of our lives becoming experts on this stuff, I have a few things to share that we have enjoyed discovering in our discernment process. If you have any points where we differ or have other observations, please feel free to chime in in the comments.
Think: what would Jesus do?
John and I recently went to a great talk about discernment. During this talk, the priest recommended this as the first step in any discernment process. Actually, he said it's more like: "Think: what did Jesus do?" Or basically, go grab a Bible and start reading! We've got many stories from Jesus' life to reference as prime examples of how to live a good life, so let's turn to them when we're trying to figure out what to do.
Ok, so here's where that gets complicated. Jesus never had children and he definitely didn't adopt. BUT, what I do know is that he loved children. This verse points directly to that:
"And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he became indignant and said to them, 'Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.' Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them." Mark 10:13-16He loved them so much that he said the Kingdom of God belongs to them and then embraced and blessed them. That's some serious love he's showing those kiddos. And when I think, "Would race have changed the way he interacted with/loved those kids?" the answer is a loud and firm: "NO WAY!"
While it's not exactly the same as adopting, it's the best we've got from Jesus' life. We'll take that into consideration as we ponder the next points.
Talk to the experts.
Ask your agency to connect you with couples that have already adopted transracially. These folks have been great resources for us in our discernment. We've asked them several question including: If you could start all over again, would you still choose transracial adoption? What have been some of your biggest challenges? What hurtful comments have you heard from strangers? And so on. Every transracial adoptive family we've spoken to has been nothing but kind, and honestly, all of them are still very happy with their decision to transracially adopt. You won't trust me 'til you hear it for yourself, though. So call your agency today and ask them to help you make a connection.
Read the experts.
Some experts aren't available to meet up for chats at the nearby coffee house, but they have still some great books you can read. While I haven't finished an entire book about transracial adoption yet, two of the ones I'm reading through (and highly enjoying) are:
Come Rain or Shine: A White Parent's Guide to Adopting and Parenting Black Children by Rachel Garlinghouse
Does Anybody Else Look Like Me? A Parent's Guide to Raising Multicultural Children by Donna Jackson Nakazawa
The first book is specifically about White parents adopting Black children and all that that entails (from how to care for Black hair to how to incorporate elements of Black culture into your family). The second is written by a White mother who married a Japenese man and therefore has multicultural children. She interviews several multicultural families in the book, including adoptive families, so many of the points made, while not always directly related to adoption, are very helpful.
I also recommend the following blogs, written by mothers of transracial adoptive families:
Grace in My Heart
Small Things with Great Love
White Sugar, Brown Sugar (by the author of Come Rain or Shine)
Think about your family and friends.
This one hit hard when we first reflected on it, so don't be surprised if the same happens to you. I think it's normal.
Think about your family. If you had to summarize your whole family (including parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents), would you consider it White, Black, or mixed?
Now do the same for your friends. Are your friends mostly White, Black, or mixed?
These are the people your child will be spending the most time with, so it's important to consider what races will be represented when they're around their loved ones.
If you're like us, your family is all White and your friends are almost all White too. That worried us a bit at first, but what's most important to consider here is how accepting your family and friends (no matter their race) would be. While it's important that your child is not surrounded only by White people all the time, it's most important that they're surrounded by loving, accepting people.
So consider if there are members in your family who would (sadly) be racist or not accepting of your child. You would need to be willing to cut ties with this family member. I've heard from a few people that the family members or friends they're most worried about end up falling in love with their little one once they join the family, 'cause... who doesn't love a baby? But still, it's something to consider.
Think about your community.
The same applies to the community you live in. What is your neighborhood like? How about the schools you'd send your kids to? Your church? You want to make sure you'd be open to sending your children to schools that are diverse, attending Mass at a parish that is well mixed, even moving to a different neighborhood so that more races are represented. Your child needs to feel like they are a real part of their communities, and they're going to do that best in churches, schools, and neighborhoods where there are folks who share their race.
Think about how you'll handle negative (or positive) attention in public.
This was a big one for us. I'm an introvert. I don't really like interacting with strangers much and I certainly don't like being the center of attention. But realistically, adopting transracially will make you stand out. You will always be on display. You will not be able to hide the fact that your family was formed in a non-traditional way. (Unless, of course, most strangers assume you're the babysitter, which does happen to transracial adoptive families... but that's a story for another time.)
While I am not entirely comfortable with this prospect of extra attention on our family, I'm willing to do it for our child. That is something you must consider for yourself though. What would you say if someone said something offensive about your family? How would you feel always getting attention going out in public, even if that attention is mostly positive? What sorts of responses should you have ready for the personal questions folks are going to start asking? All worth pondering!
Answer this: Would you be open to a second transracial adoption?
I read this advice in Rachel Garlinghouse's book, Come Rain or Shine. If your first adopted child is Black, would you be open to adopting a second Black child? I assume, though I haven't exactly done great research here, that having two (or several) children of the same race in a family would be very helpful for both (or all) children. They would feel less alone in the challenges they'll encounter (e.g. growing up having parents of a different race) and be able to face their non-traditional worlds together. In my opinion, this would be one of the best things you could do for your transracially adopted child. So, ask yourself: If you are open to adopting transracially once, would you be open to it again after that? The answer here should be yes. While it may not be entirely in your control, you should still be open to it.
Really think about why you want to transracially adopt.
We were really blessed to find an adoption agency that does not charge different prices depending on the race of the child. This is becoming all too common with other adoption agencies and it makes me sad. Because Black and biracial children are less adoptable, agencies will lower their charges to make their adoptions more attractive. But folks, this is the wrong reason to adopt transracially! It's also wrong to consider adopting a Black child because the wait is shorter. I understand why both of these reasons are so tempting; a shorter wait and lower price tag sound great! But imagine what the child would think if they found out you adopted them because of those reasons. Instead, make sure your desire comes from a good place: wanting the best for that child. If you're sure that's it, then the lower costs and shorter wait will just become lovely little (but not necessary) bonuses.
Know that love is actually not enough.
So, many folks have said to me, "If you love that child like they're your own, it'll all turn out just fine." Have you heard this before? It makes me roll my eyes.
First of all, they will be "my own," so we can just crush that right now, thanks. And second, the old "all you need is love" adage is really, honestly, truly just not enough when it comes to transracial adoption. Sure, love is HUGELY important here, but you HAVE to be committed to do more than that.
For the rest of your life, you must be dedicated to learning about transracial adoption. You must be willing to research all the best tips and advice for raising a well-adjusted transracially adopted child. You must be committed to spending every step of the way continuing to read the experts, finding support in the right people, including Black role models in your child's life, and finding the best communities for your child to flourish in. You could definitely chalk all that up to love, but I'm not sure it's what we traditionally refer to as "love." So be aware that your journey will be different and traditional love will not "just be enough."
Bring it to prayer.
This one goes without saying, right? Pray before you even start discerning, pray through the entire discernment process, and then pray once you think you've come to the right decision. Pray, pray, pray! With any hope, you will have a peace in your heart once you've truly made the right decision. If God is with you through the whole process, He won't steer you wrong.
To conclude, I must stress again that we are not experts, not by any means! In fact, we know we'll spend the rest of our lives trying to become experts on transracial adoption. This is all just the tip of the iceberg. I suppose that's all that discerning is -- smartly deciding whether or not it's alright to dive in. But once you dive in, it's a whole new world ahead of you, bringing with it lots of unknowns and curveballs along the way. I'm hoping that's part of the fun, though!
Also, please keep in mind that I have certainly not covered everything you need to discern here in this post. These are just the big points that came to my mind now, but I'm sure there was more to it for us and there'll be more to it for you too. If you have already discerned this and would like to add some important points to consider, I'm sure we'd all be happy to hear your input in the comments!
Transracial adoption seems like one beautiful, scary, loving, joyful, challenging, awesome, life-giving adventure. If you're starting to think the same, maybe it's meant for you too!
St. Joseph, pray for us!