Just yesterday, I wrote about how the topics of racism and adoption have affected me as a birth mother and an everyday mother. It was the first time I had shared a personal, hurtful story about how I had previously been accused of being a racist for placing my daughter for adoption. Now that I’ve broken the dam, apparently the words want to keep flowing.
And I’m left wondering if other non-racist birth mothers who have placed a child of a different race have dealt with this particular issue. If there’s one thing I’ve learned by writing and reading about adoption, it’s that we’re never alone in our experiences though things may differ from situation to situation and personality to personality.
Issues of race remain important to birth mothers who have placed a child of another race. It becomes an even larger issue for mothers who have open adoptions with visits or frequent contact. For example, when we are visiting, we do tend to get brave and take all three children (soon to be four!) out in public. I’ve watched as people were visibly confused when a girl, of a differing skin tone but possessing my exact eye shape and color, responds to another white woman as “mom.” While no one has (yet) been abrasive enough to offer an unsolicited opinion regarding our races, D hasn’t been so lucky.
I suppose I should have figured it would become an issue at some point: the race question. I just figured that people asking such intrusive questions would know me and thus know my heart and my character enough to realize that, no, race was not the reason (or any part of the reason) behind the Munchkin’s placement. I didn’t realize at the time of placement or even immediately afterwards that I would be a vocal voice in the adoption community, blogging here (and everywhere) about such issues and being featured in large national articles that push for reform and changes in thought and understanding. People reading such a small snip-it of who I am (and who we are), looking at the picture(s) and only focusing on our skin tones instead of the harmony the Munchkin and I possess together, might want to jump to such conclusions.
And other birth parents might experience those same assumptions. So what can you do?
1. Don’t let their negative words, however harsh, rattle your cage. I did this. I let another’s inaccurate words penetrate my being and make me question who I was on that very basic level. You know your reasons for placement. You know your heart, your soul and your character. Do not allow another human being to make you feel something that you don’t need to feel.
2. Be ready for questions from others that may not know your heart and your character. I made a mistake in not doing this particular thing. I simply assume that all who would be asking (friends, relatives and eventually, my daughter) would know how I felt about diversity, race and culture. I didn’t think far enough in advance to casual acquaintances from work or church who might come over and see her picture hanging on my wall. I didn’t think about things like activism and a vocal presence in the adoption world. And so I was totally caught off guard. For those who don’t know you on that deeper level, have a general, non-intrusive way of describing how race did or did not play into your decision to place. There’s a difference between setting the record straight and feeling forced to share the most intimate details of your life. A simple pat answer like, “While many things played into the decision to place my child for adoption, her skin tone was not one of them though I can see how that might be confusing to someone who doesn’t really know me,” might help you get through the awkward moment with some grace.
3. Realize that you don’t have to answer to the world; your main responsibility is to answer your child’s questions. Some people will be looking for a fight. I do believe that the mean-spirited person who degraded the relationship I have with my daughter and her family to an argument about race was actively looking for a fight. Keep in mind that individuals bring their own life experiences and, thus, all of their own personal baggage to the table. Before you launch into an angry battle of words, ask yourself where this person is coming from and why they are so full of obvious hate. Have they had a rough time with racial issues? Even if they have, in the end, you don’t have to get them to believe your heart, your reasons for placement. The only person that matters when it gets down to it is how your child feels you regard her or him and if you have reassured your child, by word and deed, that race is not an issue for you, they will hopefully be able to believe that in the core of their being as well.
If you have stories about race and birth parenthood, we would all benefit from hearing about them. Please leave a comment, drop an e-mail or write a post on your own blog (and come back with the link, please!). I think it’s time we started actively discussing some of these issues. I only apologize that I let my own inability to get past another’s inaccurate comments get in the way of discussing this important subject long before today. I look forward to handling this topic with more regularity.
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