An Adoptee’s Perspective: 15 Things Transracially Adoptive Parents Need to Know

1. Race and culture matter. My race and culture of origin are integral to my identity and will always be a part of me. Regardless of how much society claims to be colorblind, I will always be characterized and labeled by the color of my skin. Because I do not look like you, it is important for you to show me—through your words and actions—that being different is okay.

2. As a transracial family, our lives will change in ways we could never imagine. Be prepared that the perception of our family will completely change…as will our views of the world.

3. Honoring my race and culture of origin should not just be something that our family does on special occasions. It should be an integral part of our everyday lives as well. A few ways in which you can honor my race and culture on a daily basis are displaying photos or pieces of artwork that reflect my culture and ethnicity in our home, cooking ethnic meals, incorporating words from my native language into our everyday conversations, and reading cultural bedtime stories. Normalizing our efforts to honor my race and culture will make me feel a little less different and will help foster pride in who I am.

4. Prepare yourself for the possibility that your relationships with friends, family members, and others may drastically change due to prejudices you (and they!) never knew they had. You may need to examine who the people are in our lives and whether or not having them around will be more beneficial or detrimental to our family.

5. I should not be used as the bridge into my racial or cultural communities of origin—it is your responsibility to be that bridge for me. As a transracially adoptive parent, it is imperative that you provide opportunities for me to learn about and grow my connections with my racial and cultural communities of origin.

6. Nobody is expecting you to be the perfect transracially adoptive parent, and you absolutely cannot do it alone. It truly takes a village to raise a child who has been adopted transracially. It is important to accept the things you do not know about my race and culture of origin. Rather than seeing that lack of knowledge as a shortcoming or failure, try to view it as an opportunity to learn with me. Use every opportunity possible to involve our entire family when learning about my race and culture of origin. In doing so, you will be forming a stronger bond with me and helping me feel like an important part of our family.

7. Know that there will be times when you will need to step out of your comfort zone to provide me with the opportunities I need to learn about my race and culture. Spending time in places where YOU are the minority should be an integral part of being a transracially adoptive parent. Interacting with and forming relationships with people who look like ME, but don’t look or act the way YOU do, is an absolute must. Remember that my journey takes me outside of my comfort zone on a daily basis. I need for you to be willing to take a walk in my shoes and weather those storms with me.

8. If we do not live in a diverse area, and are financially able to do so, you may want to consider moving to an area that is more ethnically and culturally diverse, or an area that reflects my racial and cultural identity. If we are unable to relocate, or if we have significant ties (work, family, etc.) to the community in which we currently live—it may be necessary to drive an hour or two (or more!) to provide me with the opportunities to interact with and learn from people who look like me. It is imperative that you make every effort possible to provide me with these experiences.

9. Though on vastly differing levels, privilege exists within every racial and cultural community. Transracial adoption can be unique in the sense that it can provide people with differing levels of privilege within their racial and cultural communities the opportunity to occasionally see the world through the eyes of someone with racial and cultural experiences very different than their own. As a result of this privilege, a certain level of racism and prejudice exists in all communities. One important thing to keep in mind is that your level of privilege changes within your racial and cultural community when you are not with me. I, however, do not have that luxury, as your community will always view me as different, and my level of privilege within that community will always be different than yours.

10. Even though it is the PC thing to say, we do not live in a colorblind world—we live in a color aware world. While most people are accepting of different races, there are people who view the world differently and have very ignorant and close-minded beliefs when it comes to race. It is inevitable that I will experience racism at some point in my life, and it is important that I know how to handle those situations. By externalizing racism, you are teaching me that racism isn’t about me—it is about the ignorance of others who do not understand.

11. Remember that I am learning how to tell my story from you. I am learning how to deal with racism and prejudice from you. While you absolutely need to do what you can to protect me from potentially racist situations, it is also important to occasionally answer the questions about my race—if you feel it is safe to do so. These situations can sometimes become opportunities for others to help instill in me a great sense of racial and cultural pride.

12. Know that my racial and/or cultural identity may change at some point in my life. There may be times in which I will reject the racial identity you are working so hard to develop. It is important for you to lay the groundwork for me, but also allow me to explore and develop my racial identity in my own way. There are so many things that are out of my control when it comes to adoption. One thing I can—and should be allowed to claim ownership of—is my racial identity.

13. The greatest amount of scrutiny I will experience will most likely be from members of my own racial and cultural communities. Being rejected by members of my racial and cultural communities is one of the most painful forms of rejection one could ever experience. There is a great likelihood that I will be told that I am not “Black enough” or “Asian enough” at some point in my life. I should not have to prove that I belong or feel that I am less than by members of my racial and cultural communities. There are many losses in adoption, but the loss of my racial and cultural identity is one that can and should be avoided at all costs.

14. It is important to take great care in not losing yourself in the process when honoring my race and culture. While you won’t necessarily be able to teach me about my culture, you can and should teach me about yours. As a multicultural child, I will have so much more to offer the world.

15. Transracial parenting is not easy. There will be struggles and there will be triumphs. Do the best you can with the resources you have available to you, and never lose sight of your goal of raising me with racial and cultural pride. Every effort you make to honor my racial and cultural identity will make a difference in my life, and you will be surprised with how much you will learn about yourself and others along the way!

Guest Blogger Series: Dawn Hayden ~ Fertility, Infertility, and Adoption

When Dawn contacted me earlier this year in response to my call for guest bloggers, I was excited about the opportunity to work with her on her story. I have to say that I am a huge fan of her humor and sarcasm! Dawn is an amazing person who is so full of life and love for her husband and children, and it is an absolute pleasure to share her story with you!

~ Christina

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“Fertility, Infertility, and Adoption”

I never wanted children growing up—mainly due to all of the babysitting jobs I had. I sometimes think I cursed myself into making my body unable to reproduce. The doctors told me I would never be able to have children of my own, but I’m sure he never had a patient like me!

By the time I turned 30, I was overwhelmed with the urge to become a mother. Miraculously, I became pregnant! The baby’s father and I were so excited and quickly started planning for our baby. We picked out names, colors for our baby’s room, etc. The excitement diminished as quickly as it started when, at my second appointment, the doctor couldn’t find a heartbeat and I was told that I would inevitably miscarry. A part of me died inside that day. Unless you’ve been through it, one can never imagine the pain and heartache that consumes a mother when she loses a baby she was never able to meet.

My relationship was not able to survive the loss, but I would soon discover that it was a blessing in disguise. When I met the man I call my best friend, I learned to live again, and life was really good. We married in 2001 and began the process of trying to conceive. We endured eight IUI treatments and two years of longing for a child that slipped further from our reality with each failed IUI treatment. One day, our fertility specialist recommended that we try IVF. It sounded wonderful, but the fact that it costs $12,000 for one cycle (with no guarantees), we knew that it wasn’t for us.

At this point, we decided to look into adoption. Determined to become a mother, I knew immediately that we were meant to grow our family this way. My husband, on the other hand, took some convincing! After countless discussions and a lot of tears, we started on the road to adopting a child from China.

We found a small agency in our state and completed seemingly endless amounts of paperwork. The day we had to go to our local police station to be fingerprinted was a really difficult day for me. Up to this point, we had people writing letters about our character, we had every cupboard in our house inspected, and had to endure strangers making decisions and judgments about whether or not we should be allowed to be parents to a child who needed a family. We had been through so much, but the experience of having to walk into the police station, amidst pictures of criminals and missing persons posters really upset me. Having to get police clearance to become a parent when women all over the world were giving birth to children every day without ever seeing the inside of a police station was humiliating and heartbreaking. It made me feel like I wasn’t a whole person—like I was a failure as a woman because I couldn’t bring a baby into this world.

We went through the process and created a dossier that was sent to China. My husband and I are both Caucasian, but we were really drawn to China as the country from which we wanted to adopt. We knew our limitations of what we felt we could handle as parents, and felt we had made the right decision. When we received our referral in June of 2004, we were given two weeks to get ready and make arrangements to welcome our child into our home. I was going to be a mommy for the first time in my life!

We traveled to China with a wonderful group of people—5 other families in all. We quickly bonded with the other soon-to-be parents, as we were all embarking on the journey to meet our children. The 24-hour flight was arduous at best, but knowing that we were hours from meeting our daughter kept me going. Our daughter was almost ours!

After four hours of rest following our flight, we boarded a small, incredibly hot bus and drove ten miles to the Nanchang Civil Affairs offices. It was now July and unbearably hot in China.

Knowing our daughter was in the building, my feet couldn’t move fast enough! I could hear babies crying, and felt the tears running down my face. We were told to listen for our child’s Chinese name—a name I had memorized a million times over and imprinted on my heart. The moment we heard our daughter’s name—Xing Quanying—time stood still. Her nanny placed her in my arms. She was crying due to the heat, the long bus ride to the Civil Affairs Office, and from fear of not knowing who we were.

The moment my little Chloe was placed in my arms, the part of me that died all those years ago awakened and I felt more alive than ever before. I thanked God for finally giving us our daughter. She was everything I imagined and so much more. I thanked God for my infertility, as those struggles led us to our daughter—a daughter who was always meant to be ours.

I pray for my daughter’s birth mother often—this woman living halfway around the world who gave me back my soul with her incredible sacrifice. I will always have empathy for her, and will think of her often. I pray that she is at peace with the decision she made that has forever changed our lives. My daughter will always be a part of her, and she will always be a part of our lives and in our hearts.

Hayden Pictures

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Dawn and her husband, Michael, adopted their two beautiful daughters, Chloe (9) and Mahri (6) from China in 2003 and 2006. Chloe and Mahri attend Chinese Immersion School and are both at the top of their class! Dawn is thankful for the infertility struggles that brought Chloe and Mahri into her life!

Adoption Quotes

In honor of National Adoption Month, I compiled a number of adoption-related quotes to use on my Facebook page. I love quotes, so in the event that some of you appreciate them as well, I thought I would share them with you. Enjoy!

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“If there is one thing motherhood has taught me, it is the fact that part of being a parent is experiencing heartache and knowing that you would endure it a million times over because your child is worth it. That’s how I feel about adoption. The system isn’t perfect, parents aren’t perfect, and children aren’t perfect, but it doesn’t mean that we should stop finding forever families for children and teens and it doesn’t mean that we should stop believing in the good things adoption has to offer.”—Christina Romo

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“If a child is born and raised in a home that is loving and nurturing, where there is complete truth about who we are, you can’t give a child any greater place from which to fly.”—Amanda Bearse

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“Adoption is not about finding children for families, it’s about finding families for children.”—Joyce Maguire Pavao

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“How does it feel to be adopted? How does it feel to lose your birth parents, your medical history, your culture? As an adoptee, I experienced tremendous losses at a very early age. There is a void in my life that no amount of love or family could ever fill. Adoption gave me an amazing family who loves and supports me. My family gave me a place to call home. I will never say that I am “grateful” for having been adopted, because that means being grateful for the losses I have experienced, but I will say that I wholeheartedly believe in adoption.”—Christina Romo

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“You are with your family because they are meant to be your family. Family is not based upon biological makeup alone. There are plenty of blood relatives who don’t get along. In fact, I probably get along better with my family than some of my friends (who are not adopted) do. Family is about love, and adopted children should be confident that their adoptive mother is their ‘real’ mother and their adoptive father is their ‘real’ father. The same goes for siblings.” —Adoptee, 17 years old

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“Love is not a cure-all for an adoptee, but it’s a great place to start.”Christina Romo

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 “Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother.”—Oprah Winfrey

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“There are no unwanted children, just unfound families.”—The National Adoption Center

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“The adoption journey doesn’t end when your adopted child is finally in your arms. The journey is one that never ends. It is a journey filled with joy and it is a journey filled with heartache. It’s the realization of one dream and the loss of another. But, is adoption worth it? Absolutely.”—Christina Romo

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“However motherhood comes to you, it’s a miracle.”—Valerie Harper

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“Adoption was a bumpy ride — very bumpy. But, God, was it worth the fight.”—Mariska Hargitay

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“Though your child has experienced a tremendous loss, it is important to remember that, while we may have our unique needs and challenges, adoptees are not broken and should be loved, cared for, and treated as whole beings.”—Christina Romo

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“Time and experience have taught me a priceless lesson: Any child you take for your own becomes your own if you give of yourself to that child. I have born two children and had seven others by adoption, and they are all my children, equally beloved and precious.”—Dale Evans

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“Adoptive Mom? I am a Mom. I need no other label or prefix.”—Joanne Greco

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“I really dislike hearing parents call their bio kids ‘my child’ and their adopted kids ‘my adopted child’. Children who were adopted are your children, too, and need no qualifiers.”—Christina Romo

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“Adoptive Mom? I am a Mom. I need no other label or prefix.”—Joanne Greco

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“Four Adoption Terms Defined

Natural child: Any child who is not artificial.
Real parent:  Any parent who is not imaginary.
Your own child: Any child who is not someone else’s child.
Adopted child:  A natural child, with a real parent, who is all my own.”—Pat Johnston

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“People ask me, ‘What about gay adoptions? Interracial? Single parent?’ I say, ‘Hey, fine, as long as it works for the child and the family is responsible.’ My big stand is this: Every child deserves a home and love. Period.”—Dave Thomas

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“They may not have my eyes, they may not have my smile, but they have all my heart.”—Unknown

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“My birth mother brought me into this world, but it was my adoptive parents who gave me life.”—Christina Romo

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“Adoption loss is the only trauma in the world where the victims are expected by the whole of society to be grateful.”—The Reverend Keith C. Griffith, MBE

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“Being adopted is having an abundant life, and more importantly knowing you are wanted.”—Sandy, age 17

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“It has been said that adoption is more like a marriage than a birth: two (or more) individuals, each with their own unique mix of needs, patterns, and genetic history, coming together with love, hope, and commitment for a joint future. You become a family not because you share the same genes, but because you share love for each other.” —Joan McNamara

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“Adoption has the dimension of connection-not only to your own tribe, but beyond, widening the scope of what constitutes love, ties and family. It is a larger embrace. By adopting, we stretch past our immediate circles and, by reaching out, find an unexpected sense of belonging with others.”—Isabella Rossellini

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“I think adoption is a blessing all around when it’s done right.”—Hugh Jackman

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This isn’t really a quote, but being that today is my dad’s birthday, I wanted to post something to honor him. This is an excerpt of my blog entry, “What My Parents Did Right”. I have never been more proud of my parents than I am whenever I remember this conversation with my dad. I am so proud to be my parents’ daughter!

“When I think about what my parents did right, my thoughts go directly to a conversation I had with my dad years ago. I was nearing the end of my college years, and I was heavily into the notion of “saving the world”. My dad and I had just finished running an errand, and we were sitting in his car in my parents’ garage, finishing our conversation. The subject somehow switched to adoption, and my naïve, younger self told him that my husband and I wanted to adopt someday so we could give a child a chance at a better life. I had always assumed that was my parents’ reason for adopting, and I was shocked, at the time, by his response. He told me that he and my mom adopted my sister and me for “purely selfish reasons”. He went on to tell me that they adopted us solely because they wanted to add to their family and chose to do so through adoption. My “save the world” self didn’t fully understand it at the time, but I now look back on that conversation and could not be more proud of my parents. They went into adoption for all the right reasons. For them, it was never about “saving” a child—it was always about forming their family.”—Christina Romo

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“When she looks in the mirror, we want our daughter to know herself. It’s hard to face the world when you don’t know where your face came from.”—Adoptive Parent

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“By choice, we have become a family, first in our hearts, and finally in breath and being.”—Richard Fischer

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“Love isn’t enough in adoption, but it certainly makes a difference. Tell me every day that I am loved—especially on the days when I am not particularly lovable.”—Christina Romo

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“Parenting is a gift and a privilege.  Adoption has healed my heart, and renewed my faith.  Each day, I am inspired to be the best parent I can, by the simple fact that our children’s birthmothers and God have entrusted them to us.” —Sherra Buckley

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“Needing to connect to one’s biology is so instinctive, that people when meeting your adoptive child will tell you, “Oh, look! She has your smile” or “Look, he has your beautiful hair,” knowing full well that there is no biological connection, but sensing the importance that your child needs to know that they look like someone.”—Adoptive Parent

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“We must work tirelessly to make sure that every boy and girl in America who is up for adoption has a family waiting to reach him or her…This is a season of miracles, and perhaps there is no greater miracle than finding a loving home for a child who needs one.”—Bill Clinton

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“Giving birth does not make a mother…Placing a child for adoption does not make her less of one.”—Unknown

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“We look at adoption as a very sacred exchange. It was not done lightly on either side. I would dedicate my life to this child.”—Jamie Lee Curtis

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“Our adoption journey will never end, and no matter how bumpy the road may be and regardless of where it may lead, the fact that we traveled this road together, will make all the difference.”—Christina Romo

Exploring the Great Divide in Adoption: Why You’re Not That Different

When I started working in the adoption world, it quickly became evident that there was a division between parents who have adopted internationally, domestically, and from foster care, as well as between the agencies and organizations providing support to them. This observation was further evidenced by one of the evaluations I received from the conference I co-presented at this past summer.

I presented a session that explored loss in adoption and its effect on relationships with one of my good friends and colleagues who adopted from foster care. The adoptive parent who wrote the evaluation stated that he would have preferred to hear the material from someone who was adopted from foster care. Considering the fact that I work for an organization whose main focus is on finding forever families for children in care, it wasn’t a huge surprise to encounter someone with this mindset. This comment really stuck with me, not in a negative way, but because I have had difficulties understanding why there must be such a dramatic division between adoptive parents, regardless of where their adopted child is from. I want to explore this division by just skimming the surface and attempting to make the argument that adoptive parents aren’t as different from each other as they have come to believe.

International (or Intercountry) Adoption

Historically, international adoption has been somewhat glamorized in the sense that there has been a long-standing belief that families spend tens of thousands of dollars in an attempt to adopt “perfect” or “exotic” children from overseas. Celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Madonna have even made international adoption somewhat fashionable. There is also a belief that parents who adopt internationally have a “pie-in-the-sky” view of adoption and are naïve in thinking that their children will be perfect because of the money they spent to adopt them.

Those involved with domestic and foster care adoption sometimes harbor animosity towards those who adopt internationally because of the hundreds of thousands of kids who need forever families here in the U.S. The fact of the matter is that there are kids all over the world who need families. When I was adopted, Koreans simply did not adopt outside of their bloodline, and it was something that was frowned upon. Being that I was a girl and not a baby, my chances of finding a family domestically were slim-to-none. I spent a year in foster care prior to my adoption, and my belief is that, had I not been adopted internationally, I most likely would have aged out of care.

Most of the internationally adoptive parents I have encountered adopt from other countries because 1) they want to add to their family, and 2) because they are aware that there are children everywhere—not just in the U.S.—who need families.  I have also spoken with a number of parents who choose to adopt internationally because of the overwhelming fear of the birth parents wanting their children back. While there are absolutely some very naïve internationally adoptive parents out there (as with any population of parent), a majority of my interactions have been with parents who are actually quite savvy and have a greater understanding of the issues than they are given credit for.

Most internationally adoptive parents are actually at a disadvantage due to full disclosure issues. A number of children available for adoption overseas either have little or no accompanying information (familial, medical, etc.), or the information they do have has been falsified or doctored. And some countries allow outgoing adoptions of only children with special needs.

An issue that a number of internationally adoptive parents encounter is the lack of post-adoption services. While there are many resources and support groups in the U.S. for adoptive parents, a number of them do not provide services to parents who have adopted internationally. The main reason behind the lack of services is that a number of the organizations and support groups available are funded through county, state, and federal grants that prohibit them from providing services to parents who have not adopted domestically.

I have also witnessed the “you-made-your-bed-now-lie-in-it” mentality projected towards parents who have adopted internationally. In the foster care adoption world, there can be a stigma attached to spending tens of thousands of dollars on adopting children from overseas. The belief is that if parents can spend that much on adopting a child, then they must also have the resources to fund the services to meet their child’s needs. The truth is, most internationally adoptive parents are middle class and a number of them have been able to adopt through grants and with the generous support of their friends, family, and community.

Domestic Adoption

Parents who adopt domestically through private agencies are often those seeking infants to adopt. Historically, private domestic adoption was often done in secret, as there was a great stigma attached to the inability to bear one’s own children. You will often hear of adoptees who were adopted a number of years ago and found out about it very late in life, or they always knew and were not allowed to talk about it.

Private domestic adopters are parents who are more likely than the internationally or foster care adoptive parents to experience the potential heartbreak of being matched with a child whose birth mother changes her mind and decides to keep the child. The laws vary by state, but most states allow a period of time before an adoption can be finalized (it could be a number of days or months) in which an expectant parent can revoke their consent to adopt. State laws also acknowledge the birth father, in that he is allowed to seek custody of the child even after the adoption has been finalized if, for some reason, he never knowingly consented to the termination of his parental rights.

Parents who adopt domestically through private agencies are often viewed in a similar light as parents who adopt internationally. One of the noticeable differences is that they don’t have the added stigma of not having adopted a child from the U.S.

Foster Care Adoption

Due to the nature of the organization I work for, a majority of the interactions I have are with parents who have adopted from foster care and the agencies and organizations that support them. Currently, there are over 400,000 children in foster care in the U.S., and over 100,000 are available for adoption, meaning the parental rights of their birth parents have been terminated. Many of the children and teens available for adoption have spent a considerable amount of time in foster care and have experienced multiple placements. A number of these children and teens have special needs. When a child or teen is labeled “special needs”, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have behavioral or physical limitations. Special needs can also refer to a child who is older, a child of color, or a child who is part of a sibling group who wants to be adopted together.

Parents who adopt from foster care do so in an effort to grow their family (as with any adoptive parent) and because they see the overwhelming need to find forever families for the children and teens in the U.S. While there are some initial costs involved with adopting from foster care, they are not nearly as great as those involved with adopting internationally or through private domestic adoption. The resources and supports are more readily available in the U.S. for parents who have adopted from foster care and for their children. Parents of children with considerable behavioral, physical, and medical special needs will often receive a monthly adoption subsidy to help offset some of the costs involved with meeting their child’s needs. These adoption assistance payments are generally very minimal and, while they are helpful to those who receive them, they often cover only a small fraction of the ongoing expenses involved with meeting the needs of these children.

Why You’re Not That Different

There are many reasons why adoptive parents are not that different, but a few of the main reasons are listed below:

  1. Loss. At the core of all adoption is loss. Every adopted child has experienced loss, regardless of where they were adopted from. The loss of one child is not necessarily greater or more relevant simply because they were adopted from foster care as opposed to internationally. It doesn’t work that way, and it shouldn’t work that way. The same goes for adoptive parents. All parents have their unique reasons for forming their family through adoption. All adoptive parents experience the loss of not having given birth to their child—it affects some more than others—but the loss is there. There are moments of pain and moments of happiness in all forms of adoption. The journey may have started differently, but every journey has its trials and tribulations. It is important for adoptive parents to understand that, while the adoption journeys are different, similar issues are prevalent in all forms of adoption.
  1. Core issues in adoption. There are 7 core issues in adoption—Loss, Rejection, Guilt/Shame, Grief, Identity, Intimacy & Relationships, and Control/Gains (Silverstein, D. & Roszia, S, 1982.) Parenting a child is not easy, and parenting an adopted child can be even more difficult! Most adoptive parents will experience at least some of these core issues at some point during their adoption journey. Some of these issues can be overwhelming, and the need for support in coping with these issues is critical.
  1. The need for resources and support. All adoptive parents need resources and support to help them along their journey. Questions arise at various points throughout a parent’s adoption journey. All adoptive parents need support from people who have been there—from people who understand.
  1. Identity. Adoption changes families, and it can change the way society views your family, especially those who adopt transracially and transculturally. Your traditions will most likely change to embrace your child’s race and culture. The people with whom you associate may change. These changes have the potential to be overwhelming, and the need for support and education will be great.

The pain of one adoptive parent should not be viewed as more significant or relevant than another. Rather than focusing only on the things that set you apart from other adoptive parents, focus on the similarities that can be used in supporting each other. I have seen the power of parent-to-parent support. I have seen the difference it can make when an adoptive parent who previously felt isolated and alone realizes that there are other parents who understand and are going through similar situations. Remember to rally around each other and celebrate the differences, but celebrate the things that unify you as well. You’ll find that you will feel much less isolated, and you’ll be surprised at what you’ll learn from adoptive parents you may not have previously turned to for support!