Navigating Race and Transracial Adoption

Last October, I attended Navigating the Intersections of Transracial Adoption, with Torrey E. Carroll, MA, LPC & Nikki M. Carroll, MA, LPC, as the keynote speakers at the AKA Virtual Conference.

While I thoroughly enjoyed this dynamic duo couple who were engaging, educated, and provided great material with first-hand experience, this event was more difficult for me to process.

First off, everyone was using the chat feature to comment. I commented and said, “…my mixed race sons…” Someone quickly chatted back with a critique and said “her friend” hates it when someone asks if her son is “mixed”. She said her friend prefers bi-racial. Someone quickly came to my defense and said that people should be able to self-identify how they wish. I appreciated the support.

First, I wondered if her friend was a biological mother or a transracial adoptive mother. There is a difference.

The female, who obviously was not personally involved in an interracial or a transracial family, was attempting to tell me how I should identify MY family. An online stranger was attempting to tell another online mother who knows nothing about her family or their racial identity how that mother should refer to her kids based on a friend’s preference. That is truly disturbing. It is egotistical!

Sadly, this happens often in the adoption community. Everyone is an expert, even those who have no personal connection to or experience with adoption.

Over the last couple decades, we have had white transracial adoptive parents wanting to lead the racial dialogue because now that they have adopted a black or brown child, they feel entitled to speak and educate. They share their daily encounters of their struggle with race, as the white adoptive parents of a transracial adoptee who is navigating his or her way in white spaces, while at the same time, often denying and starving their black and brown children from their ethnic birthright, culture, and images of people who reflect their identity.

Blog followers and news media platforms love these white transracial adoptive parents and will empathetically broadcast their story nationwide and give them space to talk about race because hearing it from a white man and a white woman who adopted transracially is way more validating than hearing it from black or brown men and women themselves or an interracial couple with kids.

These stories also fluff the White American image. That’s white privilege.

Black families don’t just worry about one child within their family but worry about each member in their family, from parents, to children to extended members like uncles, aunts, cousins and so on. #BlackLivesMatter

When I gave birth to my first born son, I mostly heard the term “mixed” from Black/African American women. They’d walk over to me when my son was an infant or a toddler sitting in the grocery cart and ask, “Is he mixed?” I knew what they meant. I certainly am not going to disrespect the women from my son’s culture. They had been living Black in America much longer than my son. They were not being mean or insulting. They were being friendly and I appreciated their social acceptance and kindness shown to me, rather than a bigoted look or indifference.

I prefer mixed a whole hell of a lot better than mulatto which sounded like another word from slavery. In addition, let us not forget that White people have been labeling Black people for years with their racial words, stripping them of power and rights and even disqualifying them as fully human.  

The truth is I had used the term bi-racial until I did my son’s DNA. I now know that my sons are not just African and European (black/white) American. Biracial “bi” denotes two. My sons also have a small amount of Asian and Native American Indian. They truly are of mixed-race ancestry.

 “Never ASSUME, because when you ASSUME, you make an ASS of U and ME.” Jerry Belson

When I was writing this, I asked my two sons how they self-identify. My 22 year old son that was parented by me identifies as a Black American or a Black man and prefers that over African American. My 21 year old son that was adopted out transracially by a white family identifies as African American. At the same time, they don’t tell me how I need to racially identify them as my sons.

As the speakers continued their conversation, I tried to focus more on them then the conversation side bar. The topics of discussion appeared to be geared towards those fostering, hoping to adopt, transracial adoptive parents, adoptees, and adoption professionals who are key factors in this industry. To be fair, I only attended day two of this keynote event.

This topic is important to me because my biological birth son was placed in a transracial adoptive family. I have been listening to, learning from, and advocating for adoptees for many years. But I am acutely interested in hearing the stories by transracial adoptees and adoptive parents.

Since I have my own years of lived experiences, in a mixed/interracial family, being the biological white mother of two sons with brown skin, one while parenting who was connected to both sides of his family, one while participating in open adoption through letters, emails, pictures, phone calls/txt, social media, overnight visits and shared family vacations over the years, I have unique awareness and insight within this topic. One that is often overlooked.

My son’s, whom was placed as an infant twenty one years ago into a white adoptive family that I chose for him, experience is very important to me. My choice gave him that experience. I not only live with my consequences that have impacted me, but also how my choice has impacted both of my sons; one son, as a transracial adoptee, and the other son, as a sibling living without his brother by his side. 

The Carroll’s shared their experiences as both a Black/African American couple living in America and as transracial adoptive parents. They shed light and brought awareness to those who may not have seen or experienced racial prejudices while navigating in American society. They were helping to expose our own biases and our naivety, to better prepare and guide those who have or who are seeking to foster or adopt transracially, and educate the professionals, who have a great amount of power handling these cases, make better choices.

It was truly refreshing to hear a Black/African American couple speaking on transracial adoption.

They also talked about their path to adoption through foster care. In these scenarios’, birth parents have little or no rights, so their voice has most often been silenced. However, I believe it is truly important when having these conferences and conversations, that we equally give voice to birth parents in some way.

Birthparents who have chosen transracial adoption for their child have every right to participate in these spaces. I attended two other conference events the same weekend, both female presenters, one of which was by an adoptive mother and a social worker, and they both paid tribute to birth parents/families. I felt valued. They showed empathy and importance to every role and voice in this complicated topic.

As a keynote speaker (a person who delivers a speech that sets out the central theme of a conference), this is probably the most important event where all guests attending feel included. When we don’t give a voice to certain roles in this conversation, we make them less human. We devalue them.

We must remember that without a birth parent, adoption does not exist. There is no singular story within adoption nor with one birth mother or father because most often, there was not one single event that triggered or caused a child to be forcibly removed, relinquished or even stolen from his or her family.

We have learned the great biases and systemic racism exist in our foster care system towards minority and/or poor families. Adoption should not be a solution for poverty. We need to find better ways to help care for families who are experiencing poverty rather than removing their children, intentionally forcing trauma, giving them to strangers, and then paying their new care providers a monthly subsidy.

As Americans, we all become financially responsible for foster kids for the rest of their childhood through our tax dollars. And possibly for the rest of their lifetime, depending on how badly the trauma impacted them. We pay child support every time a child goes into foster care. I would much rather my tax dollars help support a poor family of origin care for their children than to give child support to a foster family who could possibly have a higher income than me. I have seen it happen.

Obviously, we don’t want Americans abusing our system. Our economy works best when everyone is participating and contributing. There is a difference between giving a hand-up versus giving a handout. There are programs that help mentor parents become more educated and better equipped to manage their parenting role and financial stability. But we need more programs! When we participate in our own recovery and achievements, this brings pride and confidence. It makes us better equipped to handle those events if they occur again in the future.

On the other hand, we do not want any child to remain in an abusive home. No child should have to endure a childhood of abuse; physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, or neglect. I watched the Gabriel Fernandez story on Netflix. I was in shock and disbelief. It seemed like everyone failed him! However, I also know that foster and adoptive children (Hart Family) have experienced some of the same horrors and fatal fate that Gabriel experienced. The hope that Gabriel could have been protected by foster or adoption care is one that I hold onto with optimism. Without hope, we have nothing. But even hope cannot provide any guarantees and sadly, neither does foster or adoption care.

Adoption itself is complicated. But transracial adoption has greater accountability. As a mother, I don’t want my sons to ever feel tokenized.

Adoption Triangle or Triad

I attended a virtual adoption conference last month. It was great to share space with so many others who understand your journey, either by personal experience or by empathy. It was a two-day conference with various events and guest speakers geared towards the “three” sides in adoption.

By that, I mean birth/biological parents, adoptees, and adoptive parents, also referred to as the triad. They also had professionals attending and people looking to adopt or foster and offered CEU credits for those who needed them.

One of the first terminologies I learned when I started my personal journey into adoption research, several years after I had relinquished my parental rights, was the triangle or triad reference.

One day, as I perused through Barnes and Noble, searching for a book on adoption, I found one called, The Adoption Triangle, by Arthur D. Sorosky, Annette Baran, Reuben Pannor. I remember reading the intro and looking over the topics and quickly becoming more interested because the book included birth/biological stories. I needed some insight desperately. I needed to understand adoption on a deeper level, outside my own experience.

Inside the pages, the authors shared stories and captured the various points or angles of those directly impacted by adoption, depending on their position on the triangle or within the triad. It was the first time that I felt validation for my emotional wellbeing and the impact adoption and relinquishment had on me.

Triad: a group or set of three connected people or things.

Until this weekend, I never questioned this terminology. It seemed like a simple explanation. It was widely accepted and used by professionals as well as many of us within the adoption community.

However, while I was sitting in a virtual conference listening to our guest speaker, Sharon Kaplan Roszia M.S., share her talk on, The Ethical Traps in Building Families Through Adoption and Permanency, I seemed to have an epiphany.

Sharon, a social worker and an adoptive mom, shared how much has changed in adoption, including her own views, over the years but then how other things still needed greater amount of change. She confessed how social services unevenly and unethically impact minority families, who often become victims of a flawed system. She spoke about how fathers are too often not included in the decision making of adoption. And lastly, she talked about the impact on siblings.

At this point, she had my full and undivided attention. It was wonderful and refreshing to hear someone with personal and professional experience talk about the unethical flawed system, racial bias and to include the importance of siblings.

Siblings have always been an important topic for me but one that rarely gets discussed. Too often the biological siblings don’t get to share their side of the adoption story.

I remember sharing with family and friends how I was not only concerned for Noah as an adoptee and the impact adoption would have on him over the years but I was also concerned for Jaren and how our family’s adoption experience would impact him over the years to come. I knew how devastating it was for me at times.

I remember discussing it with my mother once and she brushed it off, as if I was making a big deal or seeing something that wasn’t there. As if I was imagining a false reality. But she didn’t know my son the way I did. She saw him once every couple years. That is surely not someone who can make a fair analysis. It is a dangerous assumption.

People rarely shared the same compassion for Jaren when it came to adoption. Jaren was 20 months old when his brother left our home. While he was not able to communicate his feelings at that time, I have asked Jaren several times over the years (during different stages of his youth), how he felt about his brother being adopted. I wanted him to feel safe that he could talk to me anytime about his feelings. But, I never heard anyone else close to us ask Jaren how he felt. That says a lot. Why were his feelings not valued.

I think some people thought it better to ignore it rather than talk about it. Others thought since he and I had a relationship with Noah, that solved the issue. And lastly, I think some people believe that when a child is parented by his or her biological parent but another child wasn’t, that the child or children who remain with their parent don’t experience a similar emotional impact caused by adoption. It is a sad and flawed assumption. Loss and grief go hand in hand.

In my heart, I knew Jaren had been impacted too. I could tell when we talked with Noah and his family on the phone or visited with them. I knew how Jaren acted at home compared to how he acted when talking or visiting them. I knew how I was different as well. We both experienced anxiety. But I had no proof until recently when Jaren confessed to me. I knew one day I would be faced with the reality and impact of my choice from not just one son but two.

Even their father has confessed to me that a couple years after Noah was adopted, he had a nervous breakdown. I guess the guilt finally caught up with him and it became too much for him to bear.

While in my heart, I know if their father had responded responsibly, the outcome would have been different. My sons know this as well. However, in the end, I was the one with the pen.

“The pen is mightier than the sword.” ~ Edward Bulwer-Lytton

I neglected my sons the opportunity to have each other as siblings. I now understand I should have fought harder to keep them together.

Which brings me back to the adoption triangle or triad.

Most adoption triangle diagrams will show in varying degrees, only three entities on the adoption triad or triangle; birth/biological parent, adoptee/birth child, and adoptive parent. The three titles are almost always positioned on the outside of the triangle on each point or corner of the diagram. However, everyone knows there aren’t just three sides to adoption.

Adoption Triangle or Triad images

That’s when the light bulb went on. The result or cause and effect of adoption create sides, but the system itself is not a triangle or a triad. The system positions those involved in the transaction at opposites ends of the diagram. We are exchanging the loss. We are passing it from one corner to another. And truly, no one wants to maintain, manage, or carry the loss.

Side meaning: support or oppose in a conflict, dispute, or debate.

I thought all these years, the adoption industry and the persons who have been directly impacted by the act of adoption have been focusing on the three sides of adoption but there are not just three sides in adoption. Here we are advocating for the triad without transferring true power to the ones who truly need to maintain the power. Otherwise, those impacted by the result of adoption become powerless.  This has been a huge part of the advocacy that adoptees and birth parents have tried to reclaim over the last couple decades with more transparency and access to birth certificates.

The power has historically been held by the ones who control the spinner, the ones who make the decisions, pass the laws or who used their power to threaten, coerce, groom, or gaslight someone into an outcome that suited those in power, who benefitted the most from an adoption.

At the same time, historically, the spinners do their best to control the triangle and keep everyone separated and in their corners. They were the mediators. They had all the information and the power to release it or withhold it.

When adoptive parents and professionals began to see the issues in adoption and began to advocate for birth families and adoptees, society seemed to accept the information. But once we reclaimed our own voice, our advocacy became a bloody battle at times and a huge debate.

The three outside entities of the triangle or triad are at the mercy of anyone who is in control of the spinner, who ironically will walk away with no emotional or life-long impact or commitment to the process or to persons involved in said adoption.

Which got me to thinking, should we even have sides in adoption at all.

There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth.” Robert Evans

Facebook: Red Table Talk; Transracial Adoptee

Red Table Talk, Raised by White Parents; A Black Transracial Adoptee

Great job Red Table Talk! Thank you so very much.

As a transracial adoptee, Angela is responding in the way she was raised. Sadly her family did not embrace people of her culture. I call this culture genocide or an ethnic crime.

I am not against transracial adoption. Noah is a transracial adoptee. But when white people raise their black and brown children in white culture or teach them only the adoptive family’s ethnic heritage or culture (German, Italian, etc) but not the ethnicity of their adoptee, that is a huge disservice to their child. It says your culture is not as important as ours in this family. I always wonder how white adoptive parents can love a black child but not the Black community. How do they go 18+ years of embracing new friends, family, and neighbors who all happen to be white but claim they are color blind? How does that happen? That is not natural or unbiased living.

I love that Jada and Willow and Gammy gave a transracial adoptee and a birth parent a seat at the table. Willow shared some deep talk for such a young woman, I love that Gammy was outspoken and passionate in this table talk. She has experience as a black woman and a black mother. She is right. Angela didn’t have a say on being adopted or how she was raised. Her insecurities stem from her lack of Black culture and understanding her place in the Black community. And let us not forget she is an adoptee which comes with inherit emotional consequences. But also, like Gammy said, Angela can change that. It would be similar to a white person who was raised with racism. Once they become an adult, they have the choice to educate themselves and decide which path they want to take. I hope that Angela steps out of her comfort zone and begins to embrace her roots. In today’s America, there really is no excuse that ANY family should live in a bubble no matter your color or culture. But especially transracial adoptive parents.

I am grateful to Ms. Debra and Angela’s parents taking a seat at the table and allowing those tough questions to be asked.

Lastly, I truly appreciate Angela’s honesty, sharing her story and her vulnerability so that others can learn. By taking a seat at this table and inviting us into her journey, her space, she educated so many on the many layers of adoption. We know that not one person speaks for everyone. But Angela has been given a platform. She does her best to give all sides light and exposure. She is bringing those pieces that have been dark and hidden for so long to the surface and it feels wonderful to be seen and heard with compassion. Thank you, Angela.

 

National Adoption Awareness Month 2018

Adoption has become a political hot topic in the last few years.  What better time to discuss these issues then during National Adoption Awareness Month.

Evolving from a controversial “closed” secretive past filled with shame where women went into hiding, to a postmodern “open” adoption era where women are posing as social media “poster” birth moms, we have seen a shift in adoption.  However, when it comes to OBCs, adoption remains stagnant and secretive.  Adoptees are trying to change that.

Most states implemented sealed records during a time when women had few rights or choices and were oftentimes railroaded towards relinquishment.   One could argue that these laws were enacted to punish un-wed mothers, an estimated 1.5 million women, who were sent away to hide their pregnancy and the birthing of their child.  There was deep shame associated with an unplanned pregnancy.  Families did everything they could to sweep these babies under the rug and hide their very existence.  Erasing the child that was born out of wedlock was supposed to save the mother and child from societal disgrace.  In turn, it would also save the family from scandal.

While laws to protect secrets may have been intended for one purpose, it resulted in a far greater impact that violated adult adoptee’s rights.

One strong debate for OBC access is regarding medical history for adoptees.   Adoption should not come at the expense of vital information.

Humans have an innate yearning to know where they came from. Adoptees should not be judged for wanting to know their DNA history, no matter how a blended-family was formed.

Adoptee Rights Groups are fighting hard with some success nationwide.  Seven states have enacted less restrictive laws in the last three years.  Currently, nine states have unrestricted access to OBCs. Eleven have access with restrictions, and nine have partial access or partial access with restrictions.  The remaining states, including Texas, are sealed.

This political cause is relevant, sensible, and in need of fresh eyes and modern laws enacted.  Adoptees do not remain children forever.  They grow up.  They become adults with rights like every other American.  Access to our own birth records should not be determined based on our biological, step, foster, or adoptive family status.

Family is Family.  Rights are Rights.

To learn more, please read my Op-Ed in the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung

Modern adoption laws are needed

Relinquishment

Pregnant woman in the shadows (BW image)

Pregnant woman in the shadows (BW image) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been thinking about the adoption evolution and revolution here lately.  How the adoption agencies and their clients have changed so much in their approach to the modern day pregnant women who is considering adoption as opposed to how they spoke to and about our baby scoop era sisters before us.  The modern day pregnant women considering relinquishing her parental rights are shown compassion, respect and admiration with phrases like:

“You are courageous, wonderful, and selfless.”

“You are giving your child a chance at a better life.”

“You are giving some family a precious gift.”

Now a day’s society understands that women have clear choices.  We basically have two more options that the baby scoop era women didn’t have.  So naturally, adoption agencies and the adoption community have changed their approach to the unintended pregnant woman.

We’ve gone from “You have to give up your baby,” to “You can choose open or closed adoption when you place your child.”  But the truth is, women don’t give up or place their children.  We have chosen to relinquish.  Society doesn’t like that word.  I don’t like it either.  But that is the truth.  Often times, it’s an ugly truth.  Ask any mother (or father in some cases) who has signed a legal document entitled Relinquishment of Parental Rights.  Once the ink makes contact with the paper and the strokes of the pen slowly inscribes your name, it soon becomes very apparent just how real those words are.  And it is done.  Relinquished!

I think back to the times when my (birth mother) sisters who were forced and coerced to leave their babies in a hospital.  The ones who never got to see their child leave their womb and enter the world, the ones who woke up after giving birth to an empty crib and empty arms, and the ones who reluctantly believed a bias society.  Although these women may have signed relinquishment papers, most of them had no other choices.  There was no Roe vs. Wade; only illegal abortions.  There were no single parenting options; only a cruel disapproving society.

Don’t get me wrong, society still has their way of getting into the psyche of vulnerable modern day females.  Family and romantic partners still use coercion tactics on defenseless pregnant women.  Adoption agencies and hopeful clients refer to expecting mothers as their birth mother while her baby still rests within her womb, (and in most cases) warm and safe, surrounded by the love of a mother.  How can a woman who hasn’t even given birth yet or relinquished her parental rights be referred to as a birth mother?  That’s society’s way of psychologically preparing her for what they hope she will choose.  Since they are unable to use the old scare tactics, the shameful tactics, the bad girl tactics, the “you’re inadequate” tactics, they have found new ways to subliminally prepare her for their anticipated choice.  So they call her by the name that labels her as a future candidate for the adoption industry.

Birth mother agreement.4

Birth mother agreement.5

I couldn’t imagine telling someone they should give up, place or relinquish.  I couldn’t imagine telling someone they should abort their child and yet people do both of these things every single day.  I wonder how these people feel about their own selves, after coercing a woman or teenage girl to abort or relinquish.  How does one live with themselves knowing that their persuading or forceful ultimatum created a decision that separated a child from his or her first mother and father?

Personally, I don’t think we appropriately prepare women for the truth of relinquishment.  Adoption agencies like to use nice words, fluffy words (placed, adoption plan, gift, loving choice) to conceal the truth.  I can tell you from personal experience, the word relinquish never came up in conversation once during my pregnancy when I met with my adoption counselor prior to the birth of my son.  The first time I remember seeing and hearing that word was when I went into a meeting room to sign the “adoption” papers.  When the relinquishment papers was placed before me, I remember saying the title out loud with a raised brow as I swallowed uncomfortably and looked over to my counselor.  She tried to offer a slight constellation, stating that that is what it is legally called.

We should ask ourselves why an agency feels the need to hide such an important word that goes hand in hand within the adoption industry.  Without relinquishment, there is no adoption; unless it is through the foster care system.

I wonder how many women would choose to relinquish if they were not persuaded in any way and if they knew all the facts beforehand of post relinquishment despair.  I’m not saying adoption is wrong.  There are some cases where adoption is necessary.  But what I am saying is that first and foremost, a woman should be free to choose with no outside influence.  No adoption should be legal without the consent of both biological parents.  More importantly the adoption industry needs to be truthful in every way.  They need to do a better job at preparing mothers and fathers of the repercussion of choosing to relinquish.

After the reality of relinquishment sets in, a birth mother’s heart breaks in a thousand pieces, her mind fills with images of regrets and what ifs, and if she feels she cannot bear another day without her offspring, she may try to rescind her choice.  However, society could care less about this birth mother now.  There is no going back.  There are no second chances.  Just listen to any mother (or father) who has tried and you will hear an evil hiss among the masses warning her, berating her and making false accusation and claims to sway the general masses.  Never mind that just weeks and months before, she was this wonderful angel doing a selfless act.  Now she is no longer a women giving but a women taking.  The priceless human being that God gives freely to females has now become a commodity, a legal lawsuit, and sometimes, a human ransom.  And so, the lawyers, the courts, the adoption agency, the adoptive parents, and even large amounts of society are quick to point to a signature on a legal document that states, Relinquishment of Parental Rights.  The act of signing ones name, that took less than a minute to complete will now take a lifetime to heal.