Adversity

When I look back on my life, it amazes me how far I have come in the face of adversities.

During uncertain times, we hope that no matter what, we can always count on our family for unconditional love and acceptance but sometimes it just isn’t so.  Such was the case for me when I was expecting my son, Jaren.

What began as a loving supportive family of my unplanned pregnancy, which included a distant baby shower for me (I lived in Texas, they lived in New Jersey) turned suddenly dreadful when my family learned of my child’s mixed ethnicity (African and European American).  My mother was noticeably distraught.  She seemed more concerned as to what she would tell all those who attended the baby shower and even wondered if they would want their gifts returned (by-the-way, they didn’t).  Apparently, they were okay with me being an unwed mother to a white baby.  But being a single mother of a bi-racial (half black) baby was another story all together.

I went along with the charade for my son’s sake.

After my baby was born, some of my family members tried to put their prejudices aside.  Going home was always a divide between love and hate, right and wrong and I strongly debated if I even wanted my son to have a relationship with these relatives whose love for him was initially tarnished solely based on the color of his skin.

I went along with the charade for my son’s sake.

From that moment on, I would not be invited to another holiday dinner or family event due to my step father’s prejudices.  My family made it very clear that they didn’t want to be caught in the middle.  My mother would provide halfhearted excuses and say things like, “That’s the way your father is and he isn’t going to change.”  My older brother and sister would personally tell me to my face that they didn’t think it was fair how I was being treated.  And like our mother, they were unwilling to stand up for me.  Whether they feared openly debating their perspective with our father or whether they were masking their own prejudices internally is unknown to me.  Either way, they all had it in their mind that since I didn’t play by the rules (no interracial dating), that I should have expected this reaction and be happy with what they were offering.

I went along with the charade for my son’s sake.

When Jaren and I flew back home, my step father would go away for a few hours or an overnighter at their summer home so my mother could bring us home for a short visit.  We were on a tight schedule.  Orders were…me and Jaren needed to be out of my parent’s house and out of sight by the time my step father returned home.  I can remember the nervousness my mother had trying to get us packed, out of the house and into the car so she could drop us off at my brother’s or sister’s home.  She had a great fear of running into her husband before we left.  It’s a sad way to live, in my opinion.  And it always left me feeling slighted.

I went along with the charade for my son’s sake.

Whenever we went home, the other grandkids would talk about Poppy, and Jaren would ask questions as to who Poppy was.  Jaren was curious about Poppy.  Often times, my mother would evade questions from Jaren, sometimes becoming flustered by his inquiries.  I remember on one occasion, she responded that Poppy was her husband, for which I gave her a sharp look.  I had to bite my tongue so many times; I’m surprised it didn’t literally fall off.  Truth is, Mom didn’t have any plausible excuses for her young grandson.  She would send pictures either by mail or email to us in Texas of Poppy and the other grandkids, depicting a wonderful loving grandparent and I wondered why my mother felt the need to share them with me and my child.  I finally had to request she not send pictures to avoid confusion.  No child deserves that.

I went along with the charade for my son’s sake.

I remember on one visit back home, me, my sister, her daughter, and Jaren stopped by the local custard stand.  We were sitting at a picnic table when my sister saw our parents in the parking lot.  My sister egged me to go over and introduce my son to his grandfather.  I think my sister wanted to end the divide in our family.  We walked over and stood alongside my father’s car window.  I had Jaren sitting on my hip and said, “Hello.”  My father looked straight ahead.  My sister did most of the talking.  He glanced once or twice at my sister and my niece but never acknowledged me or my son.  My mother sat in the passenger side, eating her desert, saying very little.  Once I returned back to Texas, far enough away, I learned how hateful, prejudice words were said about me and my mixed-race family by some family members and close friends.

Yes, I went along with the charade.  It was a game that I learned to play very well by their rules.    Any disturbances from the rules would have jeopardized the ties that bond and at that time, I was trying to hold onto whatever was available to me.  I thirsted for the love of my family and did not want to be left alone in a world with no family ties.  I wanted my son to have his extended family, even if they were fifteen hundred miles away, even if they were prejudice, even if they were willing to stand and watch one of their very own blood relatives be rejected and rebuked.

For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,  I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’  “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’  “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’  Matthews 25:42-45

Twelve years later, my step dad finally had a change of heart.  My younger brother and his wife were vital in the evolution of our family restoration.  I had the idea of having a 70th surprise birthday party for our mother.  I proposed the idea to my brother and sister-in-law.  They liked the idea and my brother said he would talk it over with our dad.  We needed to make sure he was on board.  I had gone along with the charade for a very long time, but to ask me to help plan something and then say that me and my mixed-race family would not be welcome, well, that’s another story.  I don’t know what my brother said to our father that day but our dad agreed to go along with the party.  This event was the first time that my son and I were at a get-together with our whole family and long-time friends in one place at the same time.  After twelve long years, I felt like a member of this family again.

If you asked me today if I am totally healed from this experience, I will tell you no.  I swallowed my pride and quieted my voice for many years as my wounded heart broke and my eyes filled with penetrating tears.  The ill treatment we received by the ones who were supposed to love us without seizing, with no apology or remorse still haunts me.

I wonder how much one person can bear, how many times one wounded heart can break and how much one soul can withstand before its spirit is weakened.  These are the questions that I may never know the facts and the answer may lie within each lesson.

In the end, I’ve learned a great deal as a mother.  But I would say what I learned from having my biracial family has taught me much more than I could have ever imagined.  It’s taught me to be strong in the face of adversity.   Image

The Birth/Adoption Community

I’ll admit, before I entered into the birth/adoptive community, I was somewhat naïve, judgmental and probably insensitive to what individuals in this community experienced. Now that I have joined the ranks of millions maybe even billions of other birth parents, adoptees and adopters, I see this community in a whole new light.

When I was seeking my son’s new family, all I had to go on at the time was my instincts. I would be choosing complete strangers to whom I had not once previously met; to love, nurture, and parent my child for a lifetime. This in itself is a very daunting task. And then being the mother of a bi-racial son, added to my apprehension for my son’s wellbeing. I mean, just one year prior, members of my own family wanted me to place my first born child for adoption solely on the basis of his mixed ethnicity. I wondered how the families seeking to adopt my new son would differ in their views. Did some or perhaps most carry the same prejudices? Would they be more concerned about his racial background or would they just see a precious child created by God and be willing to love and honor his ethnicity?

I remember almost every detail on the day I reviewed the two family packets who wanted to adopt my son. Yes, only two. Most women (birth mothers to be) will have around ten or more families to consider for their unborn child. I had two. These two white American families were the ones who told the agency they were interested in adopting my baby. It does seem insensitive at times. After all, it’s not like going to a car dealership. I want this color with this kind of hair and these features and so on. But sadly, this is how some people view adoption should be. So naturally, I wondered if these families really wanted my baby or if they were just desperate for any baby. There is a difference.

I understand why some families may not want to adopt outside their race. They fear what others will say and they wonder how their new family will fit into a society. I can tell you from personal experience; at times, it can be more challenging to navigate in the world when your family is of a mixed race. It is what it is. Choosing to do what is right though is not always choosing to do what is easy. And it appears to me that those who are prejudice against other races or are against interracial couples are less judgmental and more accepting of families who adopt bi-racial children than those who conceive them naturally. However, if you are considering adopting a child who is not of your race, think it over long and hard. When someone gives you a stare or makes a comment, how will you respond? I know of one incident that didn’t go so well.

An adoptive mother was checking out in a store with her oldest, biological son and her adopted, bi-racial son. Her adopted son, who was a young toddler at the time, was sitting in the shopping cart. A lady behind them kept staring at them. After a few minutes, the adoptive mother annoyed by the stares barks, “He’s adopted, okay?” Now I know some of you may not see anything wrong with this but hear me out for a moment.

First of all, I am a white mother of a bi-racial son. I have had stares while checking out and not once have I felt the need to blurt out to a complete stranger that my son was biologically mine or that I conceived him.  The adoptive mother’s statement tells this stranger that there is a reason she has this bi-racial child. This is where the hero title comes into play. “You see, I adopted him. I am the good person. I didn’t have a relationship with a black man; I just adopted the child from the woman who did”.

Lastly, if this child was five years old, ten or fifteen years old, would his mother shout out, “He’s adopted,” in front of him? I wonder how that might make her “adopted” son feel? This was neither the time nor the place. Just because he is a baby, and cannot speak, doesn’t mean that he cannot hear or that he doesn’t understand. Trust me; he does understand even if he cannot verbalize his words.

As any mother knows, when you leave your child with someone new, whether it is a new nanny, new daycare or new baby sitter, we worry and hope that our child is getting the best care possible until we pick them up. The difference is when a birth mother leaves her baby with his/her new caretaker, she’s gravely aware that she will not be picking him/her up later on that day. She knows it may be a lifetime until she sees her child again and for some, they weren’t even lucky enough to have that. They left this world not knowing if their choice to relinquish their parental rights to parent their child hindered their child’s experience or enhanced it. Many women took their final breath without ever having the opportunity to see a smile on their child’s face, to caress his cheek or to stroke her hair. I know some of these women and my heart weeps for them.

As for me, I am able to know my son through open adoption. I have touched his face, kissed his cheeks and I’ve seen his beautiful smile light up the room. I know that my birth son’s family has provided a good home to him. And I know they love him. The mere fact that they thought it was important to share their son with his original family says a great deal about their character and it shows respect to me as a human being.

We created our own version of the birth/adoption community and what it meant to us.

Who knows how our son will feel when he is grown. Only time will tell. I hope the fact that he has been able to know his birth family while growing up with his adoptive family has only enhanced his quality of life and that he knows that although I gave him to his adoptive parents; it doesn’t mean that I didn’t love him. I am still here, ever present with love and acceptance, watching him grow and expecting him to do great things with his life.

LIVING BI-RACIAL

Yesterday at church, I introduced myself to one of Jaren’s Sunday school friends.  He gave me this surprised look and said to Jaren, “I didn’t know you were mixed.”  Jaren said, “Yeah.”  Now this doesn’t bother Jaren or me at all. I appreciate someone’s honesty, as long as it is respectful.  And this isn’t the first time that someone looked surprise when they learned that I was Jaren’s mother. Jaren has told me on a number of occasions that he has had kids respond this way at school when his classmates find out he is bi-racial. He said they will often say, “I thought you were straight up black.”

When Jaren was an infant, he was neutral looking and could pass for Latino, Asian, and bi-racial and he seemed to spark a lot of curiosity. I had people stop me often to ask me about his ethnicity, like the time I was in the hospital recovering from giving birth for the second time. My mother and a friend brought Jaren to the hospital so he could meet his new baby brother. One of the nurses came over to me and said she was wondering about the race/ethnicity of my newborn. She informed me that once she saw my toddler, she knew he was of a mixed race. She commented how beautiful Jaren was and asked me what his ethnic background was and I told her. She said, “Makes me want to have a baby with a black man.”

I remember one time, when Jaren was about three years old.  His father hadn’t been over to see him in a long time.  I don’t remember how the conversation started but somehow the subject of race came up.  Jaren’s father asked him, “What are you?”  Jaren proudly said, “I’m black and white!”

Jaren often referred to himself as tan.  And when he saw someone else similar to his skin color, he would say, “They’re tan like me.”  As he got a little older and he noticed in his pictures that his skin tone changed as he aged, he told people, “I was born white but turned black.”  This always made me laugh.  I think others weren’t sure how to respond or react, but we would make light of it.

I let Jaren express himself anyway he wanted, as long as it wasn’t derogatory.  And yes, there were times when I needed to step in and say, “That isn’t appropriate,” just like any other parent of a one-race family/child.  I, like most of you, have heard time and again that prejudice is taught.  And people assume that it always derives from home but I can tell you from experience that my son learned more about prejudices from classmates at school then he did at home.

Recently, we sent in for DNA testing to see how diverse my son really is.  He is mostly of African, European, with some Asian and American Indian and even some Neanderthal.  How about that?  Yes, my son is rich in diversity.  But he is also rich in love.

In the end, we are of ONE race….the human race.