Adopting Outside of Our Race : What People Want to Know and What Some Are Afraid to Ask
“Momma, do you think the baby will know he’s adopted? He has curly hair like me and tiny toes like Charlotte so I don’t think he will even know.”
These innocent words were spoken by my five-year-old, blonde, curly haired daughter in reference to her newly adopted, African American baby brother. This sweet statement is such a profound reminder that we are more alike than we are different and that humans were born to love and be loved.
Adopting a child outside of our race has been one of my life’s greatest blessings. The sweetest little boy whispers “Momma” to me each morning and then reaches over to kiss my face. It is a moment that every parent cherishes and a moment that everyone who wants to be a parent deserves to have. After speaking to our adoption coordinator yesterday, I was reminded that many families are missing out on these beautiful moments because they are fearful of checking the box, “Open to any race.”
It was explained to me that these adoptive families are not racist; some are just unsure of the cultural differences that may exist or what friends, family or strangers may think or say if they become a blended family. Of course my husband and I discussed what could or may happen after adopting a child of a different race. However, as the mother of seven children, what I do know for certain is that parents will always face situations where they have to stand up for their parenting decisions and make choices that are in the best interest of their family. Not everyone will understand your life’s journey, just as not everyone feels called to adopt a child…and that’s okay because this is your journey, not theirs.
Although we did not give our son the gift of life, life gave us the gift of the happiest little boy with the most beautiful cocoa skin. As cliché as this sounds, the color of my child’s skin is not something I even think about until someone points it out to me. Just as I happen to have only one child with red hair and pale skin that people point out, I just happen to have only one child with brown skin. We are just the right mix of color, chaos and love.
While I expect some questions and challenges in the future, a dear friend of mine, an African American nurse/midwife and an adoptive parent said to me, “All a child knows is love. It is society who has the issue so if you raise him and guide him, just like you do the others, he will be just fine.”
Our son’s adoption has truly been a blessing to our family and in an unexpected surprise, has led to several other adoptions. In an effort to share our experience in the hopes that others who feel this calling will explore this process, I wanted to answer the questions that I get asked the most, the ones people apologize for asking and the ones that people are scared to ask.
1. Did you have any reservations about adopting outside of your race?
My husband and I really didn’t have any concerns about the race issue within our own family. We both were fortunate to grow up in homes where we had friends and played on sports teams with children of various races. As adults, we also have a very diverse group of friends who offered support so although race was not an issue, baby #7 was the bigger concern.
2. How did you decide to adopt?
As I have read, usually one parent feels the stronger (or only) calling to adopt and in our case, that was me. I had always felt called to adopt and after my 5th c-section, I had my tubes tied and thought I was done having children. However, I could not shake the feeling that I felt that adoption was something we were called to do.
3. What did you put on your preference sheet?
We decided that we were open to any race, although in North Florida, most babies placed for adoption are black, white or mixed. We also said that we were open to light drug use (only marijuana.) Although we checked the box for any race and light drug use, the baby’s health and race is as only good as the mother’s word. I know of one family who thought that they were getting a white baby girl and the baby came out mixed. I also have heard of a mother who admitted to using drugs only to have a baby born clean. Apparently the mother was buying Benadryl from a drug dealer and believed it to be pills.
4. Are you afraid the birth mother will come back?
In Florida, birth mothers have 72 hours to sign off on paperwork and ours signed after 36 hours. As a teen mother who had already placed one baby for adoption, we knew she was fairly low risk. She knew that she could not provide the life she wanted for her baby boy so she made the selfless sacrifice to give him more. Although she was understandably sad, she also described it as a relief knowing that her baby would have the life she never did.
5. Do you have a relationship with the birth mother?
Our son’s “Tummy Mummy” and I do have a relationship although over time, I hear from her less. This is what I was told would happen as mothers begin their lives again. Since our birth mother didn’t have an ideal childhood, our relationship is one more of guidance and emotional support from time to time. After the baby was born, I spoke to her more than I do now. While some may think that to be a burden, I think of that as providing comfort to the woman who entrusted me to raise her child. The magnitude of that decision is never lost on me so I really never felt it to be a burden with the exception of a few teenager type moments.
What about the father? I do know his name and some of his family history. I also have creeped his Facebook and saved some photos if I’m being honest. Unfortunately he has made some life choices that are not in his best interest or the interest of those around him so we do not have any contact with him.
6. What is your open adoption like?
Legally, I had to provide our birth mother photos every so often in the first year and it was encouraged that she see the baby once during that year. Sending photos was really not that big of a deal; it was just another text message. I also FaceTimed her during his first birthday party so she could see the celebration of his life. Naturally I was nervous about a meeting but as a mother who lost a stillborn daughter and left a hospital without the baby she came in with, I know what it’s like to wonder. I always think about how old my daughter would be now, what she’d look like and what kinds of things she would be into. I know the pain of remembering the delivery day and anticipate some tears when that date rolls around each year. Losing my own child makes it much easier for me to feel compassion towards the woman who graciously placed her own baby in my arms and left the hospital alone.
The baby and I visited with his birth mother at Christmas and went to a play gym and then to dinner. I am grateful that she and I have some photos together as I believe that one day this moment will be important to my son. The thought of an open adoption seems a bit more intimidating prior to the adoption in contrast to the couple of hours a year I may send in exchanging information.
7. Do you love your adopted son like you love your biological children? Is there a difference?
When a child is placed in your arms, and all they know is you as their mother or father, an instinct kicks in to love that child as your own. There is honestly no difference in how I love my adopted child compared to the children I delivered. I would give my life for him just as I would give my life for any of my other children. I knew I would have no problem loving a child but my husband, like many I have spoken to, was unsure of how that love developed. There is just a bond that forms between a parent and a child when you know that you are that child’s world. My husband rocks our son to sleep every night just as he rocked our girls to sleep. Our little man runs to the front door in excitement when Daddy comes home. Biology is the least of what makes someone a parent.
8. How did you learn how to care for black hair? Is it challenging to work with?
Just as I had to find the right products for my daughter with ringlets, I learned how to care for my son’s curly hair. When he was born, his hair was very soft and straight. Within weeks, it changed….and then it changed a few more times. Before I adopted, I remember reading a book where the author said that there is a phenomenon when you adopt a black child where black women, sometimes strangers, will offer their assistance in choosing the right products for your child’s hair. I have to say, with a laugh, that that statement is 100% true. Fortunately, many of my black friends suggested products for me that I ended up using, like the Shea Moisture and Mixed Chicks lines. However, many kind women in Target, doctor’s offices and restaurants, after commenting on my son’s smile or dimples, would offer unsolicited advice on hair care. It takes a village people!
Now that my son is 15 months old, I take him to a black barber shop every two to three weeks for a $15 haircut. Sometimes I am the only white person in the shop however, I can promise that my son and I have been welcomed with opened arms into all three barber shops that I have been to. My friends who had adopted daughters have found amazing stylists who will braid their daughters’ hair and/or will put in extensions. This is not unlike taking my older daughter to a salon now or getting manicures with my girls’; it’s just become part of a routine that my friends make “mother-daughter day’s” out of.
9. How do you handle the obvious question, “Is he adopted” when out with your family?
When we’re all out together, people will stop us and comment on the beauty of my children. Often, they will ask if our son is adopted and my response is, “They are all mine.” This usually stops any further discussion of “where is he from?” I don’t want to get into the habit of reinforcing the difference between the biological children and the adopted child because at the end of the day, they are all my children that I love equally. Our son’s adoption journey will be his story to tell so what I owe to my children is to present ourselves as one united family.
10. How will you explain the adoption to your son?
Our family refers to our son’s birth mother as his “Tummy Mummy” after reading a book of the same title. This title just felt a bit more endearing and special than “birth mom.” Our older children know that our son has a “tummy mummy’ that loved him so much that she chose to give him the life she knew he deserved to have. My goal in raising our son is to for him to always know that his life’s journey began with his “tummy mummy’s” love for him. I am so very grateful that this young mother chose life for her son and my hope in raising him is for him to always believe and know within his soul that two mothers came together to create the very best life that we could for him.
As for as the physical skin color difference, just as I only have one child with red hair and blue eyes, one blonde-haired child with deep brown eyes and one brunette who is far darker than her siblings, our little boy was simply born with brown skin. We have a full spectrum of color in our family yet we all have two eyes to see with, 10 toes to dance with and one heart to love each other with. The beauty in our family lies within the diversity of our children.
11. How will a white mother foster black culture in her home?
Just as I teach all of my children about different cultures, I will continue to expose them to different types of literature, music, museums and events that celebrate diversity and history. Last year, I assisted with the PR efforts of our town’s Soul Food Festival because I felt it was important for our family to be involved in a cultural event important to so many of my friends. We have story books (Ordinary People Change the World) on popular African American figures like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr, George Washington Carver, Walt Whitman and Jackie Robinson that we read to all of our children. It is also important for my children to see other families who look like us so I have formed friendships with other adoptive families in our community. Finally, we are very blessed to have close friendships with people of all races that have made invaluable contributions in the lives our family. My son’s godfather is a successful African American business owner; my goddaughter is a beautiful and talented African American girl who my children have grown up with; her mother, my former student, is a half black/half Puerto Rican Army wife that I’m now proud to call my friend. My Indian doctor and African American midwife / nurse are the two people who have delivered all of my children and the former African American mayor of our town, a cultural and educational leader, mother and grandmother, is a woman I look up to and call for advice. I am so very fortunate that our family has been blessed and surrounded by friendships and people who support us and guide us through our life’s journey.
As a direct connection to my son’s biological roots, I did collect his birth mother and grandmother’s favorite recipes and holiday meals so that I could include them in his baby book and in our meal plans. For example, our son’s birth mother loves her mother’s Thanksgiving stuffing so I intend to make that a part of our holiday tradition as well.
Lastly, although I could have chosen any name that I wanted for my son, I worked with our birth mother to come up with a name we both could agree upon. After the first name suggestion I was given, I honestly thought I would have to change it on her which caused me a lot of stress. There were a couple of disagreements over spelling and themed names that I just didn’t feel would complement this baby’s story. Our birth mother ultimately suggested a name that she loved that we combined with my father’s middle name and my husband’s last name. In terms of our son’s emotional development, I think that it will be important for him to know that his first name was selected by his birth mother, his middle name is after his Mommy's side of the family and his last name is that of the family that raised him.
12. Have you experienced any negative comments?
Although I would like to say that I haven’t, I have received a handful of unkind comments from the unlikeliest of sources. I was told who to expect comments from but unfortunately, the comments I heard or overheard were from white AND black mothers. Two women made “n*#&$ lover” comments under their breath in passing and honestly, given the inappropriate sizing of their jean shorts and over age 50 belly button piercing, I let it go. Clearly we held ourselves to different social standards.
I did have an educated discussion with an African American mother who said, “Even though you adopted a black baby, all you will ever see him as is a black man.” This opened the door for the more important adoption discussion on transracial adoption. Close to 40% of adoptions now are transracial. Where we lived in Florida, there were not any black adoptive couples but several black babies to be born that were in need of loving homes. I learned in the adoption process that mothers typically drive adoptions so baby girls usually get placed first. Due to the lack of black adoptive couples in our area, black boys are usually last to match. When I explained to her that if I adopt an African American child because I feel that black lives do matter and then I am criticized for my skin being the wrong color, then her position was somewhat counterproductive to the movement of treating everyone as equal regardless of race. She subsequently apologized and we carried on with an intelligent conversation about child rearing.
For every negative comment I have heard, I have received 100 positive comments from people who are in support of our blended family. I wouldn’t change one moment with my son because of someone else’s ignorance.
13. How much does an adoption cost?
Unless you find a birth mother on your own, adoptions typically range from $20,000 to $45,000. In addition to legal fees and agency fees, most of the time you are also paying “birth mother fees.” In Florida, our birth mother fees were $10,000 and that went to support her during her pregnancy and postpartum period. Money is placed on a card at different interims to be used for housing, transportation, food and clothing…. and it is monitored by the agency. A major factor in choosing to place a baby for adoption is often the lack of financial security. It is then only natural for a birth mother to need assistance to safely and comfortably carry and deliver a healthy baby. Our birth mother fees were paid in two cash installments (required) and the remaining legal fees I could have paid on credit cards or split between two different forms of payment.
I have been asked numerous times to share adoptive couple profiles in the hopes of finding a birth mother. While I do often share, the challenging part of that situation is that many birth mothers know that they can get financial assistance through agencies so it can be a difficult situation to be in. Even if a couple can fund the birth mother expense cost, one would still need the legal guidance and help of an adoption attorney to make that arrangement legal. I do know a few people who have done it that way but finding a birth mother on your own is obviously a little tougher.
The good news is that there are grants and loans for adoptive couples. Additionally, there are tax credits and some places will loan you the money while waiting on your tax refund. You can read more about the adoption tax credit here.
Another option that is available is to become a “foster to adopt” parent. This typically involves very little expense financially but the waiting game and emotional strain can be very difficult. There are foster parents who only take in children younger than two. The mother of one of my children’s classmates fostered a four-month old baby whose parents lost their parental rights during her care. She then became first in line to adopt and in a situation not typically seen, became the black mother of a blonde haired, blue eyed baby girl that she fell in love with. There are also plenty of older children and sibling groups in foster care that would be so genuinely grateful for a forever family.
For more information on funding an adoption, grants and typical fees, read the article, "How to Fund a Realistic Adoption."
14. Who can I talk to if I’m interested in adoption?
If you are already home study approved, have your profile book and are financially ready, I would suggest going to a local agency rather than a large, national one. We used Love Adoption Life in Jacksonville, Florida. They are also able to work with families outside of Florida as well. Jaime Ramos, Director of Adoption Services, can help answer any questions you may have.
If you are new to this process and don’t know where to begin, I would suggest going to an adoption consultant who can walk you through the process, assist you with your book and home study and reach out to several different agencies for assistance. Kristin Fields, owner of Evermore Adoption Consultants, who I previously worked with at Love Adoption Life, is a birth mother who started her own company to assist in this process. Because Kristin is a “tummy mummy” herself, I feel that she has a genuine gift in knowing what to present to birth mothers and what these special women are looking for in families. She has assisted with numerous adoptions and was very helpful in the process.
While I have read plenty of articles saying that love is not always enough when it comes to raising a child of a different race, I know that can also be said of families that look the same. I choose to believe that the love our family has for our son, paired with educational and cultural opportunities, will be enough. As I type this post, my baby boy has fallen asleep on my chest and I am in awe in the perfection of his sweet little face. With only a wait of three short months, I was in the room when he was welcomed into the world. I can't help but think of families who wait years to adopt but may pass on babies like ours because they are unsure of adopting outside of their race. Our home is a happier home because of this tiny boy's big smile.
If there is any question that I have not answered, please email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM me on Instagram, @JennyReimold. If you happen to be reading this and are a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy and don’t know where to turn, I can also help guide you to a wonderful woman who can explore all of your options with you. You can still know your baby, but provide him or her a better life, through the gift of adoption.