The word “community” is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “a unified body of individuals”. Like most people, I have been a member of many communities–some based on my interests, some based on my location, and others I was born into. Honestly, the most important communities to me are the ones I was born into. Being a member of the Black Community has taken precedent in my life, followed by being a woman. Some may ask, why? As a child, I didn’t grow up with the idea of being color-blind. On the contrary, I grew up with parental griots who spoke life into me. My parents created a cultural identity within me that was centered on unapologetic pride.
When I embarked on my adoption journey, I had not considered the intersectionality of being a Black woman and entering the adoption community. Like most, I thought I would concentrate on doing all the tasks I had to do to adopt, finalize the adoption, and exit the adoption community. Often, the way you envision a plan is not exactly the way it turns out. As I learned more, I found myself more enthralled in the adoption community but quickly realized this community is a microcosm of the world I live in.
When I entered the adoption process, I first sought out as much information as I could gather. I read books, I contacted agencies, I spoke with people, I went to adoption fairs, etc. During many conversations with folks and floating between Facebook adoption groups, there seemed to be a perception that Black people did not adopt or Black adoptive parents were few and far between. Thus, in many cases, I was received with what I called the reaction of “shock and awe”. My adoption was met with an impressive amount of disbelief. In my experience, there seems to be an impression of what an adoptive parent looks like and it wasn’t me.
Growing up, there were always people in my family who were raised by grandparents or other family members, for a variety of reasons, including parents who worked in other states for better opportunities. Black people throughout history have raised family members’ kids through informal adoptions or kinship adoptions. There was no formal word associated with the practice to my knowledge at the time. The word “adoption” may have not been used but the outcome was the same. People caring for others in need, filling in where there were gaps.
The community cared for other people’s children. In most cases, there were no legal formalities like signed contracts or court dates involved. Whether it was a longing to be a mother to a child or familial responsibility, the parental undertaking was no less great or substantial than those who had legal adoption papers. Those ancestors unknowingly led the way. Raising a child born outside of my womb didn’t seem out of the realm of possibility because if the ancestors did it, then so could I.
I remember when I started my adoption process almost ten years ago and began looking at agencies. Some had Black baby adoption divisions with pictures of cute Black babies. However, none of the potential adoptive parental images in the marketing materials looked like me. Children should always be the focus but children are raised by parents, all types of parents. Also, there was little to no diverse representation in the workforce at many agencies I spoke with, not to mention a home inspector who was more interested in how much the houses in my area cost, rather than focusing on the inspection checklist. Unfortunately, this lack of diversity and the presence of microaggressions are easily recognizable when they are commonplace in your life. Living day to day and having worked in Corporate America for years, this was not an out-of-the-ordinary experience for me. I learned early in the adoption process that I had to define my path, no matter what I encountered along the way. There was a quick realization that there was not much if any representation in the community I had inadvertently joined. I was not going to be deterred by anyone’s perceptions because they were not my reality. I was not going to feel like an imposter. Adoption was my choice too; it was going to be a part of my story. I had decided even if I didn’t see another Black woman along my journey, it didn’t mean I wasn’t supposed to be here. Luckily, this was not the case.
Sisters in Motherhood
Like others, when I started my adoption journey, I started blogging. I loved to write, but more importantly, my blog was my opportunity to tell my adoption story. I wanted to chronicle how I was feeling and what was happening. The most interesting thing about blogging is that you never know who will read it or even how they found it.
A group of Black women, who too had adopted from Ethiopia, found my blog and welcomed me into their sisterhood of adoptive moms who had done what I had just embarked upon. The extraordinary thing about social platforms is sometimes you find great connections that you never imagined existed. Meeting these women was affirming, but more than that, it eliminated the isolation. I remember the excitement I felt knowing these Black women even existed. I believe I told everyone I knew because I wanted everybody to know that Black women adopted and they adopted internationally as well.
They invited me to their Facebook group where I met many of them virtually. These women were the representation that I wished I had encountered initially. All of them had traveled down this road before I had, so their experiences added to my adoption tapestry. Luckily, I was able to meet many of them in person on a variety of occasions and see their families in action. The conversations were rooted in the most basic yet complicated thing we had in common, adoption. As years have come and gone, the babies are now children, some of the children are even young adults, and the women have stayed connected to uplift each other, cheer their children on to greatness, and support each other as we experience the highs and lows of motherhood together.
I stopped blogging years ago, but I am still a part of the Facebook group of mothers. Often, I am on the sidelines reading and learning from these women. Social media is often a productivity drain. However, finding this community of mothers has been one of the most valuable experiences that has come from social media.
The Voice of Black Women in the Transracial Conversation
In a world where the media says we are in the midst of reckoning with the issue of race, as a Black woman I feel like this has been a constant reckoning for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, adoption is not immune to the issue of race.
While thinking about this article, I decided to search Black adoptive parents and found there was not an immense amount of information. It is difficult to find much fanfare about Black people adopting, but there is a bit more interest in single Black females adopting. Compared to transracial adoptions, where there are countless stories, most of the focus is on White families adopting Black children. I am a member of a few different Facebook groups where conversations between Black women and transracial adoptive parents of Black children are common. It feels like the conversations in the transracial adoption space start with hair care as if caring for the texture of a child’s hair is the gateway into Black culture. An understanding of proper grooming is essential for all children, but that is not where culture starts or stops. There is so much more to Black culture than being relegated to protective hairstyles and grooming products. Sometimes there is a disconnect in these virtual exchanges. It is clear that transracial adoptive parents have unanswered questions about race and culture as it relates to parenting and are looking for answers. On the other hand, Black women who actively engage in these conversations do not shy away from giving truthful, unfiltered answers that transracial parents may not be accustomed to hearing.
Often, I am struck that there is no thought of the real humanity and appreciation for Black people until families adopt the beautiful babies. It proves to me that our voices are needed even when they are not always appreciated. These Black adoptive mothers are an invaluable resource but they are in no way a substitute for having genuine in-person relationships with Black people. However, these Black mothers are providing an unconventional act of service that is ultimately benefiting the adopted child.
Recently, I have started to see real conversations about race and insightful self-exploration about biases. Appreciating culture requires elevating the conversation and abandoning our comfort zones. When that happens, it feels like a culture shift is taking shape in the adoption community.
Initially, as I was going through the adoption process, I thought it was my personal experience and yet for me, it hasn’t been. I am a firm believer that through every experience there is a lesson. When you learn something, big or small, it can be a lesson shared with others. My experiences in the adoption community have led me to introspective insights and shareable knowledge.
Friends who knew I was in the midst of the adoption process would ask if I would speak to friends of theirs who were interested in adoption. I was by no means an expert and everyone’s journey is different, but I gladly shared information I had discovered or passed on agency information I had collected. One of those conversations even resulted in another Black woman starting her family through adoption.
As I have grown throughout these adoption moments, I realize that my voice and my experiences build the stories that I want to share with the next potential Black adoptive parent. I feel like I am supposed to be a mama, but I am also supposed to use this energy to educate and encourage others that domestic and even international adoption is a viable option for married and single women who look like me. I was not the first Black woman to adopt and for sure I will not be the last. However, I do feel that what I have learned along the way is a lived experience that I share freely with Black women and other women of color. I have a duty to impact change in the adoption community, whether that be by sharing my adoption story with others, expanding someone’s idea about who adopts, or simply writing stories that include the Black adoptive parent perspective.
I am a firm believer that what you see along your journey can change the experience. You can either become discouraged or encouraged. I choose to be encouraged and offer encouragement to women of color, especially Black women to take their own adoption journey if that is where their heart is leading them. When we realize that more than one experience creates a community and when one can see themselves represented within the community, the community becomes stronger. I have seen and experienced that diversity within the adoption community benefits adopted children, adoptive parents, and prospective adoptive parents.
As you enter any community, it is what you make of it. You can either leave it as you found it or you can add something positive to the landscape. There are women who found me along my journey who continue to guide and provide moral support to others as they build their families. I can only hope my presence, my words, and my actions normalize people of color becoming legally adoptive parents. When there are more people who look like me and are open about their personal experience the entire community is better for it.Considering adoption? Let us help you on your journey to creating your forever family. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.