For this article, I asked to interview my foster sister, Dawn, to tell her adoption story. Dawn is a 38-year-old African American woman who was adopted 35 years ago. Dawn was born in the 1980s in the city of Newark, NJ. Dawn was in foster care as a baby due to her birth parents’ struggles with addiction, and it took the state three years to officially approve her adoption because they believed an African American child should only be raised in an African American household. This was overturned when a blind psychologist observed the bond that she and her Irish Catholic adoptive parents, the McLaughlins, had for each other. She was one of eight children (five biological and three adopted) and has had a very normal childhood.
On the topic of Dawn’s adoption process:
Can you tell me a little bit more on how you got adopted?
Dawn: “At 2 months old, I was placed with my foster parents who adopted me at 3 years old.”
Do you remember if your adoptive parents told you why you were adopted?
Dawn: “Yes, my birth parents were addicts.”
Was it hard for you to find out your birth parents were addicts? If it was, how did your adoptive parents help you through that information?
Dawn: “My adoptive parents always told me that they were sick and weren’t able to take care of me. The only time it was hard for me was when I met my birth family, and everyone else stayed with other family members.”
Was your adoption an open or closed adoption?
Dawn: “I am not sure if it was an open or closed adoption. My adoptive parents always told me that if and when I wanted to find them, we could do it through counseling and take the proper actions.”
How long had your adoptive parents been thinking about adoption?
Dawn: “I am not sure how long they were thinking about adoption. They were already foster parents.”
Dawn’s adoptive parents are also my and my twin sister’s foster parents. Since the 1970s, the McLaughlin’s have fostered many children, including children outside of their own race, and Dawn loved having a multitude of different foster siblings to grow up with.
About Dawn’s adoptive parents being foster parents:
How long have your adoptive parents been foster parents?
Dawn: “I believe they started in the 1970s.”
Did you like growing up with foster siblings coming and going throughout your life?
Dawn: “Yes. I feel like they were a part of my journey. It was interesting to meet new children. Even though my adoptive parents were their foster parents, they taught us how to love and accept everyone who came in the house.”
Did other people often ask your adoptive parents why they decided to foster and adopt children outside of their race?
Dawn: “From what I remember, they have been asked about fostering and adopting. I believe they’ve always wanted to help children in their community. To be honest, I really don’t know why they started.”
Dawn has had a great childhood filled with an abundance of love and fun experiences. She loved being a part of a big, diverse family. However, there were challenges she and her adoptive family had to face from struggling with fitting in, to diversity issues, and sometimes, not being accepted by others from the outside.
Growing up being an adoptee and the challenges that came with Dawn’s adolescent years:
How do you feel about your adoption?
Dawn: “Adoption is a beautiful thing, and it’s a courageous gift for both parties.”
How was your childhood with your adoptive family?
Dawn: “My childhood was great. I lived a very normal life. I was loved by a very big, diverse family, and I was the sixth of eight siblings. Their doors were open to everyone. I was exposed to all races and went on fun trips. I was extremely fortunate.”
What was your adopted family like, personality speaking? Did you all get along most of the time with all of your family members?
Dawn: “My adoptive family’s personality was great. They are very normal. I got along with all of my adoptive family members. We got into it like all siblings do.”
How did you feel about your adoption during adolescence?
Dawn: “During my adolescent years, I had a few challenges. These challenges came from my classmates in junior high. Some of the kids were cruel and didn’t understand “my situation.” I wasn’t always accepted. Some challenges my adoptive parents had to deal with as well were those of race. It was the 80s, and the state thought it would be best for black children to stay in black homes. I didn’t feel 100% complete. It took me a while to learn about myself, my culture, my ethnicity, and my background. I felt at times that I didn’t fit in.”
How did you and your adoptive parents overcome all of those challenges?
Dawn: “My adoptive parents overcame their situations regarding race, hair, and ancestors by reaching out to their African American friends to assist. I overcame challenges by just staying true to myself.”
Was it always easy for you to talk to your adoptive parents about diversity?
Dawn: “Yes. They were always open with everything about race.”
What’s it like being an adoptee who has experienced both great and not so great experiences because of your diversity and ethnic/cultural identities?
Dawn: “To deal with great and not so great challenges with race was a learning experience. I learned about culture as I grew up. I asked questions; I also was around all races.”
There’s a lot of adoptees that could relate to your struggle about diversity, culture, and not fitting in or feeling complete. What advice would you want to give them?
Dawn: “Don’t ever feel like you can’t fit in anywhere. Stick with those that make you feel comfortable and don’t be ashamed of your family no matter how diverse/different. Family is sometimes more than DNA and blood; it’s where love is.”
Did you find your life to be easier or harder once you were adopted?
Dawn: “The McLaughlins were the only family I knew. It was always easy for me. It got harder for me when I was curious about my birth family. I had questions but wanted to find them on my own.”
Was there ever a time when you had to tackle adoption-based stereotypes?
Dawn: “I don’t recall having to tackle any issues.”
As an adult, Dawn went on a long search to find out about where her birth mother and birth father were located. Though she was discouraged, she finally was successful in finding her birth mother and also found out about her birth siblings. Her adoptive family was very supportive when they knew Dawn had found her birth family and was curious about them.
On the topic of Dawn’s birth mother and family:
Did or do you have any contact with your birth parents?
Dawn: “Yes, only on my birth mom’s side: birth mom, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I was 24 years old when I met my birth mother. I had a very hard and emotional time. I only knew my adoptive mother’s love growing up. I couldn’t adjust to anything else. I did find out that I had four other siblings. I do have a good relationship with them. I work on my relationship with my birth mother on a daily basis. It is very hard. I couldn’t find any info regarding my birth dad’s side.”
You’ve mentioned that you don’t feel 100% complete. Why is that?
Dawn: “I still don’t feel 100% complete because I have so many questions still about my birth father. Even to this day, I only feel about 75%. I have accepted the fact that there are still questions that I can’t get answered regarding my birth father. This is a hard challenge that I am learning to accept.”
How did you go about the search for your birth mom?
Dawn: “I looked in the phonebook and called everyone with the last name in that town. It took about 3-4 years.”
Wow, 3-4 years?! Did you ever get discouraged trying to track her down for so long?
Dawn: “I was extremely discouraged. I called a number, and it happened to be my aunt (her sister).”
How were you feeling once you got a hold of your aunt?
Dawn: “I was beyond excited, nervous, anxious, and happy.”
When did you get to talk and see your birth mom?
Dawn: “I talked to her that night. I saw her a month after because I moved out of state.”
Was she happy to hear from you?
How about your birth siblings? How did you feel about meeting them and how did they feel about meeting you? Did they welcome you with open arms?
Dawn: “I also talked to both of my birth siblings the same night. We were all excited to speak with each other. When I met my birth family, they were very welcoming with open arms.”
Do you have any other birth brothers and sisters that were adopted?
Dawn: “Yes, I have birth siblings: a brother and sister. I had two other brothers who passed away.”
How did your adoptive family react when you found out about your birth mom and family?
Dawn: “My adoptive family’s reaction when I found out about my birth mom was positive. They were happy and curious to know all of the details about our conversation and visit.”
Dawn has always had a big, loving family, and she’s very grateful to have an adoptive family who creates fun memories, warmly welcomes all kinds of diverse individuals, and authentically accepts her for who she is. She has very positive feelings about adoption as a whole and keeps all of her loved ones close whether it’s her birth, foster, or adopted family. Despite the outside appearances, it’s clear to see how much love she and her adoptive family show one another—both inside and out.
Dawn’s feelings on adoption and favorite memories of her adoptive family:
Do you feel like being adopted has affected your relationships?
Dawn: “Yes, I feel that my adoption has affected my relationships. Family and friends are important to me. I try and maintain all healthy relationships.”
What were your favorite memories with your adoptive family?
Dawn: “My favorite memories were the summers in the pool in the backyard, trips to the state of New York, and family gatherings.”
If you could dismiss an adoption myth, what would you say?
Dawn: “The adoption myth that I would dismiss would be when you find your birth parents, it’s not like the movies; it may not have a happy ending. The vision that you have of them may not be real. Prepare yourself to be happy and/or disappointed.”
Being adopted, do you believe that having your own children has an impact on the way you see adoption?
Dawn: “After having my own children, the impact on the way I see adoption is that it is extremely courageous to make that decision for someone else to care for your child, and it’s extremely courageous to love a child as your own that you didn’t birth. I try to also do for my kids what my birth mother couldn’t do for me.”
What do you want people to know about the best thing about being an adoptee?
Dawn: “The best thing about being an adoptee is family and someone loving you as much as matched DNA.”
What three words would you use to describe your adoptive family and why?
Dawn: “Loving, welcoming, caring. They are naturally all of these things and more. I was raised in an open home policy where anyone who needed anything could come to Quinby Place.”
Being a part of your adoptive family for a short while, I—of course—know there are so many more positive words to describe the McLaughlins. Even though they were only my foster parents, they meant so much to me, and the love they’ve shown Katrice and me, I’ll never forget it. Wanting to end this article on a very positive note, what other words would you use to describe your amazing adoptive family?
Dawn: “Forgiving, embracing, nonjudgmental, understanding, fun, large, and diverse.”