Image Credit: White Sugar, Brown Sugar
One Transracial Adoptive Family
I’m carrying three bags and my six month old daughter. Trailing behind me is my husband who is also lugging several bags, plus he’s trying to corral our two year old daughter toward the plane’s entrance. We are sweaty, we are tired, and we are ready to fly home after a week long beach vacation. As soon as we enter the plan, the stewardess says, “Oh, are your girls sisters?” “Yes,” I say, scanning the half-full plane trying to choose seats. With over one hundred passengers behind us and the weight of my daughter and the bags seemingly multiplying, there isn’t time for conversation. As I attempt to move forward, the stewardess persists: “But are they REAL sisters?” “Yes,” I reply firmly, and then proceed to find seats for my family.
Sometimes I forget that my family is transracial and that our girls are adopted, not because we wish to avoid either topic or because it isn’t glaringly obvious, but because life is just that—life. We run errands, travel, play, work, sleep, and eat just like every other family.
My husband and I chose to adopt because I was diagnosed with type I diabetes, a disease that can make pregnancy dangerous for both the mother and the unborn baby. In November of 2008, our first daughter was born. In November of 2010, we were chosen to adopt another little girl. Both adoptions are domestic (meaning, they were born in the United States), transracial (my husband and I are white, our daughters are both black), and open (meaning, we have relationships with the girls’ biological family members).
When we were new parents, I was shocked by the invasive questions from strangers. I could be changing a diaper in a restaurant bathroom or trying to check out at a grocery store, when out of the blue someone would approach me with a slew of intrusive questions. “Where is your daughter from?” “Why didn’t her birth mother keep her?” “Did your baby cost a lot of money?” “Why didn’t you adopt a white child?” “Was your child’s real mother on drugs?” “Is she full or mixed?”
I would often mutter a response that hardly made sense, later mentally kicking myself for not saying something more intelligent or informative, or at the minimum, something that would convey to the person that they should mind their own business.
As I grew into my role as an adoptive parent, I began to contemplate answers to common adoption questions from strangers. I wanted to be prepared to respond to the next person who asked me if my child was “really” my daughter. Additionally, as our oldest grew into toddlerhood, her vocabulary increased, as did her understanding of the world around her. I quickly realized that it was crucial that I respond to strangers in a way that protected my family’s privacy but also taught the person something about adoption that he or she could perhaps pass on to someone else. Questions like, “Why didn’t her mother want her?” demonstrated to me that the general public doesn’t understand adoption at all. Perhaps I could shine some light on the truth. And perhaps, if I responded in a respectful and confident way, my daughter, as an adopted child, would continue to understand that she shouldn’t be ashamed of who she is or where she came from.
Two years into adoptive parenthood, I finally had a slew of fantastic responses to stranger’s questions. Then our second daughter was born, and the questions that had seemingly died down came back in full force. The questions, however, were different this time. We are often asked what country our second daughter is from, because of her dark complexion. (Many are puzzled by the fact that both of our girls were adopted domestically, as the general assumption is that adopted, black kids are from other countries). And most commonly, as with the stewardess, we are asked if our girls are “real sisters.” To this question we always reply, “Yes.” Our girls are in the same family, so of course they are REALLY sisters.
Our oldest daughter is almost three years old. She tells people that she is “brown,” her sister is “brown,” and her parents are “pink.” She also says, “I’m adopted” and knows the names of her birth family members. She can name all of her friends who are also adopted, and she recites lines from her favorite adoption-themed books. We feel she has been and continues to be empowered by our willingness to embrace our unique family makeup.
Choosing transracial adoption means choosing a life in the spotlight. It may not be convenient to answer a nosy question, but I feel that it is my duty to educate others in a way that will propel them into rethinking what they previously believed about transracial families and adoptive families.
You might be wondering what happened with the stewardess. Later, after we had settled into our seats, I pulled out one of my blog business cards and handed it to the stewardess as she passed by. I told her that if she wanted to learn more about adoption, she could read my blog. She thanked me and moved on to take drink orders.
I have no idea if she ever read my blog or not. I can only hope that with each question I answer, each blog entry I write, each card I hand out, and each “appearance” our family makes in public teaches someone something positive and true about adoption.
Rachel Garlinghouse is a part-time college composition teacher, a part-time freelance writer, and a full-time mom to two brown babies. You can read more about her family’s adoption journey at White Sugar, Brown Sugar. Rachel was recently featured on MyBrownBaby.com and has written articles about transracial adoption for several other publications.