In all seriousness, I would never be on the frontline of any protest. I am a live and let live kind of person. As an African-American woman, I am almost ashamed to say that I am comfortable on the sidelines of social conflict. I am your average passive agitator. I am content to repost supportive memes on Facebook but never put skin in the game.
This changed when I read about the plight of unwanted African-American children in our country’s foster and adoption system. Compelled for once to act, I jumped with both feet into my first act of protest. This journey would be all consuming. I knew that my life would change forever.
I met my husband when I was 24 and he 37. He is the father of four wonderful children who I lovingly call my gift-children. My husband, Russell, has two sons and two daughters. When we began dating, having a family of my own was important to me. Russell understood and told me when we decided the time was right, he would have his vasectomy reversed and we would work to have biological children.
Five years passed. We married, bought a home, and began living our suburban dreams. Three of the four kids graduated from high school. We decided that it was time to start our family. He made an appointment with the urologist. I made my appointment with my gynecologist. Plans set. I wish I could say that we had the typical storyline of trying for years before settling on adoption.
That’s not our story.
Midway through our initial consultations with our respective doctors, I happened upon a magazine story about adoption. The article spoke about African-American children being adopted by families overseas because they were not wanted here in the US. Most of the children were mixed-race children whose white or Latino mothers could not bring them home to their families. These were the babies no one wanted in our society.
I could have wrapped that statement up prettily, but I won’t. On the adoption spectrum, the most wanted babies are blond-haired, blue-eyed girls. The last is African-American boys. After reading this article and engaging in more research, I convinced my husband that this was a frontline protest opportunity and we needed to join this revolution. I was ready for my first foray into the land of conscious protest. An adoptive child himself – my husband agreed to join me.
Armed with our path to parenthood, we canceled all our doctors’ appointments. I am certain my husband was happy to forgo the reattachment of his sperm highway. After undergoing several painful tests to validate the working condition of my life-sustaining biological equipment, I too gladly cleared my appointment calendar.
I called the agency featured in the magazine and naively told the woman on the other line, “We are your African-American saviors. Give us a baby!”
The world of adoption doesn’t work that way. The voice on the other end of the line told me they had twin African-American baby girls ready to be adopted in 4 months. To qualify, we needed to submit an application, pay for a home study, and pay $15,000 per child for adoption fees. My savior glow dimmed as my halo tilted to the side of my confused head. Wait, $30,000 for the babies? The woman gently explained to me that the initial money was for the attorneys. We would have to pay more than that. We would have to help cover the cost of the birth mother’s medical and living expenses, her transportation, and any other baby related costs. As she continued to talk, my soul emptied out of my body. Adoption was starting to feel like a business.
This business made money off the plight of children, not yet born, but already unwanted by the world. I hung up the phone, disheartened. We weren’t going to be saving any African-American children from the clutches of an unregulated industry unless we had $100,000 handy.
There is a chaotic order of the universe. When you find your true course, the planets align. Within a week of sharing my new cause with my friend Tosha, I was on the phone with a social worker with our county family services department. That first phone call will be etched in my mind forever. The adoption social worker, Nicole, explained to me that adoption through the foster care system was free. We would need to attend classes, submit to a Home Study, and wait for an available child. We could adopt a baby or older child. She explained that we could choose our level of risk. We could choose a baby that could be returned to their birth parents or hedge our bets with a child whose parents’ rights had been terminated. My dreams of adoption returned in amazing TechnicolorÒ.
Our plans on track, we completed the required classes, secured letters of recommendation, submitted to medical testing and the intrusive Home Study. We knew we wanted a girl. My husband’s youngest son had begun high school. We wanted to make sure he didn’t feel like his Dad was replacing him. Navigating our family planning involved careful consideration of our soon to be blended family.
Every night we prayed, not for our future daughter, but for her birth mother. We wanted God to let her know that the child she was bringing into the world would be loved and cherished. We prayed for the Lord to bring peace to her heart and the wrenching decision she would make to release a piece of her soul, blindly into the universe.
After the 6-month process, we signed the papers on our home study. The next day, we received the call from our home study social worker.
We were matched with a 10 month-old girl born to schizophrenic parents. Unfazed by my excitement, my husband threw a wet towel on my fire. In his mind, this was not our baby. Through my tears of frustration, he stood strong. I was heartbroken. My husband understood my anger and sadness. He gently explained that he did not feel comfortable adopting a child who was almost a year old. He wanted me to have the experience of an infant. He was also uneasy with her family genetics of mental illness. He unknowingly hit a nerve for me.
I never revealed to my husband that part of the reason I wanted to adopt was because of my family's (probably genetic) history of mental illness. We have a "more than normal" amount of mental illness, both diagnosed and undiagnosed, in my family tree. As the sister of an autistic brother, I witnessed my mother's turmoil as she dealt with his issues, and her own. It was turbulent, violent, and soul-crushing. My protest against the "man" had unearthed my own unconscious protest against my own genetics - and my quest for the "perfect" baby.
There is the ugly side of adoption through a county agency. You are confronted with the awful reality that like those seeking blond-haired, blue-eyed, girls, you too are looking for perfection. There is something unsettling about filling out a form about what kind of baby you will love forever. Blind, no. Deaf, no. Drug addicted, no. Drug exposed, maybe. I understood his trepidation. This little girl might require more than we could give. I asked him to make the call to decline the initial meeting. The social worker was not happy with us. I could feel my dreams of motherhood move away like a train leaving a station. We moved on with our lives.
On Thursday, August 31st, 2006, 4 months later, I received a phone call from a different social worker. We had been matched with a 3-week-old girl. If we were interested, I needed to call her back. Unfortunately, when I called her, she was gone for the day and would not return until after Labor Day. This was the longest weekend of my entire life. My husband was in full agreement that we begin the process of meeting our future child. He felt strongly that this was our daughter. I phoned my mother and a weekend of frenetic shopping began.
I was going to be a mother.
Too wound up on Tuesday, September 5th to go to work, I watched the clock tick away as I impatiently waited to make the 8 am call to the social worker. I began dialing at 7:59 am. After three tries, she picked up with a laugh. She knew it was me.
She gave me the vital statistics of the baby and asked if we wanted to meet in person. I agreed before she could finish her sentence. She asked me to think about it for 24 hours. I politely explained to her that I had already been waiting for 96. The next day, my husband and I, grasping hands, learned the specifics of our future child.
There was not a lot of information. Our child was safely surrendered child. Safely surrendered means the child is brought to a fire station or hospital and given to a professional. In our case, our baby girl’s birth mom brought her to a hospital and left a health history for her. There was no other information. The baby was in the care of a foster mother. If we agreed, the next steps would be to meet the baby and finalize our decision to adopt her. Understanding the risk involved, Russell and I said yes to this child. The social worker booked our “first meet” meeting for the following day.
When the appointed hour of the following day came around, Russell and I were ensconced in a gray conference room. There was no lightness to this room. The room was strangely blank and cavernous. We waited with quiet anticipation for our future daughter to arrive. The foster mother was over 90 minutes late, adding to our agitation.
Finally, we heard the opening and closing of an exterior door. After 30 seconds of muffled conversation the door opened and our daughter was wheeled into the conference room. The room was instantly brighter and bursting with energy.
We approached the covered stroller and peeled away the blanket like you would open a certain blue jewelry box gifted by a significant other. As we revealed her face, my husband and I stood, side by side, staring at her. She was a tiny sleeping figure, completely unaware of the planet tilting on its axis beneath her delicate body. My worldview changed in an instant.
She was so small. She looked like a fragile doll, asleep peacefully; unaware of the change her life was about to take. Her pink shirt and denim pants looked too big on her delicate frame. Her beautiful brown skin, illuminated by the harsh overhead fluorescent lights, was perfect.
She was perfect.
I loved her at first sight.
We gave a silent thank you to her birth parents - their greatest sacrifice was our joy.
Our daughter, initially an act of protest against the injustice of unwanted children of color and genetics, manifested into this beautiful creature now nestled in my arms. I couldn’t wait to help her build her life. I also knew in that instant that I couldn’t wait to adopt again.
To be continued…..