1. Adoption is different in person
As the former editor of Focus on Adoption, I attended conferences, transracial adoptee panels, and attachment workshops. I worked closely with adoptive parents and adoptees. I listened and wrote their stories. I thought I knew everything there was to know about adoption. That was before we adopted our son, Theo, at birth in an open adoption. That’s when the full force of living adoption hit me. Nothing could have prepared me for the emotional complexity of adoption, the public nature of my family, and the amazing joy and sorrow of being an adoptive parent.
2. Adopting transracially means you are never invisible
When I’m out with Theo, we stand out. I can’t walk down the street, go to a party, the mall or hangout at the playground without being stared at or asked questions. Over time, I’ve gotten less sensitive to stares, comments and questions, but I still have to be alert to the fact that if Theo is off and running or goes missing, someone will be looking for black parents. The upside of standing out is that I’ve meet many adoptive parents simply by looking different.
3. You can never fully prepare for comments and questions
Just when you think you’ve hear it all, someone will throw you a curve ball. I’m used to people asking where my son is from; but, when a woman stopped to tell me that I was very pretty and should have children of my own, I was left speechless by her back-handed racist, adoptist “compliment.” I’ve had a number of people express their “deep concern” for my son’s birth mother, whom they’ve never met, or ask me why his grandparents didn’t raise him. The capper was a woman at the pool who yelled at me while Theo was jumping in the water to ask “where I got him” because her “daughter was desperate for a baby.”
4. Little children don’t understand adoption
In theory, Theo should understand adoption.We’ve read the books, we have the friends, and he has the words to prove it. Except that he’s three years old. His comprehension is limited. For some time, he thought I was talking about doctors, not adoption, and later listed everyone he’d ever met as “dopted”. At his age, he’s more interested in trucks, slides, and movies with fighting in them. Of course, I’ll persist in talking about adoption so when the penny drops, he’s ready to hear more.
5. Biology does not make family
People who struggle with infertility often go to extreme lengths to give birth to a child. This cellular level desire to create life and the inability to fulfill this biological destiny is exceptionally painful. But you do not need to give birth in order to be parents. We don’t own our children. Whether they are born biologically or not, they will strike out on their own and make their own way in the world—eventually. Parents need to love, enjoy, support and guide their children safely and confidently into adulthood.
6. Biology is important
I am biologically related to the family I grew up with, and I’m fascinated by our physical, emotional, and temperamental similarities and differences. I have my mom’s love of reading, nature and the arts and my Dad’s anxious energy and quick temper. Theo is temperamentally unique. He is a fearless extrovert, intensely physical and social. He is tall, muscular and lean with curly hair and coffee-coloured skin. This came from his birth family. There will be moments of physical recognition, connection and understanding that can only be realized through biology.
7. Openess is a dynamic process
Open adoption is extremely difficult emotionally, especially at the beginning. It’s hard to claim the mantel of parent when (in our case) an entire family cares about my child as much as I do. And, while the relationship shifts and changes over time, the fact that my child has a living, breathing, known family in various corners of North America is always in the back of my mind. In three years, our adoption has morphed in radical ways. It’s taken time for everyone to come to terms with what this means, how it’s going to work, and what the future looks like.
8. The Internet is transforming adoption
More adoption stories than ever are being shared, expressed and heard thanks to blogging technology. Newsflash! Birth mothers care about the children they place for adoption. Many adoptees in closed adoption want adoption laws reformed (in the US in particular). Adoptive families come in all shapes, colours and sizes and are sharing their experiences. The Internet is also making it easier for adoptees to find their birth families (and vice versa) and is making openness connections in a transient society easier to maintain as well.
9. Adoptive parenting is different from biological parenting
As an adoptive parent, I think about my son’s biology and culture and how those twin factors will play out for him in the future. He’s young but we are laying tracks already with words, stories and facts about his adoption. He knows he was adopted. He knows his skin is brown and mine is white. By the time he hits school, he’ll need to be armed with a deeper understanding of where he came from as well as answers for inquisitive classmates.
10. Adoptive parenting is no different than biological parenting
We are parents like any other. We have a healthy, high-energy three-year-old who’s hitting all his milestones. He’s loud, sleeps erratically, has little patience for waiting, loves to run and jump off high places and makes us laugh hysterically every day.
Bonus! Adoptive parents are everywhere!
I have met fellow adoption travellers at the pool, playground, community centre, coffee shop, fitness class, baby group, and online. I have three groups that I meet with regularly. They are the people I can say anything to. They never talk about pregnancy, breastfeeding or say things like, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. They are my lifeline.
Harriet Fancott is an adoptive mom, blogger, communications specialist, and Senior PR Associate at Limelite PR. On her blog, she explores the intricacies of open adoption and life as a transracial family: seetheorun.com