People I barely know will sometimes share with me that they are considering adopting. This has happened with a woman handling our mortgage, the pest control guy and an assistant shampooing out my hair dye. I’m game to talk about this pretty much any time. I explain the tug I felt on my heart. I talk about our process. I share what it’s been like since we got the twins.
When we were in the adoption process, the only request from the twins’ birthmother was that the attorney find someone who would raise her girls in the church. Nothing about our race, their education, or even seeing them grow up…only that a family would raise them in the church. She placed them on a Wednesday in April eight years ago. The attorney told her, “I’m meeting with a minister and her husband later today and they are open on race and about taking a sibling group.” We picked them up that Saturday. This is not a normal adoption timeline. I have no doubt that this is the family that God intended us to be. That doesn’t mean our whole life together has been a Benetton ad, but I am so grateful that we followed our hearts and adopted the twins.
When it comes to feeling a tug, it helps to look around and realize that other people aren’t feeling the same pull. I honestly thought everyone wanted to adopt, but when I realized adoption wasn’t on everyone’s radar, I knew it was something I needed to pay attention to.
That’s what I usually say about adoption: “It’s worth paying attention to…this tug that you feel.”
What I don’t say is, “You should definitely adopt.”
What I also don’t say is, ”You probably shouldn’t adopt.”
Deciding to adopt or not is life changing. It’s like getting married. I have a clergy friend who was telling me once about a couple he had met with to start their premarital counseling before their wedding. There were a few red flags. The biggest was the future wife saying to him, “Do you think we’re a good match?” My friend had just met these people. I think she knew the answer or she wouldn’t have asked. If you know you are a good match, you don’t need strangers to tell you that you are.
In the same way, if you are determined to adopt, no cautionary tales or hurdles will stop you. You will fly across the world. You will empty out your savings. You will battle dragons. If you really don’t want to adopt, you’ll talk about it for decades. That’s okay. You need to be really sure.
Sometimes, people tell me that they worry they might not love adopted children the same as ‘their own.’ (No, this is not appropriate grocery store conversation. People are crazy.) My love for the twins is indeed different from my love for my biological children. One kind of love isn’t better than the other. They are just different. With my biological kids, I shared my body with them for nine months. They knew the sound of their dad’s voice. We did everything together and were inseparable. We fell in love with one another gradually because there was time for that. My love for the twins was sudden and fierce. It was protective and covenantal. Standing in the NICU in Charleston, SC my heart grew two more chambers.
Then, seven years later, when the terrible shooting happened at the AME church in Charleston, my expanded heart ached for those families and that congregation. Ached. Part of it was that my girls had been born down the street, but it was bigger than that. We have been changed by the twins. Those people who were murdered in that church were their people..and so they were our people now.
If you are white and want to adopt, particularly transracially, I need to be honest with you. Here’s how I’ve felt in the past year: I’ve felt drafted. I’m not sure I knew I was registering for the draft, but we are knee deep in this now. If someone asked me today about adopting children of a different race, as Charlotte, NC protests and Tulsa, OK grieves, I’d say, “Only adopt if you are prepared to be drafted. Only adopt if you are willing to blow up the life you have. Only adopt if you want to be more vulnerable and more real than you thought you could ever be.”
I feel a little like the Disney character Mulan. In the movie, which I’ve watched a million times with my kids, Mulan’s father is drafted, but he’s old and injured from the previous war. His daughter, Mulan, goes in his place, but must disguise herself as a man. I feel like I’m trying to take my twins’ place in the racial strife that our country is experiencing. But I’m not black and I don’t have as many black friends as I wish that I did. So, I’m wading into a war that no one has invited me participate in. I’m trying to protect them by taking their place. This is a flawed plan.
I’m trying to protect them with my whiteness. I know this can’t last.
I didn’t even realize I was trying to loan them our ‘status’ until I bought an expensive diaper bag. This was not the case with the big kids: I’m pretty sure Caleb’s diaper bag was the free one they give you at the hospital. With the twins, I ordered whatever kind my husband’s stylish sisters had for their kids. I sought out a trendy, expensive diaper bag. Why? Because I wanted people to know at Mother’s Morning Out that they were with us. I wanted our umbrella to cover them. I didn’t know I was doing this, but I wanted people to look at them differently because they were part of our family. I hoped people would give them the benefit of the doubt.
That’s really what white privilege boils down to: as a white person, I am given the benefit of the doubt. I understand privilege to be judging people worthy based on what they look like or what they own or who their family is. On the other hand, whole other groups of people have to earn our respect and must prove their humanity. For no good reason and certainly no spiritual one, the color of my skin protects me.
I have skin in the game now. I should have cared this much before we adopted the twins. I should have been in the game, regardless. Honestly, I thought I was in the game. We went to racial equality marches when we lived in Mississippi. My dad was raised a Quaker and my parents are tremendously progressive. I had black friends.
I was pretty horrified to realize in Seminary that most of my interactions with African-Americans up until that point consisted of my ‘helping’ them. Volunteer work and social work and church work were my main connections to black people. I didn’t realize this pattern in my life until I had two professors that guided and shaped me. I have had to be intentional about forming relationships with people of color where I am vulnerable and in need of their guidance.
I’ve had to learn some humility. I am no one’s savior. Especially not the twins. Whenever someone says to me, “They are so lucky you adopted them,” I know that their intentions are good. I’m quick to respond, however, with, “We feel like the fortunate ones. We are lucky to be their parents.”
When we got the twins, Obama was running for his first term as president. When they were 10 months old, I sat them in their little seats in front of the television to watch his inauguration. It seemed like such a hopeful time.
Here we are eight years later and I do not listen to the news in the car or turn on the television around the twins. I don’t know if this is the right thing to do or not. I did attend an African American church this summer, shortly after the shooting in Baton Rouge. The preacher suggested we not tell children all the violent stories without some solution or comfort. I don’t have solutions or comfort, so I’ve shielded them from the news. Time is running out on my being able to shield them. There have been a gut-wrenching and heart-breaking number of shootings of black men in our country. In July, a Facebook friend of mine, who is a young black man, posted, “Stop shooting us!” How did we become this as a nation? The fact that I can’t keep it straight in my mind which person was shot in which city alarms me and sends me into despair.
I know that my girls are safe, for now. They are eight years old and they still live with us. It’s not enough for me, though, that my kids are safe. It’s not enough that I can protect my kids when other mothers are terrified for their sons.
Here’s what else I’d say to white people considering adopting, especially transracially, after these very violent past few years: “Only adopt if your heart can handle children and young adults who look like your children being shot…and those videos playing on the news. You will be overwhelmed by these images. You will be changed by them. You will take every one of these incidents personally.”
I happen to think that’s a good thing.