Girly was placed in our home at 12 days old. From birth, she had very little human contact and there are a lot of reasons for this–but it was what it was. I didn’t grasp how “big” that was. Twelve days didn’t seem like a long time.
As an ignorant adoptive parent who didn’t know what I didn’t know, I have since learned an awful lot. And one of the things that I learned a lot about (and continue to learn about) is race. My now-7yo daughter started teaching me that as an infant in ways I never expected.
She came to us through foster care and before we finally had parental rights, her very, very expensive allergenic formula came to us through the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program. Our WIC office was predominantly Latino and the minute we walked in, if there was any chatter going on (in Spanish–always), Girly went stone silent… listening. It was noticeable. If ever one were to question what children absorb in the womb, Girly made sure to prove that she knew her birthmother’s language long before she was capable of communicating.
When she was about 9 months old–when children typically go through “stranger danger” symptoms–I remember holding her in front of a mirror. She was usually a very vibrant, vivacious, active and happy baby; but this time, she was very solemn. She was studying. She looked at me and then looked at herself in the mirror. She looked more at me and then looked more at herself in the mirror. She had a strange look on her face that gave me a chill. “She knows”, I thought. At 9 months old, my daughter knew she was different.
In my post “At the intersection of privilege and minority” I recount her telling me–at age 2–that she was brown and we were not… firm in making sure I understood that she meant that she was a different race. How she asked, at 4, about whether she should identify as a Black person. Things people think that children don’t understand. Things children DO understand when they are given the space to explore those feelings without fear of retribution.
I feel like my husband and I had the tremendously good fortune to have the mentality that our daughter is OURS, but she also has a first family and that her feelings about them or wanting them or wanting to know them have nothing to do with her feelings about us. They can exist together in her little heart. We are not threatened by that. We don’t feel that she is “lucky” that we adopted her and we won’t let people bully her into feeling ashamed if she doesn’t feel lucky to have been adopted. The world hears about rainbows and butterflies, but adoption is hard and it’s sad. Here is “Why National Adoption month is complicated“–it’s not just the creation of a family but it is also the dismantling and loss of a family. Our daughter has room to feel all of the feels without worrying if she will be rejected by her second family.
I will never know what it feels like to have overheard someone ask my mother how much she paid for me or where my “real” parents are–things I might actually wonder myself. Things that might introduce new thoughts into my head… at an age I’m not able to make sense of them.
We have never tried to badmouth her first family so that she would “love us more”. We have never tried to hide her story from her out of worry that she might be curious and “leave us”. Children grow up and leave. If you have a good relationship and healthy people involved, the remain connected.
My girl has a hard journey. She has a harder history than many adopted children and she seems to have been DEEPLY affected by having been given up for adoption (she was not forcibly removed from her birthmother nor was her birthmother threatened or coerced to give up her baby). I hear so often about people who have adopted children in their lives who “aren’t affected like that” and I often wonder if they truly aren’t affected or simply don’t feel they have a safe space to unpack and unload those feelings and process those emotions rather than stuff them away. We see so many well-meaning and loving adoptive parents who inadvertently and unknowingly create these situations.
As we try to plan for the future and are looking to move to a place where she has more racial mirrors than where we are today, she has a glimmer of happiness. The house next to us is under contract to be sold and we got to meet the intended neighbors for a bit. They are a biracial family (Caucasian and Asian). They have a daughter the same age as my girl and the two were able to play for a bit.
Her: “Mommy, I like the new girl better.”
Her: “Yes. And she is Brown.”
There it is: the ever-present count of who is Brown followed by how she feels about them–which is often a reflection of what she believes they feel about her.
My girl is Brown. In a world of people who don’t understand anything but white. With so, so, so much more to carry than most in this world.
I don’t know how to love her more.