My journey as an adoptive Black mom
My journey as an adoptive Black mom
The award-winning blogger Adoptive Black Mom shares insights, advice, and reflects on the impact of giving a voice to an underrepresented part of the adoption community.
By Margaret Farrell, PR & Communications, Celmatix
The writer behind the Adoptive Black Mom blog, a diversity professional and “full time smartypants,” started her blog more than five years ago to document her own journey as an adoptive parent. Today, her fans extend far beyond the friends and family she originally set out to reach with her blog, thanks in large part to her honesty, candor, and forthright approach. In honor of National Adoption Day (Nov. 17), we sat down with Adoptive Black Mom (ABM) to learn more about her experience as both an adoptive mother and as someone lending a voice to an underrepresented corner of the adoption community.
Celmatix: Tell me about your journey to motherhood.
ABM: I always wanted to adopt and was committed to older child adoption specifically, but I also wanted to experience the conventional path to motherhood. One day I found myself in my late 30s, still not partnered or pregnant; I realized that I probably needed to start making some decisions about my future. Around the same time, I experienced a serious health issue that rendered me infertile. It was a development that was nothing short of devastating. It was a very difficult period for me.
I didn’t take long to initiate my adoption plan. Adoption was never “Plan B;” it was always a part of how I thought my family would come to be. I just didn’t realize that it would be the path to creating my family. After I started the adoption process, things moved rather quickly. I’ve learned on this journey that my original desire to adopt an older child was really spot on; it has not been an easy journey, but I am incredibly fortunate to get to mother my daughter Hope.
Celmatix: What inspired you to start the Adoptive Black Mom blog?
ABM: My blog was originally just intended to be a newsletter for family and friends who were interested in my journey. It was just too much to send around emails, texts, or calls. The paperwork involved in adoption seems never-ending, and I was working full-time and working towards my doctorate. Sending updates seemed taxing, so I started a blog.
I quickly realized that there weren’t many voices like mine. There are many blogs written by White parents; it was/is the default lens in adoption. There are few voices of people of color in any of the positions related to adoption: adoptive parents, birth parents, and adoptees. It became clear that I had unintentionally tripped into a space where such a voice was needed. I don’t speak for any other member of the adoption triad, but I do hope that I have been able to give some visibility to people of color in adoption.
Shortly after I started the blog, readership really started to grow. There are some posts that I now regret writing (sorry Mom!); I was reeling emotionally at various stages on this journey with my daughter. I have chosen to leave them published on the blog because they are a very real part of my story, and I really try to be truthful and authentic. It’s a warts and all kind of thing. I also hope that the depth of posts shows the growth I’ve experienced along the way.
Celmatix: What are some of the unique challenges adoptive parents of color face?
ABM: Ha, how much time do you have? I think that adoptive parents of color experience all of the drama other parents do, but it comes with bonus drama sometimes. I’ll share two big challenges I think are important.
During my time parenting Hope, I feel like I’ve experienced bias in ways I just did not consider prior to parenting. It’s not uncommon for some adoptees, including those adopted at birth, to experience behavioral challenges as they wrestle with having been adopted, previous trauma and any number of other reasons. I have experienced ugly interactions with school administrators, teachers, and health care workers who have made a lot of assumptions about me as an individual that are rooted in racism. People will say, “Are you sure? Maybe you’re overreacting.” No, having experienced racism and sexism for 40+ years, I can say this isn’t debatable. Those beliefs then get layered onto my role as a parent. Like all parents, I feel like I have to be relentless in my advocacy for my kid, but I often feel like I’m starting with some assumptions that other parents simply don’t have to deal with, especially as a single Black mother and all the potential stereotypes and tropes that come along with that identity. It’s very frustrating; even more so because sometimes it is visible to my daughter, who is 17 and also Black.
I think the other challenge is in making sure that you find an adoption agency that really values you and is inclusive in its approach to adoption. Again, white parents are so visible and vocal in adoption, the absence of people of color throughout the adoption process can be very isolating. The trainings for hopeful adoptive parents only gloss over transracial adoption, and they often simply assume that children of color will be adopted and parented by white parents. We aren’t visible, we aren’t there, and why on earth would anyone expect us to adopt transracially? The assumption that we aren’t open to such placements is insulting. It often feels like we are only desired in the process if a birth parent or prospective adoptee has expressed a specific preference for us. I am blunt about advising people to look for agencies that are ethical and inclusive—if they aren’t concerned about the whole adoption triad (birth families, adoptees, and adoptive families), if there aren’t people there who look like you, if their website and literature is homogenous, if their values don’t jive with yours then move on to the next agency. These are the people who are helping your create and/or expand your family; they need to see you and value you.
Celmatix: You started Adoptive Black Mom more than five years ago. What has the impact of the blog been, either for you personally or for the broader adoptive parent community?
ABM: It has been incredibly rewarding. It is deeply meaningful to know that family and friends still get a view of our life, but I still am stunned that other people have become invested in my and Hope’s success. It’s been surprising to me to be recognized for sharing our story, and of course it’s been really important to me to give visibility to other families of color within the adoption space.
In many ways, my blog is a very public diary of my journey. Occasionally, I’ll go back and read posts from years ago; it has been a great way for me to see growth, especially when growth can be so hard to see when you are sitting in the middle of your life. I’m hopeful that my honesty on the joys and the challenges of parenting have provided a window on what it is like to figure out connected parenting, to navigate an open adoption, to tackle grief, anxiety and depression, and what it is like to evolve personally and as a parent.
I know that while this story emanates from a Black woman, much of it transcends race and gender. I’m grateful to my daughter for her continued support via permission to write about my journey with her. Her fellow adoptees have taught me so much—as much I have put out there, adoptees have schooled me 10 times over.
Celmatix: What advice would you have for other women, and particularly women of color, who are looking to adopt?
ABM: I think there are a few things all women should consider when approaching adoption.
If you are coming to adoption with a history of infertility, make sure you give yourself enough time to really mourn that chapter. I’ve found that the sting never quite goes away, but I definitely needed to take some time to get right with this idea that my body betrayed me. I didn’t want to bring that baggage with me into my relationship with my daughter.
On my blog, I also talk about the need to really have a therapist and be mindful about self-care and mental health. Post adoption depression is real; secondary trauma is real. It’s bad enough that we don’t talk about mental health and self-care in general, but in communities of color it can be even more taboo to talk about mental health and the need for therapeutic care. There came a time in my parenting experience when I really struggled with all of the life changes, the secondary trauma, the demands of single parenting. In order to be both me and the mom that my daughter deserved I needed help. I am a big advocate of setting up those supports before initiating the process.
Read adoptee and birth parent blogs and Twitter feeds. You may not agree with everything they say, but you need to understand and appreciate the perspective. Some of what both groups say will hurt, will shock you, but I promise you just hearing these voices will help you in the long run. Your kid, even if they were adopted at birth, will have adoption in common with them, and you can gain some insights just by reading and listening.
Choose your agency wisely. Do they reflect your values? Do they embrace diversity and not superficially, but really embrace diversity? These are questions that everyone should ask, but especially women and families of color. Do these agencies only look for women of color as birth parents or do they only look for us when a birth mother requests us in considering placement plans. Does the agency provide post-adoption support in the forms of trainings, support groups, coaching, conferences? My agency has only become more valuable to my family; they helped me build my family and have played and important role in our success after all the legal stuff was done.