“Is he YOURS? Is he…adopted?” [*chuckle chuckle*]
This is the two-part question I’ve been asked on a regular basis since my son was about four months old and began to sprout his towhead blonde hair. His eyes have remained newborn-blue and his skin is so fair that he legit once got a sunburn on a partly cloudy day (for which the pediatrician judged me hard, I could just tell).
My son is a carbon copy of what my husband looked like as a child, but the reason people question whether he’s “mine” is because I’m Black. Technically, I am a biracial woman who is half “African American” and half “Caucasian,” which is about all I know about my biological parents in my very sparse closed adoption file from 1985. That, and their ages and general locations: seventeen and eighteen; small rural Maryland town.
So yes, that’s right people, I myself was adopted! Did y’all see that one coming when you chuckled?
I know, I know, it’s not every day that one observes a Black woman out and about doing things with a blonde boy that mothers and sons usually do together (i.e. picnics in the park, errands, timeouts, what have you). People’s minds scramble to come up with a plausible explanation for what they are seeing.
I’ve been asked, like some of the Black parents of white children who were featured in a highly relatable Scary Mommy piece, if I’m the nanny. If I’m the babysitter. I’ve been asked if I “stole him.” I think this was meant to be a joke, but given the woman’s demographic membership — the good old Boomer-Karen combo — I can’t confirm, and the airport security line didn’t seem to be the best place to test out a snarky retort.
But when the more progressive among us assume a parent-child relationship, they’ll often bring up adoption. I acknowledge that my son and I pose a conundrum to anyone, myself and my husband included, who has had at least a high school level of biology and is therefore vaguely familiar with the concept of genetic traits. Brown usually dominates. Except when it comes to society’s perception of skin color. (Oops, did I write that out loud?)
Given that we’re primarily talking about strangers here, people wouldn’t know that I’m adopted when they ask their question, which is probably why many of them punctuate it with that aforementioned chuckle. Seriously, the majority of the time when I get this question, people follow up with a light laugh. Maybe they’re nervous and think they’re invading my privacy by implying that I’ve struggled with infertility, a topic which is becoming increasingly less taboo (as it should be) but is still sensitive (as it should be).
But more often I think people find humor in 1.) the concept of the adoption in the first place. Plenty of people out there think adoption can be a good premise for a joke, as a piece featured in Scary Mommy has pointed out. The “problem children” are either the products of or about to be put up for adoption, LOL. Or, 2.) Could a Black woman *actually* adopt a towhead blonde child? The aforementioned Scary Mommy piece about Black parents of white children shared this perspective too, so I know it’s not just a create of my f-ed up imagination.
In any event, I like to think I have a sense of humor — and even though I don’t think adoption is or should be a joke, I can at least chuckle about the incredible genetic lottery outcome of my biological son looking no more related to me than I do to my adoptive mom. Hell, my adoptive mom looks more like my biological son than I do.
Side note: I once asked my mom if it was difficult for her, a woman who was unable to get pregnant, to see her daughter pregnant. She responded, “No … Do you think that makes you more of a woman than me or something?” Fine, that second part is the question that I put into her mouth, but she didn’t dispute it. So maybe it’s karma that I then gave birth to a child whom nobody believes is genetically related to me!
The only problem that I have with the adoption question, really, is the implication that it would somehow make my son less “mine.” I mean, what the fuck does “mine” even mean? I bet most people don’t even know — it just rolls off the tongue. They’re probably trying to confirm whether he came out of my vagina without using that word.
In any event, I want to raise my kids to respect and appreciate adoption but also understand that it doesn’t have to be this big, heavy thing. It’s incredible, but also not that incredible. Hear me out.
Adoption is incredible because I made my parents parents, and they made me a daughter — an identity that was up in the air while I was in utero. According to the anonymous letter that my biological mother left in my sparse file, her family (my biological grandparents) forbid her from keeping her baby and she too felt that she would not be able to give me the life that I deserved. Whether I deserved it or not, I grew up in an extremely loving, supportive, comfortable, open-minded, financially and emotionally stable home. And a busy home. (Is that a nice way to say shitshow? Of course not, Mom!) I have five multiracial siblings — another incredible gift made possible by adoption.
Adoption is incredible because pregnancy is a 24/7 job for the better part of a year. The disruptions that it brings to our lives, which of course we bitch about at times, are usually fully tempered by the excitement that every passing day in fat, nauseous, bowling ball-pressure hell is one day closer to meeting our child. For my biological mother, every day was closer to the day that she would have to let go of hers. Oh, and did I mention that she was a senior in HIGH SCHOOL (which she reportedly attended the entire time she was pregnant with me).
But there are things about adoption that aren’t that incredible. My siblings are just my siblings. Sure, we don’t look a damn thing alike, but we’re thick as thieves. We sometimes fight like cats and dogs. We love our parents. We also annoy the crap out of our parents, who now have six Millennials/Gen-Zers to make fun of their Boomerism. We have a lot of unique things about us but we’re also as authentic and relatable as many other genetically-related families out there.
Adoption is also not that incredible in terms of how my parents could have welcomed a “stranger’s baby,” as I’ve heard it described — and one of a different race, at that! — into their arms as their own. This hit home once I had my first son. A baby really only wants and needs two things: milk and love. The lactation consultants might tell us otherwise, but Baby doesn’t evaluate where those things are coming from. My mom wrapped me up in the hallway outside of the well-baby nursery in a rural hospital three hours from her home and fed me my bottle of Similac with the same instinctual desires as I did on the delivery table of the L&D ward as my son suckled on my breast with his umbilical cord still attached. My mom and I were both presented with a baby who needed us to love them, and we did.
Adoption got even less incredible to me once I had my second son. In what became an equally surprising genetic twist in light of my first son’s appearance, my second son looks like a carbon copy of ME. Brown skin and eyes. Hair TBD (he’s only nine months old and still mostly bald right now!)
That is neither here nor there. I identify equally with both sons and so does my husband, which is another question I’ve been asked on multiple occasions. Of course there are moments when I evaluate how they do or don’t resemble me, and of course it’s cool when I can see myself in them. I love that part of motherhood. Let’s call it evolution.
But that’s a small fraction of what my kids mean to me. I love my kids because they are tiny humans who love me unconditionally, who adore me (they’re not teenagers yet!), who look to me for safety and nurturing. They are, as a friend once described it, “hearts that live outside my body.” When they laugh, I laugh. (Usually.) When they cry, I cry. (Sometimes.) When they hurt, I hurt. (Always.) Like most parents, I think my kids are cute, especially since they’re at the age when I can still dress and bathe them to my liking. But I am far more concerned with who they are on the inside.
There is no magic formula for a family. The family that my husband and I biologically created is just as authentic and real as the one that I was adopted into. It’s just as real as the one that my sister created with her wife, whose son is her biological child conceived with donor sperm. Whoa! I’d say I bet you didn’t see that one coming, but by this point in the story maybe you’ve abandoned all expectations. Also, fun fact: in another comical twist, my adorable nephew currently has the same bright red hair as my sister-in-law (his non-biological mama).
Families are so interesting. So are genetics. So is fate. All of it can even be funny in certain contexts. But at the end of the day, the biggest takeaway that I want to share with my kids and with everyone is that if you have a child who you love and care for, he or she (or they!) is your child, whatever that even means. Families are families. Love is love.
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