November is National Adoption Awareness Month: an initiative of the Children’s Bureau with a goal to increase national awareness and bring attention to the need for permanent families for children and youth in the U.S. foster care system.
On any given day, there are over 400,000 children in U.S. foster care. Over 100,000 foster children are eligible for and awaiting to be adopted. The average age of a waiting child is 7.7 years old and 29% of them will spend at least three years in foster care.
To my daughter on the day of your adoption,
I’ve called you by that label, “daughter,” many times. But today is different.
Today there’s no prefix, no subtext, no “sort of but not really” as there have always been before. You’re not my foster daughter, I don’t love you “like you’re my own.” Today you are wholly, completely, for forever my daughter. Nothing is changing, but everything is changing.
I love my life and every single lesson that I’ve learned along the way. I’m grateful. Yet, as an international adoptee, I cannot say that I haven’t experienced moments when I’ve mourned the very fact that I’m adopted. Truth is, sometimes adoption hurts deep. No matter the life chapter an adoptee may be in, the hurt is real. It’s important to express that hurt, to let it out.
This can be difficult when so much about adoption is wrapped in joyful ribbons and bows. I understand this joy, as I honor the beauty of adoption each and every day. In so many ways, adoption has been a great blessing in my life. Yet, as an adoptee and adoptive parent I would be remiss if I dismissed the voices within my adoption community that express feelings of being left, abandoned, erased. I would be remiss if I dismissed the voice within myself, as well.
Let me introduce you to my children: Christian is the eldest, and on the left hand side of this photo; Eviana is in the middle; and Ian is on the right. Eviana and Ian were both delivered into my life via international adoption. Eviana is from Ethiopia. Ian is from Russia.
We are a family representing diverse cultures and colors. I believe it is from this place of diversity where we have birthed a deep and unwavering commitment to inclusion.
I am aware that there are varying opinions in this world about families like mine; opinions that range from support to shock…even outrage. It seems that difference can alarm, agitate, inflame, upset and unhinge some. We fear what we do not understand. Our differences, though, should never divide us. Yet, we know throughout human history that difference has shown the capability to separate. Today, it still possesses the same capacity to tear apart.
Currently, there are over 400,000 kids in the foster care system in the United States. Children and youth enter into the system because they, or their families are in crisis. Often, they have been removed from their parents because they are unsafe, abused, or neglected. These kids are displaced from their homes—and sometimes—even their schools and/or towns. They are often moved from home to home, and live in a state of instability.
I travel often for work. Enough that the whole experience is a fairly routine one for me. Airports, car rentals, hotel rooms, even long security lines and flight delays — I’m fairly numb to it all now. It’s just a means to the end of getting where I need to go. However, a recent trip to Chicago was anything but routine. My oldest daughter came along with me and it changed the entire dynamic.
Imagine being scared everyday of your life as you wonder which one of the kids would get a beating. Would it be me this time? Would I have to hide in my room while dad beats up mom, as I worry whether she would live through this one? Did I clean the house well enough? Was dinner good? Are the kids behaving or would I have to take a beating for one of them? Will mom and/or dad even make it home from the bar tonight?
Difficult to place.
These are the three words that social workers used to describe me while in the care of the United Kingdom’s foster care system. In other words, these three little words equaled one giant judgement about my worth. The social worker assigned to my case believed that finding a family for a child like me would be, yes, difficult.
I was seen as “illegitimate” and “ethnic” within the system. My foster papers described me as the “extra-marital daughter” of a woman who indulged in an affair with a “dark man.” Adding, “The child is dark, like her father.”
“It’s not safe”. I think that is what I would tell you if you were looking to foster or adopt. I’m not sure that this would be a good slogan for an adoption agency, but after walking this path, I’d think a warning is in order.
I would want to tell you that if you choose this path, you will never be the same. You will no longer look at the orphan crisis as a statistic, you will suddenly look at it as a thumb sucking, 1 year old in a diaper and onesie plopped into your lap at 11 pm at night. Eyes wide and filled with fear, you and this tiny ‘orphan crisis’ will face this storm together. Suddenly, it all takes on a name and a dirt-smudged face.