Michelle: Was adoption something that was always on your heart, Rachel? Or was there a moment, or experience that you recall that awakened you to this form of family building?
Rachel: I’ve always worked with kids and loved kids. I worked as a nanny, at a day care… I was a writing camp counselor. I babysat friend’s kids, always for fun, never for pay. I just love being around children, so I think I always knew we were going to have children, but I didn’t do a lot of planning on how that was going to happen, just because I was finishing my college degree, and then we got married. I got married when I was twenty one. About four or five years into our marriage, we started thinking about having kids. At that point, the big thing happened. I had been sick for about a year and a half and I went to five different medical professionals and no one could figure out what was wrong with me. I was misdiagnosed with anorexia, and being a hypochondriac, and I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease when I entered into a state called, diabetic ketoacidosis. My body was shutting down. Multiple doctors came into my room and said, “I don’t know how you are alive, this is a miracle.” And I knew in that moment—because I knew that Type 1 could make a pregnancy potentially dangerous—that we would choose adoption. Now, my husband wasn’t on board yet, but I was like, “This is what we are doing.” Adoption is a really difficult decision for a lot of people, it was not for me. I just knew.
Michelle: It is really profound that you listened to that voice within you. Because there can be, and there does reside in the hearts and minds of many out there, who might consider adoption, fear. And your husband coming along board after you is a very real and common thing. Can you speak to how those conversations went? The dialogue between you and your husband because I am sure there are women out there right now who have adoption weighing on their heart, but who feel maybe resistance from their husbands when they want to broach that topic. How did you do that?
Rachel: A couple of weeks after, I told him. I said, “I think we are going to adopt.” We were so into everything medically that was going on, but I think the more he thought about it, the more he understood. My disease has no cure. It is called a disease that can be managed, and I am just trying to manage it day to day. And he realized, my health was more important than his initial dream to have biological children. We did a lot of talking about people that we knew who were adopting and any experiences that we had with adoption. I just waited for him to be ready, but I was fully convinced that this was what we were going to do. It wasn’t a question of “what if”. It was a question of when. However, if you are with a partner, you have to be on the same page because I don’t think it’s fair to the child you are going to adopt, if you are not both ready and committed. And you are never 100% ready to adopt. I feel like, you are never 100% ready to adopt, or just become a parent, in general. But, you need to both be about 95% on board, otherwise it’s not fair to the child. Sometimes, it just takes time, and patience, and prayer, and a whole lot of education.
Michelle: Wow. That’s beautiful and it’s so important that you say that. You are right, you are never 100% ready to be a parent, whether you adopt, give birth biologically, or you are fostering. You are never 100% prepared . I like that percentage of being 95% ready, and there is also never a perfect time to adopt. People will say, “I’m going to wait until my life is more perfect. Or, maybe the house is set up more perfectly.” But there is never really a perfect time, is there? There is, however, a time when you can feel more ready than not.
Rachel: Yeah, absolutely. I tell people, “If you are in the midst of a big change in your life, a big job change, or you are going through a divorce, or a major loss, for example, that would be an ideal time not to adopt. There are ideal times not to adopt, but there are no ideal times to adopt.” Does that make sense?
Michelle: It totally does. And to be honest with yourself and real with yourself. And not to beat yourself up. Have the faith and the trust that things will work out, as they should, in this life. When we can be easy on ourselves and say, “Hey this is a journey. This is a marathon, not a sprint.” And the time will come. And when that time comes, I will be ready. Absolutely….. Rachel, I’d love for you to walk us through each adoption. Because you are the mother of four beautiful children and in my own experience of adopting two kids, I know each adoption is unique. And I think each adoption teaches us some very profound truths about life, about parenting, about family. And about ourselves. And I’d love to hear, from you, your perspective of each of your four adoptions.
Rachel: We’ve been a part of the adoption community for over a decade now. All of our adoptions are domestic, open, infant, transracial. All were adoptions within the United States, the kids were adopted as infants, we have open adoptions, and ongoing relationships with their biological families. All of our children are black and we are white. With our first adoption, I was convinced we would do a semi-open adoption and it would be so easy because we wouldn’t have to wait that long to be chosen, educated, financially stable, comfortable, and it would be wonderful. We waited fourteen months. Our longest adoption wait. And, I assumed we would have a semi-open adoption and that came to a complete halt when we went to court for the termination of parental rights and to gain custody. Our daughter’s birthmother was in the courtroom wings. And I thought, “Okay, there goes the semi-open adoption.” That changed us to be open to each experience rather than thinking things should be a certain way because that would be easier, or more convenient for us as parents who are adopting. And then, our second adoption, we only waited one day to be chosen. Our first day of waiting we were called and told that we had another daughter. With that adoption, again, you can make all the plans in the world that you want, but things will happen as they happen. With our third adoption, we thought we would probably wait a while. And again, we were chosen within a couple of months of waiting. I realized again, you don’t have a lot of control with adoption. Things will happen as they happen and you have to roll with the punches. With our fourth adoption, which has been our most challenging adoption, I think what we learned is that it’s okay to make changes, and be flexible. Adoption and parenting in general, requires us to make tough choices sometimes. I think our first three adoptions were where we got our muscles and our fourth adoption is where we got to show those muscles off. We had arrived as far as education, and experience, and empathy. So each one is really different and has taught us different lessons. I would say it still teaches me lessons, everyday.
Michelle: Oh, absolutely. I learn so much everyday and I am so grateful for the gifts. You are right. Every adoption is different. Every adoption is unique. You’ve got to be fluid. You’ve got to be flexible. You’ve got to be able to respond to your child and to the situation. And be able to stop and really get out of our heads and away from the way that we think the adoption is supposed to go because it will never go that way. Being open and being flexible and being able to respond with love and generosity and being able to understand are beautiful lessons that are born of this adoption experience. Your children are so beautiful and I delight with every post that I see on social media and how you share with us your family and your very real experiences. You know Rachel, raising children is difficult. Raising children of a different race—as you know, I have a beautiful little girl from Ethiopia—it’s a beautiful experience, it’s hard, it’s blissful, it’s messy. But you are such a voice for raising our children empowered and raising our children in truth. Obviously, we have that on our heart, but for you to voice that, in a way that is so real, so pure, and so powerful. Where does that come from?
Rachel: We can read these books, but too many of them, unfortunately, read like text books with small font and large vocabulary words. You know, there is a place for research, but there is also a place for personal stories. I think the realness comes from the fact that when you are a transracial family, like you are and like we are, there is no hiding the fact that your kids were adopted, that your family is transracial. From the get-go, the first time my husband and I were waiting at ICP, we were in Missouri and we were waiting to bring our daughter home and we were at the shopping mall, pushing a stroller around and people were like, “Oh!” And they took a peak in the stroller and they saw this brown baby with a full head of hair and their eyes grow big, like “Oh, this wasn’t the baby I was expecting these two people to have.” So I think your introductions with your transracial family happens very swiftly. You can either run and hide, or embrace it and be honest. I mean there’s really only two choices out there, there is no living in the in-between. You are either embracing it, or you are not. I think that has transferred into how we parent. At the end of the day, when you are parents in a transracial family, you have to talk about race, or you are raising kids who are not confident, and that’s not okay.
Michelle: I love it and you are absolutely right on that. You are spot on. You know, you mentioned your books, Rachel. And, you’ve written several books. Your newest, I have in my hand’s. It’s The Hopeful Mom’s Guide to Adoption: The Wit and Wisdom You Need for the Journey. I love this book! And my question to you is: Why this book, at this time?
Rachel: You know, I wrote this book in the midst of adopting our fourth child. It came out two months after I was diagnosed with breast cancer, it was an insane time for this book to come out, but it also was timely. There’s a lot of books, and I joke about these books like, How to Get a Baby Faster Than You Can Sneeze—there’s a lot of information out there that I feel is not ethical and not really what hopeful parents want to hear. So what I wrote was humorous, mostly making fun of myself. I talk about how to go about the adoption journey in an ethical way, that is authentic and real. I feel like now, more than ever, people just need the real deal. We don’t need more fluff. We really crave that authenticity, so I wrote the book I wish I would have had a decade ago. The book that did not exist. The response that I’ve gotten has been really positive. I just hope that I give women, today, the education, and the information, and the empathy that they need to have a positive adoption journey. No matter what ups and downs they encounter. I feel like having that education is important because it prepares you to be a parent. It then prepares you to offer that empathy and education to the kids that you adopt.
Michelle: When I was growing up, you just didn’t really talk about adoption a lot. You were told, or at least, I was told, “You were chosen. You were wanted. And that’s that. We saved you from a bad situation.” Those types of things were expressed to me when I would reach out and ask. As much as I appreciated that level of dialogue coming back to me, I felt like if something is not said, then there is something wrong with it. Or on the other side, maybe I am not worthy—this experience of being adopted is not worthy of being discussed. And so, it demeans your spirit in some way. Even if that’s not how the conversation is intended, it demeans the spirit. So sharing story, sharing our truth, the ups and downs, the very real journey of adopting and parenting is so critically important. Because people need to know. You know, none of us are perfect in this journey. We are real people who get up every day and our intention is to love these beautiful little human beings. Raise them to be empowered human beings, to be able to stand in their truth in a way that is shining a light. The ability to share story in the way that you do is what I am getting at. Books on adoption used to be as if you were being diagnosed with some malady. They were very clinical. For me as an adoptee, that wasn’t helpful. As a mother, journeying to deliver my children via adoption, what is helpful—in my opinion—is sharing these real, raw, and truthful stories. That’s what your book is packed with: ways to just bring wit and humor to this very real experience! It’s so heartfelt, it is so loving. It’s just like sitting down with your best friend over a warm cup of tea and pouring out your heart, so thank you, Rachel.
Rachel Garlinghouse will soon be featured on The Greater Than Podcast. Stay tuned to hear more about Rachel, and her incredible journey of overcoming breast cancer.
Rachel Garlinghouse is the author of six books, including the newly released The Hopeful Mom’s Guide to Adoption: The Wit and Wisdom You Need for the Journey. Rachel is a mother of four, Christian, cheese-fry and dance-party fan, Black Lives Matter advocate, type 1 diabetic, and breast cancer survivor. Learn more about her family’s adventures and connect at her blog White Sugar, Brown Sugar.