Her name was Marina. She was one of the sweetest, prettiest, shyest little girls I had ever met. She was almost seven when she handed me a beautifully completed sheet from a coloring book that I had torn apart and handed out to a group of orphans. Marina asked me to keep the picture for my daughter-to-be, so that she would remember her forever.
The lump in my throat didn’t allow me to speak, but I nodded as I took the picture. Then I hugged her and as she embraced me back, I laid my head against her warm, dark hair. I don’t know if she felt the tears that touched her head. I couldn’t help it. I didn’t think that anybody would ever come for Marina.
That’s because Marina had the wrong color of skin and her facial features didn’t fall into a narrow category that helped children to leave Russian orphanages during that time. I knew that fact because I was in Russia to adopt children who looked like me, as were other parents there at that time, almost without exception.
There are some very outspoken adoptees in the adoption community whom I respect, and with whom I agree and disagree depending on the issue. Some of them applaud the decision I made to not adopt interracially. In fact, some of them were adopted interracially and they have firsthand experience with that mode of adoption and their reasons for protesting it. However, most of the negative aspects of interracial adoption that I have seen can at least be reduced and often minimized. This can happen if parents go into the situation open minded, educated, and willing to put in the extra work it takes to help a child with very real feelings associated with very real challenges that accompany interracial adoption.
Every adoption is a special needs adoption
We must keep in mind that adoptions are necessary because of tragedies. Anyone who thinks that it is beautiful when a first-mother can’t (or won’t) retain and care for her offspring is naïve, at best. With events that make adoption necessary, there is always trauma and it is the job of any parents who remain involved, and primarily adoptive parents, to help the adopted person to learn to cope with the tragedy. Heather Kelly, a friend of mine who has also adopted, once said something that has stuck with me ever since. She said, “I think every adoption is a special needs adoption.” How true that is.
When we have children biologically, we should be making a commitment to help that child for the rest of their lives, even if it is more difficult than we anticipated it would be. Adoption should be no different. Of course there are challenges that are often associated with adoption that we can and should understand before initiating that type of family building. Then we should continue to research and seek understanding as our children age and progress.
If you are thinking about what kind of adoption will be easiest
for a child, give it up. Adoption is never easy for a child.
If I had adopted Marina, it would not have made her Caucasian. Pretending that she was Caucasian would have only complicated her own struggles and feelings of not fitting in. But had we adopted her and done all that we could to understand her Asian heritage, embraced the culture of her biological ancestors, and done everything that we could to graft that culture into our own family—just like we graft adopted children in—Marina would have been just fine. Of course there would have been struggles for her, and as her parents, those would have been our struggles too.
As my wife and I completed the adoption of our youngest children, we learned that our daughters had older biological sisters in other orphanages. The dreams I had fostered of returning for Marina were dashed under the obligation I felt to find and adopt those older sisters, which took another year and a half to accomplish.
Thank God that a wonderful Russian couple adopted Marina during that time. I have met them and her on several occasions since her adoption and I can’t tell you how my heart soars when I think about a mother who traded in her dream of adopting a baby, for the chance to parent a wonderful older child who looked nothing like her.
If you are thinking about what kind of adoption will be easiest for a child, give it up. Adoption is never easy for a child. Decide that you will do whatever it takes to help a child with any issues they come with her, or that develop over time. Don’t let a history of abuse get in the way. Don’t let differences in race stop you. Be like Marina’s mother. Don’t be as wrong as I was when I began the adoption process.