I am not the first or only single non-famous Black woman to adopt in America, and yet it seems that way.
In 2006, I had no clue how hard it would be to wrestle against cultural norms by adopting a baby. Nor did I have guidance on how to handle reactions from Black men who questioned my motives for wanting to mother a boy. I adopted for a multitude of reasons, the least of which included waging a one-woman campaign to inform other Black women about adopting. But, here I am, six years later, responding to emails and returning phone calls from women I do not know. They heard that I adopted and wanted to know who, what, when, where and how much it cost.
Though emotionally prepared to solo parent, I did not foresee coming up short when seeking information about single woman of color that adopt. After all, the Black Venus did it in the 1940s and 1950s. With her self-described “Rainbow Tribe”, Josephine Baker adopted 12 children and Actress Robin Givens adopted her oldest son in the 1990s. My angst about not finding adoptive mothers who look like me seems silly now, given the heavy promotion of OWN’s Raising Whitley, comedienne/actress Kym Whitley’s reality series about her unplanned adoption of a baby boy. And Google results for producer/director/writer extraordinaire Shonda Rhimes, who lovingly adopted two girls, are just clicks away. How I wish their stories were around when the desire to adopt crawled into my shadow.
But in the old days, like 2006, the myth of the Black adoption, where relatives come to stay and never leave, prevailed. Sort of like a Black divorce, a Black adoption skips the legal portion of the process. Parts two and three of said myth are that we adopt nieces, nephews, cousins or long-term foster youth in our care. We do not adopt outside our family. Newsflash to Black people: we do adopt kids we do not know. And when we do, there are few, if any, cameras to witness these random acts of humanity.
Even though I did not see myself in adoption testimonials, memoirs, books or on the cover of People magazine, I didn’t stop looking. I even went to the end of the Internet and read articles about how-to adopt, artificial insemination, egg transplantation and sperm donors targeted at and written for affluent couples, gay and lesbian couples, women with fertility issues, time-clock issues, professional conflicts and single white female starlets.
I fit into none of these boxes and finally drew my own map to adoption.
Under the best circumstances, adoption is as joyous as it is stressful. There are incompetent social workers, less than enthused family members, financial fears and negative articles like “Single Black women choosing to adopt” by John Clark, which allege that single Black women adopt as a substitute for a man. Really. With press like that, no wonder single women of color send up prayers for the motherless, get another degree, buy a home, take extravagant vacations but do not adopt for fear of proving “them” right.
Meanwhile Black children, boys in particular, languish in the system until Academy Award winners Sandra Bullock and Charlize Theron ride in to save the day. While their adoption chronicles receive lots of airtime and gigabytes, “…our journey in motherhood and middle-class angst and bliss [is not] told in cutesy books or on network sitcoms about modern family. The white experience (motherhood or otherwise) is viewed as universal,” writes Kimberly Seals Allers in her New York Times Blog, “Hollywood to Black Mothers: Stay Home”. The absence of our adoption stories remains palpable and does the 510,000 children in foster care a disservice. It also perpetuates negative suppositions that the Black family is a relic of the past, incapable of healing itself from within.
While parenting challenges – potty training, homework, finding affordable daycare – are universal, adoption for single women of color is not. We must overcome our own fears and steady the people around us who call us (to our faces) crazy for adopting a “crack” baby. We must stand our ground with the men in our village who are opposed to our adoption of a man-child, and then not lose sight of our goal of motherhood via adoption. At least that was my experience.
I could be wrong but I doubt that white women, especially celebrities, feel pressured to carry a list of explanations as to why they want to adopt in their purses. As open as this community is to the practice of adoption, the revelation of my son’s domestic adoption casts me as simultaneous outlier and brethren among my Caucasian brothers and sisters. Newsflash to white people: Black people do adopt, but when we do, there are few, if any, cameras to witness these random acts of humanity.
Maybe the core issue isn’t race but class. Whatever it is, single motherhood, not white motherhood or black motherhood, via adoption is a choice made with much soul-searching and deserves recognition in all communities.
For funnsies, I randomly check the shelves at the library and do online reconnaissance for books about Black women who adopt. Occasionally, I hit the jackpot and find a feature in Essence magazine or advertisement in Jet or a parenting blog. Admittedly a smidgen better than the pickings in 2006, this black hole in the parenting sphere reaffirms the obvious: if I want to read about single women of color who experience motherhood through adoption, I’ll have to write a book about it.
Nefertiti Austin is the proud single adoptive mother of a delightful six-year old boy, with plans to adopt another man-child later this year. She is also a published author, currently writing a memoir about adopting as a single woman of color. In February, she began training prospective adoptive parents for the County of Los Angeles and keeps the lights on as an adjunct history instructor at a couple of community colleges in Los Angeles.Nefertiti infrequently blogs at www.mommiejonesing.com.