Do you see what I see?

Several months ago, my local adoption group hosted musician and adoptee Zara Phillips, who shared her adoption story and performed several songs from her album — quite an interesting evening as I detailed here. This month’s meeting featured as speaker Margaret L. Schwartz, a single adoptive mom from the Washington, D.C., area whose children were born in the Ukraine.

Since Thomas and I are always interested in hearing other folks’ journeys in adoption and believe there’s always something to learn from someone else, we were sure to be there.  With our adoption being domestic, I did expect differences in our stories and experiences. What I didn’t expect was learning a lesson about myself.

She’s written a book, The Pumpkin Patch: A Single Woman’s International Adoption Journey, and for this meeting in the building’s cozy library, she sat among the attendees, comfortable in our wing chairs and loveseats, and shared her story.

I sat, pen and paper in hand (perhaps it’s the journalist in me, sitting in a newsroom five days a week has its influence, after all) ready to travel alongside her in the journey to Ukraine and parenthood. Within moments, though, my heart skipped and sputtered, and I gently put my pen down. I found myself disappointed and thinking, I would have little to learn here, thankyouverymuch.

What on earth had she said that had me so bothered? That she had selected the Ukraine because she wanted her children to look as much like her as possible.

Ack.

Anyone who knows me could imagine my grimacing at such a statement. Even as a very young adult, when I thought about adoption and how it seemed natural it would fit into my life one day, I imagined traveling to a world far from mine, welcoming into my family a child that needed a loving home. And, looking back now at those daydreams, I realize that child never looked at all like me. Their skin was darker, their hair was textured in ways I’d never known. This is what felt right to me. I don’t know the impetus for such imaginations about how I imagined adoption in my life, but this is the truth of it.

In researching adoption and selecting our agency, Thomas and I never discussed the need for a child to resemble us. It just wasn’t even a blip on our radar. In fact, my husband, who was adopted into an all-white family, is bi-racial (or is thought to be based on the little known about his birthparents) and nothing ever seemed to matter of it to anyone. He’s lucky that way, we’ve since learned in our years together.

Turns out, we also would adopt a child that is bi-racial. I know, as I write this, what someone might glean from that: Since he’s bi-racial, we chose similarly so our future child would resemble him. That actually couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, it’s even funny because, although they both have curly hair and skin tones shades darker than mine (not so hard to do, by the way) that’s about where the resemblance between Thomas and Maeve stops. His hair is much, much darker, hers is lighter. His curls are loose, hers are tight spirals. Her eyes are big and round and brown and his are green and, because of the uniqueness of their shape, many people ask him if he is part Pacific-Islander. The differences go on.

After knowing Thomas, whose adoption was domestic and closed, we agreed open adoption was best for us, which put us squarely at a domestic adoption. We came to selecting a “non-white program,” if you will, because our research led us to the understanding that many more prospective parents were seeking caucasian children rather than those with bi-racial or full African-American backgrounds. We felt children in the caucasian programs would then certainly have homes and families and, since skin color meant so very little to us, we selected a program that offered various ethnicities. After all, for us, people looking similar does not necessarily a family make.

As I listened to Schwartz, I found myself running a dialogue in my mind that began with, “What! Did she just say she needed her children to look like her and that she specifically sought out a country that could provide that?” She detailed her fears and concerns in adoption and the need to adopt within what she called her comfort zone. This included declining the first child she met.

Before the night’s end, I began to realize that as fervently as I share among the inquisitive people I encounter that open adoption works for me and for my family, her message is as valid to her. Although our viewpoints differ, I needed to be as open to hearing this adoptive mother’s story as I’d hope she’d be to hearing mine. Open. Receptive. Respectful.

After all, her wanting to adopt a child similar to her did not invalidate my own family and its multi-hues.

The lesson I’m making (and taking) from my evening with Schwartz is one of tolerance, patience and understanding in the complex world of adoption — actually, in this complex world, period. Lessons I plan to teach my daughter. After all, part of growing in life is being open to others’ viewpoints, perspectives and experiences — especially when they differ from our own. Not only do we learn about each other, we learn about ourselves. A simple lesson, really, but one I needed reminding of.

So, duly noted.

(And next month’s meeting topic: A reunited birthmother from San Diego will address our NJ group on “Why Can’t My Son’s Two Mothers Share Him Now?” As an adoptive mom touched by both open and closed adoptions, this promises to be fascinating!)

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4 Comments

Filed under Adoption, Birth parents, Children, Family, Husbands, Love, Maeve, Open Adoption, Parenting, Someone else said, Still learning

4 responses to “Do you see what I see?

  1. I see your point in respecting others’ stories and lives. I do. But I also get disheartened. I just can’t comprehend turning down a child because he/she didn’t look enough like you/your husband/etc. Like you said, I do respect how others form their families but, that doesn’t mean my heart doesn’t break for those children who were turned down because their hair didn’t have the right shade. (I mean, sheesh, my hair was straight up BLONDE when I was wee little. Look at it now! Almost black! PFFT! Joke’s on anyone who thought I might look like them! hehe)

  2. Absolutely, Jenna. That’s why this was so hard. I wanted to ask her things, tell her things, be pointed on various things. I should clarify, and didn’t mean to imply otherwise, she had concerns when she saw the first child that she might be affected by fetal alcohol syndrome — so her hesitation wasn’t purely about matching physical attributes there. Although, I must say I’m not sure I could turn away any child in front of me. She said she learned later that two other families during that same period turned down this child. Can’t help but wonder how and where that little one is now….

    Obviously it’s hard for me to get into the matchy-matchy mindset. Ha! look at the gorgeous photos of you and Munchkin during this latest visit. Come on! The beauty in both of you is sooo absolutely delish..

    (And at my most snarkiest of moments, I’ve said that Maeve not having all my genetics isn’t such a bad thing. The girl is gorgeous! Despite my obvious bias as her mother.) 🙂

  3. Diane Conroy

    Ladies, I must add my .02 here. I know what Margaret said sounds harsh and hard to digest by some, but she failed to mention during her talk that, in fact, her one son looks nothing like her. Her original reason for going to Ukraine was a child that looked like her, but that is not how the story ended. Also, I have adopted from Ukraine as well and as hard as it is for you to believe that anyone can turn down a child, the reality is somewhat similar to that of a birthmother. When faced with a child with disabilities it is the adoptive parent’s decision as to whether they can handle the child’s disabilities. Just as a birthmother offers a child for adoption because she cannot provide the life the child needs or deserves; an adoptive parent has to be honest enough to realize that they cannot handle certain disabilities. It’s a very emotional experience and as Gretchen has said that she had to be honest with herself to explain to all that she was choosing open adoption, Margaret also was honest with herself in the hope of getting a child that looked like her. For the record, she has one son with blonde hair and blue eyes, fair skinned like Margaret. Her other son is thick black curly hair and olive skin with big dark brown eyes, so the initial reason she went to Ukraine was not the ultimate reason that she chose Rupert and Nicki.

  4. Diane, thanks for your .02 — especially because you’re so familiar with Ms. Schwartz and her story. I’m not sure that in my post I brought myself back to my ultimate message and what I learned that evening, but you’ve just done that for me. Yes, those things were hard to hear initially — but I came to realize, even as she was speaking that night, that as comfortable as I am with my choices — she must be too. A lesson I needed to be reminded of.

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