Stephanie Dahl is a National Board Certified teacher with a Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education and a Bachelors Degree in Psychology. After trying to conceive for many years, she stopped pursuing a biological child and focused on adoption. One month after the birth of their adopted daughter, she and her husband received the joyful news they were expecting. Currently a Stay-at-Home-Mom who plans to return to teaching when Sophia and Brianna are in preschool, Stephanie has recently rediscovered writing as a way of understanding her experience and improving as a mother. You can read more at her blog A lovely problem to have.
As the mother of a transracially adopted child (my daughter is of Ethiopian descent and my husband and I have Scandinavian roots), I often find myself in situations requiring special care and consideration.
Some of these situations I feel prepared for, such as when over-friendly strangers make inquiries or judgments about our daughter’s birth parents. Other times, however, the situations take me by surprise and I feel less prepared. Usually the surprise situations involve forms of racism. As a highly visible family, we have had several negative experiences. However, racism doesn’t always come in negative form. It can also come in the form of gifts and praise.
Once, a family friend asked my daughter, “Are you gonna be a basketball player, Sophia?” (I’d like to think he asked that because she is tall for her age and not because he sees limited opportunities for success because of her brown skin.) And a family member once insisted that Sophia loves music and dance because “it is in her DNA.” (It couldn’t be because we love music at our home and I have danced with her since she was a newborn.)
Another time, a couple gave Sophia the gift of a baby doll. A white baby doll with big blue eyes and blonde hair. Little circles of pink warmed up the plastic, peachy skin. I didn’t quite know what to say. I had anticipated seeing a doll with a deeper skin tone. I thought of saying something like, “Thank you, but didn’t the store have any black dolls?” or gently suggesting through my daughter, “Let’s get a sister for your baby doll, Sophia. One with beautiful brown skin like you.”
I often have mixed feelings about that gift. For example, I envision her doll collection containing babies and children with many different skin tones, and a peach-skinned doll does fit into that vision. But the gift of that doll also flurries me with unanswered questions:
- What were our friends were thinking?
- Or were they simply not thinking?
- Have they become so accustomed to wearing their white skin that they would never think to purchase a doll of a different color?
- Did they not consider that Sophia might want a doll that looks similar to her own baby pictures?
- In choosing a doll with white skin were they subconsciously disregarding her brown skin, valuing white over brown as happens again and again in our culture?
As Sophia’s parent, it is my job to ensure her dolls (and books, cultural experiences, musical repertoire, and cuisine) are reflective and inclusive of her African heritage. It is not, after all, the responsibility of our friends.
That said, I now ask questions I never would have asked before, I've become sensitive to issues of race and culture, and I think about how my daughters, and we as people, connect to, or feel separate from, the world around us.
Stephanie has always loved to write, but probably never imagined that adopting a baby, and nine months later birthing one, would give her so much that is rich, that is uniquely hers, to write about.
Have any of us, like Stephanie, found ourselves in a completely unexpected place, making unimagined discoveries? How have these places furthered our dream? Or led us to dare to dream?
If dolls are a “mini-me”, or a projection of who we can be, and dolls don't accurately represent who we are, is it possible that our dreams become fundamentally flawed because we somehow don't build off our our innate strengths?
After reading Stephanie's post, you may want to re-read Michele Pierce's post A Mother's Thoughts on Adoption.
P.S. Thank you to Melissa Stanton for introducing me to Stephanie, describing her “tale as a lovely story about adoption, infertility, family and race.”