Joel Keller’s Honest Adoption Blog for the New York Times

This powerful piece by an adoptive father discusses the multiple concerns he has for his new daughter.
The piece is entitled, “Love, Panic, Adoption and Jerk-Chicken Knishes.” It’s dated 2/17/15 and it appeared as a part of a New York Times parenting blog called “Motherload: Living the Family Dynamic.” You can read the piece in it’s entirety below, or you can access it directly via this link: Love, Panic, Adoption and Jerk-Chicken Knishes

“When Evy’s apnea monitor went off, the piercing beep told me that this alert wasn’t like the rest. Even a room away, the shorter beeps told me that, instead of one of the leads coming loose, something was wrong.

‘Joel, come over here,’ my wife, Rachel, said in a slight panic. Her low heart-rate alert was going off, and, even though she wasn’t pale or her lips weren’t blue, Evy had a faraway look on her face as saliva bubbles kept cascading out of her mouth. I grabbed her, put her on my shoulder and rubbed her back, but the bubbles kept coming.

They finally calmed down, but it was one of the scariest moments we’ve had with her since she came home from neonatal care. We put in a call to her pediatrician, and she confirmed that Evy had acid reflux, something that most preemies get as they grow and eat more. An evening trip to the pharmacy for some baby-strength Zantac was all that was needed.

When the saliva was foaming out of Evy’s mouth, there was no doubt that I felt like her father in that moment. She was in distress, I was concerned on the borderline of panic, and I went into protect mode. So did Rachel. And, according to her doctor, it turns out that most of the instincts we had to relieve her distress were right on the money.

It was good to know that our parental instincts come out when things go sideways, especially, like most new parents, there are other times when it just seems as if we have no idea what we’re doing: When one of us forgets to hold the back of her neck and we get the dreaded “head bobble,” for instance. When those moments happen, or she is on my shoulder completely relaxed, or when I’m giving her chubby cheeks a tiny pinch, or when I look at one of the 2,000 pictures I’ve taken of her since we met her, I feel like she’s my daughter.

That feeling isn’t as strong, though, when I look at pictures of the three of us together. There aren’t many; one of us is usually holding her while the other has his or her phone in hand to take pictures. Most of the ones depicting our new little family are in the neonatal intensive-care unit (NICU), with us in gowns and masks, and Rachel holding a tiny and sleeping Evy. It looks as if we’re in the hospital to visit a friend’s preemie, not holding our own daughter.

I’m sure that feeling will pass, but I don’t think the degree of difficulty we gave ourselves with this adoption really hit me until I got a look at those pictures. Not only are we adopting a child, but we are also adopting a tiny preemie whose development won’t go along the same timeline as most children’s will, no matter how healthy she is.

But what really is starting to throw me for a loop is how to resolve the fact that Evy is being brought into a family that is decidedly different from that of her birth mother. As far as we know, Evy is either fully Jamaican or half-Jamaican (her birth mother was born in Jamaica) and half African-American. And, as much as we’re going to try to keep the connections to her heritage strong, there’s no avoiding the fact that she will be growing up in a decidedly Jewish family.

While Rachel and I are both what Jon Stewart would call “culturally Jewish,” many of the hallmarks of a New York-area Jewish existence are there: loud, chatty families; annual Passover seders that devolve into bored child and distracted parent chaos; a love of food and gossip. I’m already making jokes that Evy will really enjoy the jerk-chicken knishes we’ll be making for her.

But jokes aside, there is no denying that I worry about how disconnected Evy is going to feel as she gets older and tries to figure out what her identity is. I hope most of the stares Evy gets as we go through the world with her are because she is an adorable child, but I know that many of them will be because she is a dark-skinned child with whiter-than-white parents. I pray that she takes this jumbled upbringing as the fun blessing we hope it’s going to be rather than something that makes her confused and depressed. And I really hope that Rachel and I can handle whatever issues come our way when it comes to keeping her head on straight.

For some reason, the full impact of adopting a baby of a different race didn’t really occur to me while we were in the waiting stages. Rachel tried to tell me that we would have to be ready to address some serious issues as we raised our child, but all I could think of at the time was, “Who cares what race the baby was if all she needs is love?” But all of this is hitting me up side the head now that Evy is home.

But when bubbles come out of her mouth and her monitor is beeping like crazy, all I know is that I’m Evy’s dad. Thank goodness that feeling kicks in when it matters most.”