Lucky Baby

Adoption STAR client Lesa Ferguson shares a thought-provoking blog post about her experiences as an adoptive mother. Read more of Lesa’s blog posts at her website:

adoptiondayA common response from people when they meet a family who has recently adopted is to coo, “What a lucky baby”.

At first when I heard this, I smiled, nodded and received the comment as it was intended – an expression of approval. But, after hearing this familiar refrain a few too many times, I reached out to other adoptive families to see if they had found it as grating as I did.

The overwhelming answer was “yes”. The phrase “lucky baby” has become so pervasive, it feels scripted.

As a waitress of 20 years, I learned that given the same props and situation, most people will follow a script. For instance, if you string a crab bib around a customer’s neck, someone at the table will joke about haircuts, “Just an inch off the top”. Everyone at the table considers the joke original and laughs. Everyone, except the waiter.

Much like the crab bib, when people see an adoptee with his adoptive family, we as a culture, particularly the white culture, have passed along this narrative: adoption was good luck for this child. If the child is not white and the adoptive parents are, the word “luck” gets extra emphasis.

After hearing “lucky baby” repeated again and again, I began to feel more protective of my son, Cal. How is it lucky to be born in precarious circumstances? Would any of us willingly pass on our biological parents and have new ones chosen for us? How many people, no matter ill prepared our parents were, want them to be taken from our lives? There is a tendency in the adoption community to speak of God’s Will and destiny and fate. But, that’s speculation and easily could be nothing more than wishful thinking. In reality, prospective adoptive parents are in contention because we have enough money to pay agency and legal fees; we make it through a home study; we aren’t known child molesters or abusers’ and we know how to fill out reams of paperwork. Are these the qualities anyone would list top reasons they feel lucky to their adoptive parents. Does anyone look into their mother’s eyes and say, “I love you because you know how to fill out a 1-C form?”

In best case scenarios as is the practice at Adoption STAR, birth mothers are asked to select adoptive parents. Often there are secure connections established between first families and adoptive families, but oftentimes even with the best intentions, open adoptions are not possible. In our case, more connections are forged as we go along. But, I doubt any of it adds up to luck.

And why the emphasis on luck when the transracial factor is present? Because we’re white? Can we save him from discrimination or somehow shroud him in our white privilege?

Will Cal’s supposed good luck in getting us as parents disappear when he walks into a world without us? Will he be mistreated by white people? Will the sharp edge of racism cut him more deeply because doesn’t know how to parry and defend? When he looks to his own ethnic community for support, will there be people of color he can rely on? Will he know how to navigate the black culture if we keep him shunted away from it? Will he feel comfortable and confident in his own skin?

Luck is a fickle business. My intention is to eliminate luck as much as possible from the equation.

Our job as white adoptive parents is to keep connected to his original family (when that is possible) and his greater ethnic community. This is not just for Cal’s benefit, but I count it as part of the joy of parenting – expanding and challenging my understanding as well as reaching out to various communities. I look forward to experiencing worship in various churches, to attending ethnic festivals throughout the city, to reaching out to people who may turn out to be good friends.

As I stand at the beginning of Cal’s life, I envision the end. I imagine him at 90+ years old. I hope that when he looks back at his life, he has many lively stories to tell. In my mind’s eye, I see his curls smoked with grey; his voice deep, resonate but cracking with age; and he is just as brightly expressive as he is today. He rummages through his memories to share those moments of spirited family gatherings, great loves, and his successes at enterprise and adventure. And, after he finishes imparting all that to his great grandchildren, he will say, “I have known much good fortune, but luck had very little to do with it.”