Second Chances

trudycusellaTrudy Cusella – writer and nurse (and Lesa Ferguson’s mother) – writes about her bi-racial adoption experiences first as a teen and later as an adoptive grandparent.

I’m a believer: dreams come true, even very old dreams.

In the mid Fifties, I volunteered at Father Baker’s Home for Unwed Mothers. I worked in the nursery with babies awaiting adoption. The babies were healthy and loved to be held, cuddled and rocked. We fed, burped, changed, swaddled and comforted them. We made up their bassinets and stocked cupboards with supplies. I loved my work. Happy young couples arrived daily to pick up a child, having a choice of gender, eye color, height and weight.

One spring morning, a new baby arrived from the delivery room.

“Mulatto,” Sister Theodora whispered, shaking her head. “No one will want him.”

If babies weren’t chosen, they were sent to an orphanage. Very few, if any, suffered this fate. The “mulatto” – a term that is pejorative now as well as then – baby seemed destined to be orphaned from the beginning. I finished my chores and went to check him out. He had a sturdy little body, big dark eyes, a pouty little mouth, tight, tiny black curls and smooth brown skin.

“Who could not want him?” I thought. I moved my lips over his forehead and into his soft curls. I rocked him long past the time my shift was up. He was like every other baby I had ever held, perfect and wonderful. I increased my volunteer hours so I could spend more time with him. With teen-age fervor, I wished and prayed that I could take him home.

I grew up in a household where I was taught to fear differences. ‘They’re not like us,’ was the message. ‘Stay away. You could get hurt.’ Holding that little baby boy whose only variance was a few shades of skin color, I began to question the family teachings. Reason took hold.

I came into work one autumn afternoon and he was gone. My beautiful boy was sent to an out-of-state orphanage for children with little hope of adoption. I resigned my volunteer job—a little too much reality for this fourteen-year-old. But I never forgot.

I married young and bore two children. My husband and I planned to wait a few years, have one more child and then adopt a baby. In my heart, I knew I would choose a child of mixed race. What I did not know was that in some states, adopting a child of a different race was against the law; and, in those days as well as now, the offspring of a white parent and a black parent is considered black—a few more cultural absurdities to digest. Divorce intervened. I would have no more children.

Flash Forward: Winter 2012.

My daughter, son-in-law and their six year old son have about given up hope in their quest to adopt a baby. It has been almost two years of waiting and wondering. Modern day adoption is an extensive, exhausting and expensive process.

My daughter receives a call. The birth mom of a newborn baby boy has chosen our family. She is Latino and dad is African-American. Within six months, the adoption process is complete and the baby is ours.

I watch my grandson shake a rattle in the direction of his baby brother. The baby kicks his feet, reaches up and giggles. I am transported back to the infant home, colorblind and perplexed. Not a teen-ager anymore, but just as baffled now as then, by ignorance and unwarranted fear.

I look into his joyful brown eyes and wonder, can we do this? He’s not like his brother—blonde, blue-eyed and universally accepted. And yet, he is just like him—glorious, endearing, irresistible and he is my heart.

I wish I had something profound to say about a journey that spanned over fifty years, but all I know for sure is that I’ve been given a second chance. And, my life is a little bigger and a lot brighter because he is in it.

As for the rest, it certainly might not be easy in the world we live in. But I am the grandma and this baby boy made my oldest and most treasured dream come true. Now it’s my turn to help make his dreams come true and to teach him to be a believer too.

Read More the Trans-racial Adoption : Christian’s Story: An Airman’s Experience with Trans-racial Adoption, Cultural Continuity and Competency, Adoption and Black History Month, Trans-racial Adoption Study, Off and Running: Much More than a Bi-Racial Adoption Documentary, Jana Wolf Answers Questions about her book Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother, Part 1 , Jana Wolf Answers Questions about her book Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother, Part 2