US-based blogger Lakshmi Iyer talks about being an adoptive mother to white twins, alongside her own biological child, and how the family deals with issue of race.
You’re an advocate for open adoptions. What does this mean? Why is it important?
I call myself an advocate for open adoption because I feel that centres the spotlight on the child and leads us to parent in his or her best interest. When families adopt children, we often tend to start the process with what we want. Often that means we put our needs and insecurities first. Open adoption is directly in conflict with the need to be the only parent the child knows. When a family decides to adopt, they need to realise that their child will always have two parents whether the adoption is open or closed. When open, it provides the child with an avenue to embrace all parts of their heritage. To me, it is very important that my children see themselves as having agency in their lives. They had no say in where they were placed. As they grow, it is important for me and for them to realise that they can access as much of their birth family, birth heritage and culture as possible.
How old were the girls when you adopted them?
They were 10 months old.
What prompted the decision to adopt and what was the process like? What went through your mind when you were presented with “white” kids?
Adoption in the US can take one of many paths. International adoption, private domestic adoption or adopting from foster care. At the time my husband and I decided to adopt to build our family, we were permanent residents and to adopt from India (our first preference then), one of us had to be a US citizen. We were unwilling to wait until that happened. So, we turned to adopting domestically and narrowed in on private domestic adoption. As a woman who battled infertility, I knew I would never know the joy of carrying life in me, so I wanted the next possible thing, to care for and nurture a child from birth.
The process itself involves signing up with an adoption agency or an attorney who can facilitate the adoption process. Agencies take care of all the different things a prospective adoptive parent needs to have done. In our case, they had social workers who performed our home study. They also gave us a list of clearances we had to obtain from police and FBI. In addition, they gave us ideas on how to market ourselves to expectant parents. This involved creating what is called an adoption profile. A book that introduces us, our families, our home, our friends and basically everything that will help an expectant parent to make the decision to relinquish their child to us to raise as ours. Once your family is picked by an expectant mother/family, you meet and decide if it works for everyone. Then after the child is born, the birth parents relinquish rights and the adoptive parents go through the process of finalisation to legally adopt the child as their own. Typically, it can take a waiting couple anywhere from 6 months to 2 years to be matched.
Our decision to adopt came at a point when medical intervention did not work in building a family. Adoption seemed like a natural step for us as we were sure we wanted to be parents. The first thing when I heard that the children we were presented with were white was fear that it would not work well. I worried that the different skin colour would make it difficult for us to present as a family. My husband and I slept over it and woke up knowing everything would be okay.
In hindsight, knowing what we do know now, I would definitely go the foster care route and be open to all races right from the get go.
When you had your biological child, how was the experience different? Was the bonding immediate as compared to your older daughters or is it all the same?
With my child by birth, the first year was just the same. I bonded with my twins pretty quickly too. The differences I am noticing now are that with my child by birth, I feel like I can read her moods/emotions very well. There seems to be some sort of a mind-speak. With my twins, I have to listen to hear if you know what I mean.
Other than that, any differences have to do with the age gap between the kids. Parenting older children is so different from parenting a baby.
You’ve written on your blog about your biological and adopted children and the questions they ask related to race and identity. Are there any that have stuck with you?
When my twins were younger, skin colour used to come up in conversation a lot. Over time, this has become our normal, so it does not come up as much as it used to. For now, the big questions have to do with their birth heritage. We did DNA tests to find out where their ancestors came from and so conversations revolve around that.
Unrelated to race and identity, the other thing that is hot in our home right now is vegetarianism. We are vegetarian and our children talk a lot about why we do not eat meat. Some days, I tell them they can try it when we eat out one of these days. Other days, I tell them I don’t eat meat because I was raised that way and now that I am a grown up, I do not like the idea of eating animals. I don’t get into morals and ethics. Just simply state how I feel, always reassuring them that as they grow, they can figure out what works best for them.
Your article on how people ask whether you’re the twins’ nanny went viral. What are people’s reactions when you visit
We visit India about once a year. The issues we face in India have to do with white privilege. When we take our children to stores and general street shopping, most people we see are awed by them. Some people want to touch their hair or skin. Some take pictures without permission. Overall though, we have been welcome wherever we have gone. People are also very blunt about asking personal questions. I politely decline to answer and if they are persistent, I walk away. With acquaintances, if I gauge the intent to be non-malicious, I will indulge and answer questions.
Raising a multi-racial family must be challenging as well as wonderful. What are some of your learnings?
Most of my learnings have had to do with understanding how much implicit bias I carry within myself. I have been teaching myself patience and the ability to roll with the punches. Parenting in itself is hard but when you throw in other factors like race, different cultures and raising third culture kids, it becomes even more of an exercise in awareness. Most of all, I have learned that children learn from what you do, not what you say.
Could you tell us five things never to ask an adoptive parent?
That is easy!
- Never ever, ever refer to adoption flippantly as in “You cook so well, can you adopt me?”
- Never ever, ever refer to adoption as a way to be dismissive as in “You are so weird, you must be adopted”.
- Adoption jokes are always a no no.
- Do not ask “What are they?” referring to their birth heritage or colour.
- Do NOT ever ask “How much did you pay?” or “What was the cost of your adoption?”
(Lakshmi Iyer tweets at @lakshgiri)