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How to Talk About Racism, Adoption and Parenting a Black Boy in America with Nefertiti Austin

Nefertiti Austin – Each year, thousands of Americans choose to go through the adoption process to build their families. Those who know me, know that my 2 children were both adopted by my husband and myself and also happen to be full blood siblings. Just a little bit over 12 years ago, we began the adoption process and went through the many feelings that come with adoption, and for us, an open adoption, with our children’s birth family. We did it again just 16 months after my daughter was born with my son. Every adoption is deeply personal and different depending on who is involved and the decisions that the many people involve make or has to make in order to ensure that the process ends with a well-cared for, loved child. It’s not a cookie-cutter process. Adoption is just a piece of what we are going to discuss today- because there is a very important layer of discussion that my next guest brings to light as well and that is, race and gender as it relates to fostering, adopting and parenting in America. She puts high beams on the question; “what are the challenges that single black women must face when fostering, adopting and parenting in America? And a secondary question that we will also explore which is, how can we raise black boys in America understanding the racism and stereotypes that seem to be weaved into the fabric of American culture?

We remember the past stories of young black boys senselessly killed such as Trayvon Martin—but then hear recent accounts of young black men killed because they were jogging in a white neighborhood or a woman calling the cops on a black man watching birds in Central Park because he requested that she leash her dog. How does a mother parent a black boy in an America that assumes that black boys are doing the wrong thing even when they are doing the right thing? Or, where my next guest writes, “where a hoodie plus a black male is synonymous with danger?” This is an important topic for everyone. If changes are going to be made when it comes to racism, the foster-care system, hyper-masculinity, sexism and how black boys are raised and regarded in today’s culture, we have got to talk about it and set some intentions to make the changes in our ow lives- in the way we raise our children and the way we see other children in America. For this, I am excited to have a conversation with Nefertiti Austin.

How to Talk to Kids about Adoption with Carrie Goldman

Special Guest: Carrie Goldman
Carrie Goldman has written for everything from The New York Times, CNN, Psychology Today, Huffington Post, and more. She has made appearances on NPR, BBC, MSNBC, CNN, along with countless other media outlets. Carrie writes one of the nation’s premier adoption blogs, Portrait of an Adoption, which has followers in more than 45 countries. Her acclaimed children’s chapter book, Jazzy’s Quest: Adopted and Amazing, came out in June of 2015, and the sequel, Jazzy’s Quest: What Matters Most, came out in November of 2016. In addition to her adoption expertise, she is also the award-winning author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear (Harper Collins) which we discussed in a previous podcast episode. Bullied has received a National Parenting Publication Award and a Mom’s Choice Award, both at the gold medal level, for excellence in educational skills and tools. You can find more out about our fabulous guest, Carrie Goldman at CarrieGoldmanAuthor.com

Pregnancy By Proxy: The Out Of Body Experience of Open Adoption

In honor of our daughter’s 4th birthday, I am republishing some of my adoption articles. This is the third article in the series. Happy Birthday to our sweet baby girl.

wey_77b_mommykiss-225x300Believe me.  This was not what I had envisioned when I thought about pregnancy for myself.  I was more of a traditional gal—thinking that the whole baby- boarding process would actually be taking place in my own body. You know—baby bump, bloated feet, morning sickness–the whole enchilada. I certainly hadn’t considered the possibility of pregnancy being an out-of-body experience.

But when we decided on adoption, and ultimately, open adoption, that’s what it became. I can say now that I couldn’t be more grateful.  It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. But at the start, I thought I might just throw up my lunch.

Look; the 1st trimester is never a sure thing. It’s unpredictable, tenuous, and scary.  I should know; I had lost 4 pregnancies during those 1st 12 weeks.  And yet, here I was willingly and excitedly matched with a birth mother whose baby—no, fetus—was only the size of a pin head and looked more like a baby seahorse than anything human.

What was I doing to myself?  How would I survive the next 35 weeks just watching and hearing updates from the sidelines? The last time I checked, pregnancy was notsupposed to be a spectator sport. I often wondered how I would get through it all considering I was no longer in charge.

I tried to remain “stress-free.”  I did yoga. Took hot showers.  Went to bed early.  But my mind stayed up like a hyped-up teenager on a case of RedBull. Is she eating right? Drinking? Smoking? Resting? I hope nobody is stressing her out at work.  I’ll kill ‘em.

OK. So maybe “stress-free” wasn’t going to happen. I’d settle for not going nuts.

The one saving grace was that our birth parents, C and M (not providing full names because I want to be sensitive to their privacy), were totally relaxed and completely willing to share the process with us.  In fact, C would give me the play by play.  And what could have been unpleasant and anxiety-provoking, became, well, fun!

“You’re baby has elbows!” she wrote to me in an email. I loved that she said “your baby” – It reassured me that this was actually happening. This baby would become my child.

And I loved that she kept track of what was happening inside her body.  I savored every nugget of information—no matter how small—because it somehow connected me to this life that was soon to intertwine with mine.  C even sent me a phone video showing a remote control dancing along her belly just so I could experience what it was like to see my baby kick. She didn’t have to do it. But she did.

C invited me to become her partner in this process.  We came to care about each other.  We checked in with one another.  How was she feeling?  How was I? What were our thoughts, concerns, hopes and dreams for this child? What questions did we have for the doctor? Amazingly, and with great sensitivity, she allowed the pregnancy to become “ours” rather than just “hers.”

Of course that meant that we got all the stressful news as well.  Yippee.  There was the bleeding episode in the 10th week when we all put our feet up in sympathy and prayed for a summertime miracle. And then there was “the flu that stole Christmas” when M called us from the hospital to tell us that C had thrown up 17 times and she was now on an IV drip. Happy Holidays.

But the good always outweighed the scary.  And while my body wasn’t growing and changing, C allowed us to experience the pregnancy through her.  She invited us into her private world.

So we were there—flanked at C’s head and feet— when Tallie made her first on-screen 3D cameo.  It was week 18 and the four of us found out that we were having a little girl.  I couldn’t help it.  I kissed C right on the head. And when we couldn’t be there, since we were in Massachusetts and they were in Oklahoma, C played a CD of our voices to her belly every night and morning. “She loves when you sing to her,” she would write.  “You’re going to be the best Mom.” My heart was full. She had no idea how much that meant to me.

She even let me feed her. Does that sound strange? I don’t mean that I carted C around on a satin chaise and fed her grapes.  No.  She allowed me to send her big vats of food.  Being raised by a Jewish woman, I guess you can say I am programmed to make feasts.  It’s in our blood.  So C indulged me when I sent containers of turkey chili, roast turkey dinners and of course, chicken soup, to her home.

Being a girl who didn’t cook and who lost her mother at the tender age of 13, C didn’t know much about home-cooked meals.  So she gobbled up what I sent her, replete with yummy noises to boot, and thanked me profusely.  She told me how grateful she was. But she was the true hero.  By allowing me to nourish her she was also allowing me to nourish my future child as well. Not everyone would get that. But she did.

And when it came time to discuss the birth plan, it was decided unanimously that we would all be in the room.  She insisted on it.  And Jason was to cut the cord.  “He’s the Daddy, after all,” she said. “Besides, M would faint like a little girl if he had to do it.”

So on the day of our daughter’s birth, we all stood united in the delivery room.  And at 10:19am, we all cheered and teared up when Tallie took her first breath.

I was the first to hold this beautiful baby girl—a momentous occasion indeed.  But perhaps one of the most memorable moments came after all the doctors were gone. It was the moment that we got to introduce our baby girl to her birth mother—the one who had cared for her over the past 9 months—the one who had loved her enough to place her in our arms—and the one who made this out-of-body pregnancy one of the most precious experiences of our lives. One might think this moment would be scary. It wasn’t.  It was…beautiful. It was the moment that we became a family.  All 5 of us.

Dr. Robyn Silverman is a Child & Teen Development Specialist, Professional Speaker and parenting expert often seen in national press such as on The Today Show, Good Morning America & Anderson Live.  Her adoption series won a silver award from Parenting Publications of America. She is so grateful to have been able to build her family through the amazing process of open adoption.

The Infertility Club: Shifting My Goal from Pregnancy to Adoption

In honor of my daughter’s 4th birthday, I’m republishing my adoption series.

robyn_tallie-292x300As you can probably imagine, I felt like the shoemaker’s daughter. I didn’t just work with children and families, I provided parenting tips and tactics to moms and dads around the world…all the while housing a secret that taunted and tortured me every day. I couldn’t get pregnant. Well, that’s not exactly true. I was pretty good at getting pregnant. I just couldn’t seem to stay that way.

After repeatedly bashing myself and feeling every emotion from maudlin inadequacy to stark raving anger, I decided to donate my body to science. Yes, I became a card carrying member of the ever-popular but rarely discussed “infertility club” which allows millions of women to play the role of “the willing pin cushion” in the quest to become a parent. Not that I wasn’t grateful for the possibility—it’s just challenging to keep up your enthusiasm when your hormones are fluctuating between those of a moody adolescent to those of an over-heated menopausal woman. And this was normal. Or so they said.

When you join the “infertility club” you start out thinking that there are certain thingsyou’ll have to do and certain things you’ll never do in order to get pregnant. Well, at least I did. I found myself making concessions and deals–“I’ll take the pills but I won’t do the injections” – “I’ll do the injections but I won’t do IVF.” But years get long and time gets short and well, desperation sets in. “I’ll never do injections” turns into “just make it quick” as you hand your husband a 2-inch needle, turn around and close your eyes. You’ll do anything. You don’t know if it’ll work but you’re willing to try. You have to have a baby. NOW.

Each time you think “could this be it?” And sometimes it works. And it’s a miracle. It’s exactly as it was intended to be. But other times, as in our case, it wasn’t that simple. The drugs did their job but my body played hooky. Each of my four pregnancies ended in miscarriage.

As a woman, this was unacceptable. I had the will. I had the heart. I had the parts! After years of trying not to get pregnant, this was supposed to be MY time. I was ready…and waiting.

Of course they told me that it wasn’t my fault— but you can’t help blaming yourself. I went over every place I had been, every food I ate, and everything I did over the previous weeks. Was it the sushi I ate before I knew? The 5 pound bag of potatoes I lifted at the market? The plane ride I took to my cousin’s wedding? Your head tells you “no” but your heart demands an explanation.

And with the blame game came the ridiculous claims and promises—”Next time, I’ll keep my feet up in the air. I’ll stay on my back. I’ll barely move until it’s time to push.”

I felt so alone. Pregnant women were everywhere. And babies. In the park. In the library. At the market. What angered me the most was seeing parents yell at their children—or worse yet, ignore them. I wanted to throttle them and say, “Don’t you see what you have here! You should be grateful every single day!” But I kept my mouth shut and merely grumbled under my breath. I promised myself that when I did have a child, I would cherish every moment. I would make myself remember that there are women out there willing to trade places–even on the most challenging days—just to have a turn to be called “mommy.”

I often found myself in tears but nevertheless, I carried on. I tried new things. I learned more about my body than I ever wanted to know. Temperature. Timing. Patterns.

Roadblocks came up frequently. In our case, after the doctors put me out and retrieved a total of 38 eggs during two different IVF procedures, they explained to me that something was wrong with my eggs. My husband and I tried to keep things light. We had countless jokes. Eggs Behaving Badly! Eggs Gone Wild! How would you like your eggs? Scrambled!

So we turned to the women whose eggs were pristine and in demand. Egg donors. Never heard of it? It’s very hush hush. Most people don’t talk about it. I actually felt a little naughty while interviewing them since the whole thing felt so “underground.”

Truthfully, it was kind of like online dating. What do you look like? What are your hobbies? Could I implant some of your DNA in my body so I can have a baby?

I thought, could this be our solution? Could this be the ticket to Babyville? But we kept getting tripped up. This one had already donated up to her limit. That one couldn’t get off work. This other one didn’t respond to the drugs. But we had to try again. We had to get in sync. We had to take more drugs. We needed another week, another month, another round.

Every couple has their breaking point- -when they say, “enough is enough” and they put down their needles. They throw away their pills and they take a much needed, life-altering, deep breath.

Our breath of fresh air came on April 12, 2008. It was the day our final donor told us she wasn’t going to be able to make it. It was the day we decided to stop researching new ways to get pregnant and start looking for ways to have a family. It was the day we decided to adopt.

I didn’t know exactly how it was all going to play out but I did know one thing that day. We were going to have a family. Finally, I knew for sure. And it was one of the best days of my life.

Dr. Robyn Silverman is a child and teen development specialist, professional speakerand parenting expert often seen in national press such as on The Today Show, Anderson Live, Good Morning America and various print media.  She won a Silver Award for this Adoption Series from Parenting Publications of America. Dr. Robyn is proud to have built her family through the amazing process of Open Adoption. The first of this adoption series is posted here.