Adoption plus IVF equaled triplets for us. Well, “triplets” should be in quotes. They are not the same age, but they are often the same developmental age. Therefore, we feel like we have triplets. The thing is, two of them are white. One of them is black.
Our black son joined our family first. We had adopted before we conceived. We never intended for him to be the only child of color in our family. We never intended for him to be outnumbered by biological siblings. When we implanted those two eggs, we never expected them to develop into his white twin brothers. The day I found out that both babies in my belly were boys, I burst into tears – because I was worried how that would affect my “firstborn.” Competition? Lineage? Namesakes? Race? My mind raced.
I was naïve when we adopted our son. I didn’t understand the challenges that would come with being a transracial family. President Obama had just been elected two years before, and the country was flying high with those “postracial” ideals. Well, the white people in the country, like me, were thinking racism was over. The black people in our country knew better. I had lived in my white bubble for 30 thirty years on the day that my black son was placed in my arms. I was somewhat more aware by the time our twin white boys were placed in my arms two years after that. And, now, as the mother of a black boy and two white boys, I am only scared for one of them. I have learned so much about just how much I didn’t know.
My husband I and have done everything in our power to take our blinders off our eyes. We read, and study, and listen. We talk to each other about what we have read, studied, and heard. We go to conferences with other transracial families. We learn from mentors who are adult transracial adoptees. We buy our son the best books we can find which feature children of color, and we read him the best age-appropriate books that overtly discuss race. We use proper terminology with him. We cut off contact with people in our life that do not understand. We are politically active. We learn more history and listen to more kinds of music. We initiate conversations – hard conversations – with him because that is what parents of black boys do.
And yet, even with all that hard work, my son came home from school one day and looked me in the eyes and said, “I need new friends who are brown.”
His entire world was white. His friends, his church, his extended family, and even his twin brothers. He was a triplet with no mirror.
My heart broke.
What have I done?
I remind myself daily that his birth mother, an African-American woman, chose our white family from hundreds of thousands of other families of all races and nationalities. She chose us to raise him. She believed in us. But she didn’t know that I didn’t have black friends to be racial mirrors for her child. She also didn’t know I would give him twin white brothers either.
When they were toddlers in my triple stroller, we got attention everywhere we went. People couldn’t look away from twins, but they also couldn’t look away from a transracial family. The compliments –and the questions – were endless. It was a constant barrage from every angle whenever we were in public. As my sons grew, it made me more and more angry to have people constantly say, “Is he yours too?”, Even as he held my hand and called me “Momma” in their presence. Some would even exclaim, “But he’s black!” right in front of him. People have assigned him to the wrong family, even when dressed identically as a “triplet.” I have quickly learned when to walk away. I worry about the stress on my introverted boy, and I worry about the doubt it gave him about our family – or worse, about himself.
I have since learned a term called “narrative burden.” It means that simply because he is black or because he is adopted, people ask him to explain his situation. It means that he is expected to justify his existence frequently. Where is he from? Is he yours? Where did you get him? No child should ever have to explain why he belongs to any family. We are teaching him that it is okay to ignore or walk away from some people – even adults.
That’s a heavy burden for him. I am constantly trying to see the world through his eyes. But sometimes, I try so very hard to walk with him; I forget about the other two children. What will it be like for them to grow up with a black brother? What exactly will their burden be? I am not confident that there will be quite as much literature to guide me on this subject. I realize that they will have a narrative burden, too. They will need the words (and the confidence) to know what to say, when to say it, and when not to say it. They will need to defend their brother sometimes, but they should never have to explain him.
Once my oldest son started kindergarten, the attention I received during errands with only two white twins in tow was shockingly low. Twins are adorable! Twins make old ladies practically faint, and make even the most hard-hearted people slow down and smile. Twins invite questions and prodding. But as the attention suddenly dropped with my black son in school, I realized that more people had been curious about the transracial aspect of my family than the multiples aspect of my family. Race had trumped twins all those years, and I didn’t know it.
Do my twins notice the attention level increases when they are part of the transracial triplet situation? What will they think of that? Am I preparing them the same way? I need to include them more when we read books about race. I need to have them be more of a part of the hard conversations. I need to teach them the proper terminology too.
The twins share a bedroom, and my oldest son has his own bedroom. About a year ago, as a Christmas present, he asked if he could sleep on their bedroom floor for a “slumber party.” My heart melted. It was cute. But then, he never left. I realized that it wasn’t “cute” after all – it was something he truly needed. He needed to be closer to his twins, for whatever reason. I didn’t want him to have to sleep on the floor every night, though, so we moved a mattress in there for him. Every night, I tuck three small boys – my black and white “triplets” – into three small mattresses in a row. As I kiss their differently toned foreheads, I wonder what questions they have on those minds that they can’t express – questions about why their skins are different and why strangers ask those weird questions and why someone on the playground said something rude about our family. What do they want to tell me? What do they want to ask me? What is each of their worlds like as a black or white triplet?
I don’t know what he’s thinking. I don’t know what his brothers are thinking. I don’t know what it’s like to be black. I don’t know what it’s like to be a twin or a triplet. I don’t know what it’s like to have a brother of a different race than me. I don’t know what it’s like to be adopted. I don’t know what it’s like to be so fearful of a family member leaving me that I would sleep on the floor to be near them.
All I know is that I will fight for them. I won’t make them justify their existence or explain themselves to anyone. I will make sure we find more “brown friends” for all of us. I will make sure they never have to separate. I will make sure they will never have to sleep on the floor out of fear.
I will do better. I will fight for these “triplets”. Two of them are white. One of them is Black. This is us.
After eight childless years, Okayest Mom is a Virginia stay-at-home mom to three small boys of various races and genetic makeup, none of whom were created in her body (one is adopted from someone else’s body; two are from petri dishes). Okayest Mom, Melissa, has survived postpartum hemorrhage, as well as having three children in diapers simultaneously. Both almost killed her. These days, Mrs. Okayest is just trying to survive regular life. She calls herself “Okayest Mom” because she isn’t trying to be the best at anything, and also because she really is finally okay. (Well, she’s kind of anxious and super tired, but okay.)
Melissa is in a unique position to empathize with those who have experienced infertility, miscarriage, multiples, adoption, and transracial families. She rants about shares her experiences on her blog, OkayestMomBlog.com. Her writing has been featured on Scary Mommy, Baby Center, RESOLVE, and Beyond Infertility. You can join the other Okayest Moms on Facebook.