Tell Me Your Story: Of Choosing Adoption First

Many couples arrive at adoption after exercising all of their other options. There are couples who battle years of infertility and heartbreak and finally turn to adoption as a way of expanding their family. And then there is Robyn.

Robyn was in the 8th grade when she watched a news special that changed her life. It was the late 80s and Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu had just been ousted from Romania. Robyn watched the program, but what caught her attention were the stories of the children living in orphanages. Somehow she wanted to help. At the same time, she was attending Catholic school and taking Family Life Education. She was learning “precisely where babies come from” and wanted no part it in. At an early age, Robyn decided she had no interest in being pregnant or having biological children.

There were different reactions to her declaration. Robyn’s mother shrugged and told her, “As long as I’m a Nana”. Most of her other family members told her, “You’ll change your mind when you get older.” But Robyn didn’t change her mind. She started dating, and although having biological children was never in Robyn’s plans, it took her boyfriend a little bit longer to come around. Robyn and Max dated for 7 years and lived together for a year before he finally proposed. She said yes, and told him, “You know this means you’re not having biological children.” He decided that he was okay with that.

When Robyn and Max were ready to adopt, they started out thinking they would adopt internationally. Robyn’s original plan of adopting from Romania changed when the country closed to international adoptions. Their next choice was Russia because Robyn had some Russian heritage, but she was disqualified from adopting because of her health. Robyn has Complex Regional Pain Syndrome – a debilitating neuropathic pain disorder that has resulted in nerve damage in her knee and ankle. Russian adoption counselors wanted potential mothers to be very healthy and since long flights were out of the question, so was a Russian adoption.

So they went back to square one. Ethiopia came to mind, but Max asked, “If we’re going to adopt a black baby, can’t we do that here?” So they started looking at options in the United States. Because fostering focuses on reunification, and the couple wanted to be parents, they decided on domestic infant adoption.

Today, Max and Robyn are parents to Jackson and Cassandra, two biracial children ages 8 and 2. Both children came home with their adoptive parents from the hospital. The couple chose open adoptions and have good relationships with many family members of their children’s birth families.

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Max & Robyn with Jackson & Cassandra. Photo credit: Karyn Engle Photography

Robyn is very active in the adoption community. She blogs about her adoption experiences at http://chittisterchildren.wordpress.com, and has written articles for Adoption.com. Robyn is also active in several Facebook adoption support groups and moderates one for African American Domestic Adoption. When asked about the online discussions that surround open adoptions, Robyn is very outspoken.

“People are very passionate about adoption, which is both good and bad, and I do feel discouraged by discussions sometimes. Every time an adoptive parent chooses a closed adoption, or simply waves off open adoption as a choice. Every time someone calls adoptive parents “adopt-o-raptors” or similar garbage. Every time someone says, “Your story doesn’t count.” Every time someone believes that discrimination is OK. No one person can speak for everyone, and there are a few people with very loud voices who seem to believe they do know everything and speak for everyone, which I simply don’t like.”

Robyn also knows that she is under a magnifying glass when it comes to raising black children in America. One topic that always seems to come up is “black culture.” Robyn says that most parents, including the black parents in her discussion group, agree that there is not one definition of black culture. So instead of trying to give her children a particular experience, Robyn emphasizes the importance of teaching her children about black history.

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She does this by reading her children books with historical figures like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Barack Obama. As her children get older, she plans to take them to museums, festivals, and parades. They read books by Faith Ringold, and some of her children’s favorite characters are Disney’s Princess Tiana and Doc McStuffins.

Robyn also knows it’s important for her children to see “people who look like them in their day-to-day lives.” She also makes a point to maintain relationships with other black or biracial kids and parents. Her advice to parents, “ You don’t base friendships on race, but when you genuinely connect with people of color, you work harder to make sure those people stay in your life.”

For Robyn, she knows there are challenges, and she admits that she is “finding parenthood is a lot harder than I ever thought it would be.” But in spite of the challenges, she is sure of her decision. It hasn’t always been an easy choice, but for Robyn, it was the first and only choice.

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