Have a question? Ask our panel of experts.
Q: My husband and I are white, and we’ve adopted from Guatemala and Ethiopia. Our mostly white neighborhood has many families formed through international adoption, but we’ve been considering moving to a neighborhood that’s primarily Latino and Asian. What would you advise?
A: Non-white children benefit from being around other non-white people, children and adults, on a regular basis. This is more important than finding a community that “matches” a child’s ethnicity. For this reason, I think moving to the area you describe sounds like a good idea. Your current neighborhood’s makeup reinforces the idea that minority children are raised not by people of their own race, but by whites. It’s healthy for adoptees to see other families that look like theirs, but not to the exclusion of seeing kids of their race being raised by adults of the same race. Your situation illustrates the reality of international adoption—you cannot replicate a child’s original culture. Much is given up in exchange for having a loving family. And let’s face it, to some extent, we adoptive families get noticed wherever we are.
—Mary Ann Curran
World Association for Children and Parents (WACAP), Seattle
Q: Someone told me a newborn can sleep in a car seat for the first week. Is this true, or do we need to bring a crib when we travel to adopt?
A: The most important thing is that the sleeping surface be firm, with little in the bed. Secure blankets around the child so that they can’t be pulled up over her face, and keep the area free of extra bedding or stuffed animals. An infant car seat is an option, especially for a child who needs to be swaddled. Infants often sleep better when the head is elevated, as this can relieve nasal congestion. If you use a car seat, be sure it’s stabilized in a crib or on the ground.
Always put your baby to sleep on her back. Studies have shown that this dramatically reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. It’s also best that newborns sleep on their own, rather than with a parent, to reduce their risk of being smothered.
—Deborah Borchers, M.D.
Eastgate Pediatric Center, Cincinnati
Q: We adopted domestically, and we were told that our child was conceived via rape. When and how should we share this with him?
A: The best time to share any difficult adoption information (rape, abandonment, incarceration) is about age eight, when a child is mature enough to understand it but has plenty of time to process it before adolescence. Keep in mind, however, that rape or date rape is frequently a face-saving explanation for an unwanted pregnancy. Unless rape was verified via court records or another reliable source, your child is better served by a more open-ended explanation. If you verify this information, share it with your child in language that is as free of value judgment as possible, in an open, caring way.
Adoption Resource Center, Spence-Chapin, New York City
Q: Our twins are biracial, and our daughter is much lighter-skinned than our son. What do we say when people comment on how different they look, or think only one of them was adopted?
A: If you introduce your children as twins, hopefully, it won’t be necessary to explain much more. After all, as a boy and a girl, they are obviously not identical twins! A lighthearted tone will help if you are faced with someone really ignorant. You might say, “Adopting twins was amazing, a ton of work, but well worth it. They are wonderful, and each is so unique that we never had trouble telling them apart! I think one must take after the birthmother, and the other must take after the birthfather. Isn’t it cool how that works out?”
adoption social worker, Minneapolis
Q: Can you recommend some books about anti-Asian racism?
A: In Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White (Basic), Frank Wu discusses the damaging effect of “positive” stereotypes and the entrenched perception of Asians as “foreigners.” Eric Liu tells what it’s like to grow up as a second-generation Chinese-American in his memoir, The Accidental Asian (Vintage). Books for kids include Chinese Eyes (Herald), by Marjorie Waybill, and We Adopted You, Benjamin Koo (Albert Whitman), by Linda Girard.
—the editors of AF
Q: My eight-year-old has cerebral palsy, and is about five on a cognitive level. He’s been asking about the woman who “borned” him. We’re not sure how much he gets about adoption and wonder if this will confuse him—should we tell him what we know about her?
A: If you know that your son can process information at a five-year-old level, use language suitable for kids that age, but be sure to answer his important and appropriate question. If you believe his question stems from confusion about whether you’re his “real” mom, use this as an opportunity to talk to him about what makes a mom “real” and why he isn’t being raised by the woman who gave birth to him.
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