This fall my fifth book of poetry “This Miraculous Turning” is being published. Most of the work is about my children, but there are a number of incidents and experiences that aren’t in the book because I couldn’t shape them into what I thought were successful poems.
When the social worker called to announce our daughter’s birth, we were on vacation, but we had taken a bottle of champagne to be ready. She told us the news, hesitated, then said . . . She’s black.
Having met the birthmother, this was no surprise. In fact, the social worker had been at the meeting. Was she healthy, we asked? Yes, the woman said, then repeated, But, you should know, she’s black. We were puzzled by this and only realized later what she was trying to say.
Oh…black as in black black.
Since the placement had been for a bi-racial child, the social worker had assumed this might be important to us, that we might be adopting bi-racially in hopes of somehow mitigating our child's "blackness." And we recognized she made this assumption because it was important to others. My wife and I aren’t naïve; we know there is a long legacy of prejudice against those with darker skin, even within races. Still it was a shock to realize that some parents might get that far along in the adoption process and then halt a placement if the baby was not as light as they had expected.
We had known our joy would be tempered by the birthmother’s grief, and we had thought we understood some of what we’d encounter, but the social worker’s comment evoked an unexpected sadness and gave us a quick, brutal, lesson. Our choices were going to be subject to misunderstandings and misinterpretations. The very presence of our family would trigger all sorts of assumptions and judgments.
We told the social worker how relieved we were the baby was healthy and how excited we were to meet her. We hung up and poured the champagne into tumblers to celebrate. We knew this wasn’t how most people thought it was supposed to be drunk. So be it. This was how we were going to do it.