Adoption is a Muddy Road: Equality and Justice in a Transracial Family

Adoption is a Muddy Road: Equality and Justice in a Transracial Family

Adoption is a muddy road. I’ve said those words so many times. So many look at our family, made up of the white dad and white mom and three little black sons, and inevitably ask… “What’s it like?”

Depending on my mood and the time allotted on the clock, sometimes I say, “It’s great!” But, if I’m being honest and genuine and transparent, I tell them – “Adoption is a muddy road.”

Eight years ago, before I was married or living life with three kiddos in tow, I fell in love with a baby boy across the world while volunteering at an orphanage. Lucas. I fell in love with him in a way that filled my lungs up, where every breath of air I sucked in was a reminder of the vast ocean between us. When I left him in Uganda, it was with a whispered promise that I would be back for him – I wouldn’t forget him there, but I would somehow give him the family he deserved.

When Lucas died, it was alone. Surrounded by the night and other family-less children, shrouded in fever and mosquito nets. When I found out, I laid down on the carpeted ground and rubbed my face hard on the floor. I pushed out all of that air, until I was hollow and bones. I closed my eyes and pictured his grave. I imagined eating the dirt just to feel like I was a part of the earth, and that Lucas was a part of me.

I didn’t realize it fully then, the way I do now, the choice I had. For days I walked in a sullen sleep, but eventually, I got somewhere – the way we all do when walking. I came to a fork in the road, and it was time to choose: lock down my heart and live a life with a heart made less of egg shells, more of something stronger, more durable… or let the broken pieces stay broken and believe that in pain, beauty could somehow spring forth. I felt it there, under the surface, working hard to thrust itself through scars and anger and shriveled up faith. I allowed myself to breathe again, believing nothing could ever hurt me as badly as the day I found out Lucas was gone.

I got married, and the life of Lucas was our catalyst  to pursue adoption and bring home our three boys: one with eyes so blank you wondered what he’d seen, one with grief as deep as the ocean, and one plucked directly from the sterile grasp of death. We watched them learn to smile, to trust, to laugh and sing. We rocked them when doubts ran wild and nightmares crawled out of walls like spiders.

Tonight, in a quiet house, I held onto the door of the refrigerator to keep from collapsing, and choked on sobs until I thought my ribcage would unhinge. Because here in this house, filled with so much of God’s grace, we still feel the gut-wrenching ricochets of choices we made years ago. We see the realities that don’t get shared on social media, the unedited versions, the unfiltered sorrows.

We are the ones who, through the joys and triumphs of raising our boys, feel the guilt of causing so much of what they have lost. In bringing them into our family, we see the layers of protective skin ripped off, the sinewy bones of loss and grief now exposed underneath. We walk through the grocery store and feel all eyes on us, we see the white hands reaching to touch curly black hair they’ve never had the opportunity to feel before because they’ve never had a real relationship with an individual who had hair a different texture than their own. We are the ones who search deep in the woodwork to find safe places for our boys to grow and thrive, as we watch with our heads bent low, our hearts beating to dust, as each week those safe places get smaller and smaller.

We watch black mothers weep as time and again justice is out of grasp for their husbands, sons and fathers. Hot tears streak my face as I watch those women mourn, and I reach out my hand in the air, stretching for solidarity, but finding in my own skin, my voice, even while just a whisper, is always sounding louder than hers. I have faith that one day my white hand holding the hand of the black mother weeping will be a stepping stone for their sons, and mine. I used to think only the strongest voices could shout for change, could call for equality and raise their fists against injustice. But I find myself here in this present time, opening my mouth as the words rush out like roaring water.

The boys are all sleeping now, chests rising and falling, eyelids twitching. Around the globe, I know the sun is rising. I walk quietly in and out of rooms. I put my hand on the heads of my children. I think about what it would be like to quit this; this way of life that we’ve wound ourselves up in, this messy, muddy road. I sit on the couch and think hard about it – hard about quitting it – and I don’t feel anything but terrifying numbness. The feeling of a life lived half, but never full. A life lived safe, but never brave. A life lived free, but with no sacrifice. I put my head in my hands and cry again, out of sadness, and exhaustion, and because I know that we are in it for good. Invested in this way of life that has changed us from the inside out. It’s taken our clean hearts and messed them up, cracked them to bits, wrung them out and stretched them up and broke them clean through.

I’ve found myself here in this vast, dark night. In the grief, I feel my heart beating in its brokenness. One of the boys calls out in sleep, and I grasp the sound out of the air, hold in in my hands, tuck it away someplace safe.

In this moment, I find myself clinging to that little voice calling out for me in the night. I stand up, and the tiny, fragmented pieces of my heart clink together like music. We are finding life here, hidden away. I turn out the lamp and grope through the blackness to find something familiar. I touch a cool, smooth wall, and somehow, it feels a little like hope.

Learn more about Anna and her family’s adoption journey here


Written By
Anna Guntlisbergen

Anna is a writer, public speaker, mom, and risk taker. She loves camping along the shores of Lake Superior, reading books, and coffee with a good friend. Anna’s unique perspective on adoption is informed by her experience as an adoptive parent and her work as adoption professional. She and her husband David have adopted three children, and are in the process of adopting internationally.