She’s Not from Namibia. She’s from Texas!

[Helen Meyer is a professor at the University of Cincinnati in the very unartistic area of science education. Kayla Richardson is a senior dance major who spent much of her childhood performing in musical theatre in Cincinnati. Along with Brian, they became a family in April 1992, exactly one month after Kayla was born in Fort Worth, TX. From 1995-97, they lived in Namibia in Southern Africa, where Brian and Helen learned something about living as a minority.]


Helen:  Kayla and I decided to share thoughts through questions and answers. It’s not that we don’t talk about adoption or have our private thoughts and ideas, it’s almost that we have too many to know where to start, so some straightforward questions and answers seemed the way to begin.
TOPICS:

THE PROCESS
KAYLA’S ARRIVAL
PUBLIC RESPONSE
CHOOSING KAYLA

 

THE PROCESS

Kayla:  What was the process you went through to adopt me?

Helen: Adopting you was a strange process filled with technical paperwork, meetings with a social worker, background checks, and emotion. The agency we chose to work with did both domestic and international adoptions. We knew the domestic adoptions with this agency were all African-American children or “hard to place” children. When people adopt they get more choice about the family composition than getting pregnant. We specified that we wanted a girl, less than one year of age.  Yes, we would take twins; yes, we would take a child with some minor physical disabilities; no, we would not be able to take a child with major physical disabilities.

The next stage was the home study. This included interviews with a social worker, written responses to several questions which Dad and I had to answer, and recommendations from friends about us individually and as a couple. Once we completed all these, we were approved to be foster parents, which is the first step to adopting.

After all this, which we had found stressful and emotional, we were told the wait for a healthy baby girl was 6 to 12 months. So Dad and I settled back to enjoy the coming Wisconsin spring. Three weeks later we got a call about you. We were so not prepared. Then there was also a whole new round of paperwork. The first set of paperwork, before we were approved to be foster parents, I would best describe as being there to protect you. This new set of paperwork was to protect us, sort of. These were a lot of official foster care papers, legal guardianship papers, and what I thought the weirdest, was the inter-state commerce form. Since you were born in Texas and moving to Wisconsin we had to complete a commerce form. My understanding was this paper work was because while you were in foster care you were legally a ward of the State of Wisconsin and if we decided we didn’t want to keep you the State was legally bound to care for you. But, of course, who wouldn’t want YOU!

The final steps were when you were with us. Legally, you were in foster care for the first year and we had visits from the social worker, who was wonderful. Then exactly one year after you flew into Madison and one year and one month after you were born we met with the Judge to finalize your adoption.

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KAYLA’S ARRIVAL

Kayla:  What do you remember about the day you got me?

 Helen: That’s a good question–as you know my memory is pretty fuzzy these days. Dad and I were really nervous. We were nervous about meeting you and how your flight had gone. We were nervous that we wouldn’t know how to be parents and probably a million other things. Your flight arrived at the Madison airport at lunch time. Those were the days when people could still go to the gate to meet people getting off the flight. The plane you flew in on was one of the little ones, so Cricket, the woman from the Texas adoption agency who brought you, walked down the steps and across the tarmac. I remember you were so little we couldn’t see you because you fit on her forearm.

The other thing I remember really clearly was driving with you the first time and for weeks after. I drove so carefully because now we had to take care of you while driving. You were so tiny in the car seat and so vulnerable.  I worried all the time.

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PUBLIC RESPONSE

Kayla: Did the looks you got when you went out in public with me bother you at all?

 Helen: I know there were looks, but I just can’t recall how they made me feel. But there were several comments people would make that drove me nuts. One of them you know, so I will start with that one. This was when you were older, after we moved back from Namibia. If we mentioned that we moved to Namibia when you were three or say specifically that  we took you to Namibia with us when we went, or even that you were born in Texas–something that would clearly suggest you were born in the States– people would say, “oh, so did you adopted her in/from Namibia?” It was like they heard the word Namibia, saw black child, thought Africa and immediately every brain cell shut down. Or they would click into some celebrity thing about going to Africa to save the poor African children. You probably don’t remember, but adoption in Namibia was very rare because the family structure was different and having kids out of marriage was accepted as just part of life. Extended family members took care of the children of family members for lots of reasons so almost no child was without a family. Families in Namibia actually found the whole idea of adoption a strange western thing.

Another comment that we got regularly, even from some family members, was the “oh, it is so wonderful of you to save this poor child.” The comment tended to come with religious implications or sometimes not implications but stated comments such as what a good Christian act, or doing God’s work.  You know how well comments like that sit with me. The other thing that bothered me about these comments is the people making them were never really interested in listening to why we chose to adopt, they just wanted to go on with their own delusions of our family’s motivations.

The other comment you and I got frequently, which sometimes bothered me and sometimes I appreciated, came from African-American women and it was about HAIR. This seemed to happen most frequently at the grocery store. A woman would come up and tell me what I needed to do with your hair, or what to avoid, or if I was looking at hair products how to pick the right kind. When women would talk with me about hair, I realized I had a lot to learn and over time I have come to understand that for African-American (and Namibian) women, hair is a complicated issue. Now I better understand why they felt it was important to give me advice, but when you were little not so much. Discussions about hair also seemed to be a way to open conversation across race that did not happen if you were not with me.

African-Americans tended to be more open to asking direct questions about our family and engaging in a real conversation about why we adopted you or how or what we were doing to help you understand African-American culture. Also, they never asked if my husband was black, which I did get from a few white women. I rarely felt like they were judging, just interested in a way that almost no whites other than close friends ever seemed to be.

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Kayla the Fashionista

CHOOSING KAYLA

Kayla: What made you want to adopt and what made you choose me?

 Helen: Why adopt at all?  This is a three-part answer. I never was into the idea of being pregnant and giving birth. I don’t know if it was because I tended to reduce it all to sets of biological functions or if I have some weird deep-seated and unresolved issues, but I never had the biological-clock-ticking-away issue. As you know, I have some pretty strong beliefs about evolution, gene pools, and over-population. I didn’t feel the need to pass on my genes; in fact, between Dad and I there are some mental health issues in our gene pools that are probably best not passed down. I don’t know, I think I am just weird that way. Obviously Dad and I talked about adopting a lot versus having our own kids, but in the end Dad couldn’t have kids so it all fell into place.

Why adopt you? When you adopt you actually do get a lot of choices, unlike if you get pregnant. Dad would say he wanted a baby whose eyes sparkled, and yours did. But that wasn’t the decider since we only saw a picture of you after we had made our final decision. So your sparkly eyes were just a bonus! I think the clincher was we were sent your hospital records. You were in the hospital for five days after you were born, while paperwork was being sorted out. In the nurses’ records, they made the cutest comments about you. The nurses would talk about how you loved the swing and you would respond to them when they went to feed you and pick you up, how cute and alert and interactive you were.  Grandma said the nurses probably loved having a healthy baby since most babies in the hospital are there because they are very ill. In the same packet there was the picture of your foot prints; they were so tiny. Dad saw them and started to cry; he knew immediately you were the one. You have a great foot print!

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Comments

  1. Hello, Kayla and Helen! I loved your Q & A about Kayla’s adoption and your happy faces in the photos above. I wish both of you all the best –> past, present, and future.

    Re: gene pools and not passing along certain genes….I understand and respect how you feel, Helen. However, some extraordinarily positive genes can be mixed with the difficult ones. And the positive genes can sometimes harness the difficult ones to do good work.

  2. Helen & Kayla, Thank you both so much for your openness & honesty. As the adoptive mom of beautiful bi-racial twin girls, honesty & openness has been the mainstay of our relationship. Thank toy both!!!!!

  3. I like you guys already!!

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