There were 3 women sitting around a table.
Women who laugh quickly together, who affirm each other and love each and encourage other to be and to become.
I was the white woman.
Surrounded by friends who openly challenge me, confront things but also hold space for me when my heart is aching and broken.
We have wept together over broader social issues. We have listened to each other’s individual stories and heard the growth, the pain and the joys.
So what made this week any different? One of these life givers were about to board a plane and as I type this, I feel like something was birthed around that table which usually heralds celebration. It feels like we are still in the painful parts of the birthing story & in some ways labour has been paused. The conversation around the table was about Transracial Adoption in South Africa.
We are all mothers.
Figuring out how to be the mothers our children need as they grow and develop is part of the support and love that this friendship space gives.
The Department of Social Development recently put forward a proposal regarding how adoption in South Africa should be managed. Unofficially there have been multiple stories of resistance to adoption but also to transracial adoption within our South African context.
This is hard for me as a mother but also as a professional to sit with. T
This conversation is so layered and nuanced that to reduce it to only part of the story doesn’t serve any of us well and it definitely doesn’t serve the very children this proposal alleges it will protect.
Tonight I found the facebook post posted the day my son left by his interim (dedicated, committed and people who loved him) carers. His face is well hidden.
I know it’s him because of the date and the feet. I know his feet. I would know them anywhere.
My mama heart melted all over again – I often wonder if they look like his birth mother or birth father’s feet. They aren’t like mine or my husbands and yet when I look at my brother’s feet, I see similar feet emerging.
And then I flashed back to the conversation around the table.
One in which we spoke what drives adoption in this country.
One in which we spoke about the myths surrounding adoption. Of the many different reasons expectant mothers have for considering relinquishment of their children.
One in which we spoke about the number of expectant mothers who remain mothers to their biological children because of enough & appropriate support offered when exploring their options, ranging from abortion to foster care, adoption or keeping their babies. Empathic support that doesn’t allow stigma to interfere with their stories.
We also spoke of mothers who don’t have access or who find it hard or to access support or have tried and been pushed away for considering relinquishment and whose choice ends up being abandonment – whether safely or unsafely.
Nothing was as raw for me as the issue of relinquishment due to poverty.
In our country, poverty is delineated along racial lines.
Yes, we have poor white people too, but proportionally and historically nothing like any other population group.
I need to own and acknowledge that it’s because of people who look like me that this is indeed the case. This is deeply painful.
Not just for me, but when we encounter families of colour (whether Black, Coloured, Indian and Asian) for who this reminder is very real; that people who looked like me structured a country that is struggling to transform and find its new identity and now we seem to be taking children and babies too.
One of my BIGGEST joys is being my son’s mother.
And this story I am telling is not about his story – that remains and belongs to him. We remain custodians for and with him. This is my story and my response to a social story.
NOTHING nothing will ever change that. Always and forever this baby who is now a boy and will be a man, it’s the biggest privilege to be called mama by him.
And yet a painful thing for many people in the black community to see is me being his mother.
They don’t care how much I know about his origins or don’t know,
Or how we have a village looking after our family in this that isn’t white informed.
It’s a power dynamic that is encountered of white people taking on black children.
And this is loaded.
It’s loaded when I encounter it as a mother who recognises and loves her son and who knows I can’t do this without extra input in the spaces where I don’t have a story.
It’s loaded when I encounter it as a professional.
It’s loaded for people who know, love and support my family in all its entirety.
It’s loaded for people who don’t know me.
It’s a reminder of the many domestic workers’ children who were ‘unofficially’ or ‘officially’ adopted (regardless of love or intent) and still there was struggle because a racial category defined so much, if not all their story. Both theirs and their families.
I struggle with identity politics – in fact as I watch social media comments unfold I loathe it.
I loathe that it means we can’t say anything without fear of being misunderstood, or that we will never be enough for some and too much for others in whatever context we sit in.
I really do.
I also know that unless we can deconstruct and talk about race and what it means, not just for us, but for others we aren’t going to change this.
I am learning more and more that I need to be willing to grapple with this all else I am not being a mother to my son and I can’t, in integrity advocate for every child in a family. Including mixed race families like mine.
Until we can look to the past and own this pain as well as look to the future, we can’t define the work we need to be doing in the present. Work we are responsible for.
In the present.
And if we don’t define & grapple with the work we are doing in the present, then this wheel will keep turning and the only people getting crushed in the process are the mothers who are criminalized because they abandon their babies (regardless of the reason), the mothers who are stigmatized in hospital because of choices they are making for their children and the children who enter the system – who will, as Thuli Madonsela wrote, get stuck without real roots and with wings that are not rooted in belonging because that’s something that happens in family.