There is always another story to mixed race adoptions.

There were 3 women sitting around a table.

One Black.
One Coloured.
One White.

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.

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Faith vs Hopelessness. My wrestle with my country.

PRE-READ DISCLAIMER: This is my wrestling space thinking & I know that I am not alone in it, hence my sharing. This isn’t an answer. This isn’t I have it all figured it out. This is I am hurting for friends whose stories are slowly being revealed to me. This is I am sore for my country at the moment. This is I wish I knew how to engage in this space better. This is I wish that collectively we had more sway in influencing healthy change and new ways of doing things. This isn’t party politics as much as it is about where does the power sit. This is about my wrestling. This is the context of my wrestle. If you want to wrestle with me in faith and hope and love. Grateful for grace to cover where I get it wrong.

‘Faith makes hopelessness forbidden’ – part of a WhatsApp that a friend sent me last night. I have been wrestling with what it means to have relentless, unfailing HOPE and what that looks like for us as South Africans. Beyond just for us as South Africans – what does us it mean for me as a believer in Jesus – the giver of hope and a different way? How do I live hope? How do I speak hope? How do I encourage hope?

So I started thinking about what is taking up energy – not just in terms of my focus but also of taking away hope.

• I realised it’s the lack of engagement – the lack of skills being imparted to people to know how to engage in this space, to be invited into this space at times by people already in it and also skills to know that saying sorry for something doesn’t mean I maliciously hurt you or are carrying shame. It’s about saying I am sorry that you are hurting, were hurt and have been hurting still despite the fact that things are said to be changing.

• I realised it’s the lack of listening from all of us – especially those of us with a history of speaking first and loudest. Yes, we also have feelings and opinions about what is going on, but I am so used to speaking up and out that sometimes I forget that others might be quiet simply because of what was my normal rather than what I would prefer to be OUR normal way of engaging where we both get a chance to be heard and understood.

• I realised it’s the slowness of change, but not being sure how to see practical change implemented as MANY people who have power to ensure these changes in our country are more concerned with their own positions of power and gain than they are with ensuring that people move from absolute poverty to a place of opportunity because the basics are being met (as a simple starting point)

• I realised it’s the language that is being permitted without looking at what do these words mean – my focus and energy and hope gets drained when I hear calls for revolution without looking at what revolution has done in other communities – without asking what will this mean for the children and vulnerable in all our communities. It gets drained when the language we all use from ‘get over it already, its 20 plus years’ to ‘ revolution is now and the white oppressors must realise this’ to a nation whose leader orchestrated exploitation, violent revolution and murder and mayhem and political intimidation being honoured in our own country without recognising that under his leadership people lost everything, feel still live in the knowledge that you can’t speak out against him and that despite his language use publicly, the exploitative nature of his regime continues.

I get tired and struggle when the word revolution is seen as interchangeable with resurrection.

Revolution is about one world system replacing another world system.

Resurrection is about overcoming a world system with a new way of life system. It’s about hope.

Sitting with these realisations makes me want to weep. It makes me want to wail and lament and cry out loud ‘Can’t you see we are simply repeating a system from the past which on the surface looks to benefit the many but experience not just here, but elsewhere has shown us that it simply serves to repeat a cycle’?

I know I sit in a position of privilege. Not only am I historically advantaged, I am protected financially by virtue of being married.
I know that I sit in a faith community that is striving to engage in this space.
I know that I sit in the midst of people working this out. Where we can talk and speak and make mistakes and listen and say ‘’ I am sorry’’ on a micro inter-personal level. Not just where things went wrong in the past, but also where we get it wrong in the present. When I get it wrong with you.

In faith what do I wish and pray for?
• I pray that we will become comfortable with being uncomfortable so that we can have the discussions and engagement as individuals and collectively that we need to have.
• I pray that we will start looking at what we are inviting or engaging people to be a part of through how we speak and what we do: whether we are imparting life giving hope or simply providing a space where energy and a lack of hope finds a space to be expressed.
• I am more and more convicted that within our faith circles as in the pre-90’s faith circles when the church as a body was part of calling to account, that not only do we need to be calling to account our leaders, but also each other as we respond from places of passion, purpose, but also places of fear and hurt. We need to be mirrors to each other in this else the bigger image of what we are wanting to see happen is never going to happen.
• I pray that each and every person who is passionate about this country will see that they have a role in it, beyond simply being nice to people – but actually to ask questions and invite understanding through listening.
• I pray that we will actively choose hope and that this hope will determine our actions, our engagements and our responses.

SHOWING UP LOVED

Walking through a forest, reflecting on life, justice and the wide world, a friend said the following to me:

“What would life look life if we showed up every day knowing that we were loved?”
(Marlyn Faure paraphrasing Henri Nouwen)

Eugene Petersen paraphrases 1 John 4: 17 – 21 in a way that explores this too:
God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home, and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgement Day – our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life – fear of death, fear of judgement – is one not fully formed in love. We, though, are going to love – love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.
….Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.

This morning I was convicted of the fact that I often DON’T show up loved. I show up like I need to protect myself, like I need to question the people in my world, like I need to do more, be more and try more than I do. I need to control what is happening around me because if I don’t I fear what will happen. I don’t show up loved when I behave this way.

I am not saying that we should not put in effort, that we should strive to be the best we can be, but if we are not doing this from a place of love, then what is our driving force?

Making this real meant figuring out how would my life look different IF I SHOWED UP LOVED:
– What would my marriage look like?
– What would my work space look like?
– What would I be like and my attitude to the different dimensions of me (physical, emotional, intellectually, spiritually)?
– What would my friendships be like?
– What would my family space be like?
– What would my life dreams look like?

Doing this exercise made me realise how much fear had been allowed to show up – out of habit now rather than always for a good reason.

Fear meant that I took shallower breaths, focused on what could go wrong, focused on needing to protect me, and focused on needing plan B, C or H! Fear meant that I worked harder, pushed harder and judged myself harsher than I would anyone around me. Fear meant that things became personal when they weren’t intended that way always.
Fear meant pulling boundaries into rigid spaces rather than letting them be permeable and healthy spaces.
Showing up loved meant that words like the following peppered my page when I did the above exercise. TRUST, SAFE, GROWTH, FUN, VULNERABLE STRENGTH, DEEP, HEALTHY, GRACE, SATISFIED, PURPOSEFILLED, INSPIRED.
Showing up loved means trusting, checking in and then responding to God, to others before reacting from fear and behaving like I wasn’t loved.

I am re-committing to showing up loved.

showing up loved jpg