Friends, this a tough one to write.
Being an overseas adoptee from Brazil is a huge part of my story and my identity, interwoven into the fiber of my being. Whenever I feel like I have my footing and a deep understanding of my adoption story, the universe never fails to provide a new lesson.
A few months ago, I received one of these messages, in the form of an Instagram Post from an educator on race and womanhood, Rachel Cargle. Rachel often challenges her followers to think critically on issues of race and feminism, she insists white women #dothework, and confront hard truths.
One post in particular asked us (white women), to think about the way we have interacted with and perceive domestic workers. I learned from Rachel, that second wave feminism was largely about encouraging women to get out of the house. Feminism was framed as a way for women have careers, and lives of their own. For black and brown women of color in this country, having to work was not some profound new wave concept. It was a means of survival. Droves of white women liberated themselves and began careers outside the home. Meanwhile, women of color were entering the homes of white families to clean and raise children. In turn, losing time to spend with their own children.
The Circumstances of My Adoption
As I read Rachel’s post, over and over, my mind was doing flips. I went twenty-eight years not knowing my birth story. I heard things like, “She (your biological mother) gave you up.” Even more harshly stated, “She didn’t want you.”
In 2016, my biological mother and I connected on Facebook. I heard my story, our story, for the first time. My biological mother took a job as a live-in domestic worker for a much wealthier family. If not for this job she would have no income, no place to live, she had no options. She was 21 at the time. She realized she was pregnant. Her boss said there was no way she could keep her job with a newborn.
My biological mother already had a daughter in the care of the child’s paternal grandmother. She turned to the father of her unborn child. As I understand it, she quite literally had a door slammed in her face. She was given two options, live on the streets with her baby, or place the baby for adoption. Clearly, she chose the latter.
After my birth, she fell into a serious depression. She was ridden with guilt and uncertainty about the choice she made. The same boss who told her to relinquish me or face job and housing loss, told her not to worry about where I was because I had died shortly after birth. Not sure how that was meant to be helpful, or encourage her to get back to work. However, she did tell me she never truly believed her boss and knew I was out there. My biological mother lived with that pain for twenty-eight years until that day we connected on Facebook.
Being Raised in Part by Brazilian Domestic Workers
The nuances of this story dig deeper. My adoptive family (I never refer to them that way but for the sake of avoiding confusion in this instance I will), were privileged enough to be able to hire help. I was raised by many strong women, including my adoptive mother, grandmother, aunt, and two live-in Brazilian domestic workers. Both of those women had sons back in Brazil. In order for them to provide for their children, their best option was to come to United States and help take care of other people’s homes, and help raise other women’s children.
I am not sure irony is even the right word here, but the irony, of me, an adopted Brazilian child, being raised by Brazilian domestic workers, who are not even able to live in the same country as their children was lost on me. That is, until Rachel’s gut wrenching, thought provoking post. It is an incredibly painful thought to begin to comprehend. Those women also had to pretend they didn’t know I was Brazilian, because I didn’t discover the truth about my my adoption until I was twelve. Those two women were actually from the town in Brazil where I was born and could not share what it meant to be Brazilian with me, nor be with their own biological children.
I must admit I am still grappling with my feelings around this. Adoptees are often told we should be grateful. Grateful our biological parent’s gave us a “better life,” grateful our adoptive parents took us in for this, said, “better life.” Being adopted into the family I was adopted into gave me a lot of opportunity and privilege, and a loving family. Adoption also meant tremendous loss, loss of a first family, lost of my first language, first culture, first country, and starting life off with adoption trauma, the neurobiological consequence an infant faces when being permanently separated from their mother.
If you have the need and are privileged enough to be able to hire a domestic worker, the point is not to shame you here. I stand with Rachel Cargle in asking you to think critically about your relationship to the women you are bringing into your home. Are you considering they are people with full lives and families who love them? Do you compensate them fairly for the sacrifice they are making to help you clean your house and/or raise your children? Are you being considerate of their time? What do you know about their culture? Is what you expect fair and just? Do you know their long term goals?
In writing this vulnerable blog post, I ask you to sit with any feelings it may have stirred inside you. Feel free to scroll to the bottom of the page and share your thoughts in the comments.