In every walk of life, Black women continue to make strides and advancements, shatter glass ceilings, and forge new paths. But, for many Black women, the dream of having a traditional family is still at the top of their life goals. Many expect to find a husband first and start a family later. However, as Black women build careers, follow their dreams, and pursue their passions, they sometimes discover that reality may not always align with what they had envisioned.
For women who've been waiting to find the right partner before starting a family, statistics aren't in their favor. According to the 2018 Census, 48% of Black women have never been married. So, where does that leave single women who still want to have children but are constrained by their biological clocks? Increasingly, college-educated Black women are opting to become single mothers by choice or SMCs. These women are choosing to create families on their own, either through conception or adoption.
For a first-hand account of this movement, I spoke with two women to discuss forgoing conventions, following their hearts, and choosing adoption. Sophia is a 44-year-old elementary school teacher and a mother of a 1-year-old adopted boy. Janet is a 48-year-old IT Manager and the adoptive mother to two boys aged 5 and 3.
Like many women, Sophia and Janet expected to get married in their 20s or 30s and have children. Sophia never doubted that marriage and kids would be a part of her future. But when she turned 38, she realized life wasn't falling into place as she had imagined. Yet she was still eager to start a family. A holiday spent amongst her young cousins convinced her that the path to motherhood wasn't out of the question, even if she had to do it on her own. She investigated fertility options and began her journey with IUI (intrauterine insemination) treatments. When IUI failed, and a scheduled IVF (In vitro fertilization) treatment was canceled, her focus turned to adoption. But adoption wasn't an entirely new concept for her. Even as a child, Sophia knew she wanted to adopt but assumed it would be after having children of her own.
The road to adoption wasn't an easy one for Sophia. She was ultimately matched with her son through a public adoption agency, but only after contemplating and pursuing multiple adoption avenues, including public, private, and international options. She says, "waiting to adopt was one of the hardest things I've ever done. But the second I got him, it made the wait worth it. I would do everything the same again if I knew he was the result."
Janet says her turning point came at age 42 when her father's death reignited her passion to start a family. She immediately pursued IVF treatments and adoption simultaneously in hopes that one of the two would be successful. After two failed attempts with IVF, Janet got word that she was matched with a 13-month-old boy. When she met her son for the first time, she had no doubt that fate led her down the right path. Three years later, she adopted her son's 2-year-old younger brother. Of motherhood, Janet says it's made her feel "happy and fulfilled" and "crazy," she adds with a laugh.
Sophia and Janet agree that adoption can be a lengthy process depending on the circumstances. Still, their desire to be mothers gave them the determination they needed to withstand any hurdles. They both had the support of their families and friends and were unbothered by judgment from others outside those circles or societal stigmas associated with single mothers. Janet asserts, “That's their burden to carry, not mine." Janet has come to realize that "the ideal family is not just blood. Family is whatever you make it. It's whoever loves you, cares for you, and takes care of you."
Many Black women who want to be mothers still hold onto the dream of finding "the one" first, even though time is not on their side. But after she adopted her first son, Janet discovered that there was a flurry of interest among her Black, single, female friends and acquaintances who bombarded her with questions and queries about the process. A few had contemplated adoption but were hesitant to take action. Sophia attributes this inaction to an "if you don't see it, you can't be it mentality." She believes that many women don't know adoption is a possibility because they don't see it in their everyday lives. "But if we don't normalize it or talk about it, how will it become normal?" she adds. To her credit, Janet's decision to adopt inspired at least one of her acquaintances to pursue this as a viable route to motherhood.
Even though many women turn to adoption after failed fertility treatments, there seems to be a code of silence around Black women, infertility, and adoption. Both Janet and Sophia agree that Black women don't talk enough about these issues, and hence there is a lack of knowledge and misinformation. Janet says that failed IVF treatments made her feel inadequate like something was wrong with her. But she's not alone in that sentiment; feelings like these keep Black women from sharing their struggles. There's a huge misconception that Black women are overly fertile and don't have problems getting pregnant. But they do. Silence can be costly because the fact is Black women experience infertility at a higher rate than white women. And recent studies have documented that IVF is not as successful for Black women as it is for others, for various reasons.
Adoption can sometimes be a scary and long road, but Sophia and Janet agree that the result is worth it, and they couldn't imagine their lives any other way. Sophia says, "People often tell me that my son is lucky to have me, but anyone who has adopted knows the secret; that we're lucky to have them. This child has made our life better."
Sophia and Janet offer a few words of encouragement and advice for women who have the means and would like to adopt. "Deciding to raise a child, any child, is a huge commitment and responsibility. If you've weighed the pros and cons, have the love to share, and know in your heart this is something you want to do, go for it! Because the regret of not trying would be harder to live with," Janet says. "Be flexible in your expectations," Sophia advises, "and have your people. Whether it's family or friends, you are going to need help and support."