Lydia Berkey’s future had already been decided before she was born.
Her birth mother was pregnant but knew she couldn’t raise the child she was carrying and so decided to put her up for adoption.
As soon as Lydia was discharged from hospital she went straight to a foster home and spent four months there before she was adopted.
But from the time Lydia could speak she would talk about the differences between her skin and that of her adoptive family’s.
“I am a transracial adoptee. Transracial adoption is when a child is adopted by a family of a different race. Most commonly a Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color (BIPOC) is adopted into a white family, which was my case,” she said, as per Love What Matters.
While her loving family did all they could to make Lydia feel cherished and part of their family in Michigan she always felt different.
“My parents embraced and celebrated me as their African American child. My mom learned how to do braids and cornrows and always had me looking fresh with barrettes or beads in my hair, which I loved!”
Lydia went to a predominantly white school, church, and all the kids on her street were also white.
‘Missing a part of my identity’
“The older I got, the more this bothered me. I felt detached from my race. Due to growing up isolated from most people from my race, I didn’t have a sense of blackness, and I felt like I was missing that part of my identity,” she said.
Her parents enrolled her in a dance program where she was with other African American children and she felt “comfortable in that space.”
But as she got older her feelings of detachment and sadness at the mom who had given her up grew.
“The truth is, adoption begins with loss, and adoptees are many times not given the space to grieve for our birth family. These were feelings I carried with me throughout my life.
“From a young age until I was about 15, every holiday and birthday, I cried myself to sleep. I thought about my birth mother and wondered if she thought about me on my birthday. I wondered if she missed me during the holidays.”
‘Is there something wrong with you?’
Lydia also had to deal with hurtful questions at school from kids who asked: “So, where is your real Mom?” and “So, she didn’t want you?…Is there something wrong with you?”
Entering high school is tough for all kids but for Lydia it was even tougher, the racist abuse she encountered was not something new but hit harder when all you want is to be accepted by your peers.
“There were a few boys I passed on my way and one called me the ‘N’ word. It wasn’t the first time in my life I was called the ‘N’ word, but for some reason that time stuck out and really stung.”
She didn’t talk about her experiences with her family or friends as she knew they wouldn’t understand.
“I wasn’t getting beat up or slammed in lockers, but we forget racism, microaggressions, and intimidation are also forms of bullying. I didn’t know how to navigate these racial encounters and feared conflict, so I would try my best to brush off those experiences.”
When it was time to leave her hometown and go to college Lydia still had negative racial encounters but found a mentor and considered counseling.
“I have accepted it is okay to grieve and continue to be sad about the loss of my birth family, but I can’t let it determine my happiness.
“My feelings regarding my adoption are real and valid, my love for my adoptive family is real and valid, and my pride in myself as a black woman is real and valid.”
Lydia also has some good advice for adoptive parents: “If you are raising a transracial adoptee it is crucial for their racial well-being that they have exposure and experiences to their culture. Representation matters!”
Now Lydia works as a social worker, something she decided she was going to be in 8th grade, and is helping to bridge gaps between adoptive parents and adoptees.
Please share Lydia’s painful experiences and wise words of advice with everyone you know to help raise awareness.