What i want you to know: my daughters are "real" sisters

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest posts is by Rachel Garlinghouse.

My girls are real sisters.


Both of my children came to my husband and me through domestic, transracial, open adoption. (Whew! What a mouthful!) We chose to adopt because at 24, I was diagnosed with an incurable disease: type I diabetes. It’s manageable, but it’s here for good. My disease requires 24/7/365 attention. That’s a lot of attention. I use an insulin pump, I check my blood sugar eight to ten times a day (yep, that is a lot of needles), I count, weigh, and calculate all the carbohydrates I consume, I exercise, and I deal with a lot of ups and downs (and ups and downs and more ups and downs).

Adoption was the best choice for our family. Type I diabetics can have dangerously complicated pregnancies that can harm the mother and her unborn child. I wasn’t willing to risk my life or the life of my child for the sake of biology.

Our first daughter came to us after fourteen months of waiting. Two years later, we decided to start our adoption process again, knowing we could likely wait many months. WRONG. (Insert God laughing at any plans we mortals make). We were chosen on day ONE (yes, O-N-E) of waiting. Gulp.

We had become used to comments, questions, and stares after parenting a brown baby for two years. I could fire back a response (or a look) with confidence and with a gentle balance of education and “mind your own business” with ease. But I wasn’t prepared for the main question I would get with two babies, the question that plagues my heart with sadness, frustration, and defensiveness:

“Are they REAL sisters?”

The assumption is that my family isn’t “real” (authentic, true, acceptable, equal) for three possible reasons. One, we’re an adoptive family and biology in our society trumps adoption, a seemingly unnatural, bizarre, taboo family makeup. Two, our family is transracial Three, how many sets of parents did it take to make this family?!?

The girls and I stopped at a neighbor’s house to check out their yard sale a few months about our youngest was born. As we were purchasing our hodge-podge of Little People, the neighbor says, “Oh, you have a new baby.” Pause. Here it comes. “Are the girls real sisters?” This was the first time I was asked this question, and I’m pretty sure I mumbled something unintelligent before walking away.

We were boarding an airplane last summer, headed home from a one-week beach vacation. We were tired, frazzled, and sweaty. My husband and I, each lugging a child and multiple pieces of luggage, were stopped by a flight attendant. “Are they real sisters?” she asks, blinking in expectation. Cue Angry and Hot Mama. “Yes,” I fired back. “But are they REALLY real sisters?” she persists. “YES!” I spat as I scoot past here carrying what feels like 1,000 pounds of weight.

My husband and I long ago decided that the correct response to the “real” question is without a doubt, without hesitation, YES. We are a real family with real kids. We are real parents. Our girls really are sisters. Oh yeah, and their birth parents, whom we have open relationships with, are real, too.

Fast forward to this past fall. We head to the social security office to obtain a social security card for our youngest. After thirty minutes of going around-and-around with the attendant, assuring her that we were the REAL parents (want fifteen documents to prove it?) and our youngest was officially our baby, the attendant asks if our girls are……oh here it comes….real sisters. I looked her right in the eyes and said, “They are now.” I could tell she was fuming. We didn’t give her what she wanted---details. The nitty-gritty on what’s up with this black-white-adoptive family standing at the window trying to pass themselves off as a real family.

What I want you to know is that my family is as real as it gets. My girls wrestle, pull one another’s afros, high five, hug, cuddle, tug on the same toy, laugh, whisper----they do everything “real” sisters do for better or for worse. The fact that our family tree has branches going every which direction, is a blessing, not a curse.

Adoption is messy, complicated, bittersweet. But it’s also beautiful, life-altering, and oh, so very real.

Check out Rachel's book on transracial adoption called Come Rain or Come Shine.

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