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Mother and Son Offer Transracial Adoption Insights

When Judy Stigger and her husband decided to adopt, they chose children who very obviously didn't look like them.

"If you're a very private person, this is probably very hard to do because people are curious and do ask how much the baby cost and whether or not that's one of those crack babies," Judy Stigger says. "The questions are amazing that people feel free to ask."

People asked those questions because the Stiggers are white. And in Chicago — almost three decades ago — they adopted two children who are biracial.

Judy Stigger had to decide what to say when those questions came up.

"People would say, 'Do you have any real children?'" She would turn to her adopted son, Aaron, and say, 'No, I just have this plastic one,' and Aaron would hold his arms out and say, 'Ta-da!'"

"We almost were going to take that show on the road," adds Aaron, who is now 26.

In an interview with Steve Inskeep, Judy and Aaron Stigger begin a series of Morning Edition conversations about adoption in America.

Judy Stigger says she and her husband Bob never doubted whether they would go through with the adoptions.

"I think we had a conversation that said, if we do this, this means we will only live in certain kinds of neighborhoods. ... It would color, to use the verb, friends that we would have. We understood it had some implications."

While they didn't lose any friends as a result, there was a relative who didn't accept the adoptions. A grandmother "was embarrassed that the neighbors might see these children at her home," Judy says.

"She was a woman with a bit of a tongue, which I had up until then always enjoyed. But I wasn't sure I wanted to expose my kids to what she might say. So we didn't involve her in our family anymore."

Aaron says he first noticed the difference between him and his family when he was 3 or 4 years old. He was looking at his adoptive father's comb "and the comb doesn't go through the afro very well. .... I wanted to have the little waves that white people get in their hair when they get it all wet."

The difference never became difficult to deal with, Aaron says.

"My dad was always my dad, and my mom was always my mom. The only time it became an issue was when I'd bring new friends home from school."

The conversations would go something like this:

Friend: "So your mom's white?"

Aaron: "Well, yeah."

Friend: "Oh, so your dad must be black."

Aaron: "Yeah."

Aaron says he would agree with the friend "because my birth father is black, so I wasn't technically lying."

Aaron says his mother "would make sure I had black friends," and his parents talked with black parents. And occasionally, his family marked the African-American holiday of Kwanza.

"It wasn't really celebrating Kwanza," Aaron says. "It was more so that they put forth the effort to expose me to these things that they weren't used to doing."

Aaron was curious about his birth mother, and they reunited when he was about 12 years old. On one visit, Judy says, she watched as Aaron and his birth mother walked away together.

"They just sort of had the same swing to their walk," she says. "It affected me much more than I thought," Judy says. "I thought, that's part of who he is. I realized that I still had all these images in my head about my right to be his mom that I needed to get worked out .... and that he was fine, and he was mine, and it was OK that he got his walk from somebody else."

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