Published on November 27th, 2017 | by Mimi Iimuro Van Ausdall5
Brown Eyes, Blue Eyes: On Raising Mixed-Race Twins
One. That is how many babies I agreed to have with my spouse Jen.
Two. That is how many babies we actually had. Apparently, the combination of Jen’s eggs, our donor Jimmy’s sperm, our nurse’s skill, and a little magic make two. Two babies—Reese and Auden. Reese came out left fist raised to fight. She was to be named after our donor’s mother, Cora. But, upon meeting the mad little speck, a name with floral meaning didn’t make sense. And, so she was Reese—fiery and fierce. Auden was named after the poet W.H. Auden, a queer poet who broke boundaries in his personal relationships and his writing. His name means “old friend,” and that is just right for our smiley son.
Three. That is how many days it took before we were directly faced with troubles stemming from being queer parents… the fact that I was not biologically related to our kids. Don’t get me wrong. We faced plenty of bullshit before the babies were born too. “Who’s the father?” people would ask. “How will you involve the Dad?” “Our babies don’t have a father,” we would say; “they have two mamas.” Even other queers made assumptions about the babies’ parentage, sometimes assuming that I, the more feminine-appearing one in our relationship, was the one carrying the babies. But it was Jen, who looks androgynous, who donated her body for the cause.
On our third and final day in the hospital, I was asked to fill out the forms for the babies’ birth certificates. Okay, I thought. Easy enough. Mother’s name? Check. Father’s name. Father’s name? Shit. Mimi Iimuro Van Ausdall. I crossed out “father” and entered “second parent.” This type of correction, this type of microaggression, is one I usually find merely annoying like a tough zipper that takes a few tries. Annoying but manageable—you tug through it. However, this time, the zipper grabbed some of my skin and pinched. I felt tears coming on, but continued on with the form.
Four. Question Four. “Father’s Race.” There was a box for “Japanese,” which I checked, as well as “Caucasian,” which I checked also. I am a fan of the “check all that apply” strategy even when not invited to do so. Then, I paused. Wait. Is this multiple choice about the mother and father going to be used to identify the racial identity of my kids on some official form? If so, we have a problem. While my kids are similar in racial biology to me and Jen, they are not exactly the same as us. They are half German and one-quarter Swedish, a European heritage both Jen and I share. But, I am half Japanese, while my babies are one-quarter Filipino/a. And while I am reluctant to break down their genetic history because I strongly believe that family does not have to be blood-based, I detail their racial make-up because, well, it matters.
I mean, if my kids are going to be discriminated against, objectified, or experience privilege based on their race, I at least want their race to be correctly identified. When someone calls me a chink, I always think their words are dulled by their stupidity for thinking I’m Chinese. At least call a Jap a Jap. Of course, I jest. I have no control over what insults will be thrown or not at my children and on what basis. But their racial heritage matters. It matters because their cultural heritage matters. For them to be correctly identified as part Filipino/a is a tribute to their donor and a nod to my own Asian heritage.
Five. That is how many Asian-Americans I remember in my rural, midwestern high school, and Jimmy and I were among them. Of those five, we were likely the only queers. Maybe on some subconscious level, we got each other—our in-betweenness. But that was never spoken. Rather, he would share his Morrissey tapes—yes, tapes—with me and we took our Birkenstocked feet on hikes in the woods surrounding our conservative town. We stayed in touch through college—he a well-known gay activist and me thinking that lesbian separatism wasn’t such a bad idea from time to time. We visited each other regularly throughout graduate school—he on the West coast studying political theory and me in the Midwest learning about literature. We had handfuls of discussions on the limits of family—biologically connected, monogamous, focused on reproduction and maintaining a house and respectable jobs. We didn’t see ourselves in that model. We talked about having a child together or living in a duplex or large home with partners and all rearing a child together, giving a new valence to “It takes a village.” It made sense. We could all parent and still strive for other dreams.
Due to the horror that is the academic market, or was at the time, Jimmy and I did not end up near each other. He is now a tenured professor in Rio de Janeiro, and I in Minneapolis. The possibility of a kid had been off the radar for years.
Six. That is the approximate number of years that passed since Jimmy and I had even mentioned a mutual baby. By that time, I had been partnered with Jen for about as many years. When she and I decided we wanted a child, it took us longer to decide which one of us would draw the short straw and carry the baby than it did to decide who our ideal donor was. But more than that, we wanted our kids to know who helped bring them to life. We wanted our kid to know his or her medical history. Plus, Jimmy is incomprehensibly smart and gorgeous and gay. We asked him, and he said yes.
Seven. The total number of children’s books I have been able to find featuring Japanese-American kids. As soon as the babies were born, I started searching for books that talked about Asian culture. I was so excited to find My First Book of Japanese Words by Michelle Haney—a volume actually in stock on the shelves of my neighborhood bookstore Moon Palace. Rhymes like “E is for eki, where trains come and go. An eki in English is station, you know” created a waltzy sound that seemed to lull my babies. I opened the book to show them the dreamy muted images of the station as I wondered if they would one day show interest in learning Japanese and how I would not be able to teach them given that my own expertise stopped at the level of the children’s book I held.
While I found quite a few books about Japan, I couldn’t find any children’s books about the Philippines. Zero. I really wanted to teach the kids about their Filipino/a heritage, but I knew next to nothing about the culture. Jen was less convinced that we needed to do so much to feature the Philippines so readily or extensively. She asked, “Wouldn’t focusing on Filipino culture shackle the kids to their biology rather than to their parentage?” She wondered if we should rather emphasize Japanese cultural traditions because that is their shared cultural heritage with me. After all, if we had selected an anonymous donor, we might not have much detail about his precise racial chemistry, and we would just teach our kids about Germany and Japan, mostly.
“Okay,” I said, “but how is our situation different from a transracial adoption?” If we had adopted children from the Philippines, wouldn’t we do our best to give them the best sense of cultural heritage that we could? Well, yes. But Jen made an important distinction. Our kids are not transracial in relation to us because she is the biological mom. She carried these little swimming pandas for 38 miserable weeks of near incapacitation. They are of her blood and bone and sinew. They are not transracial in relation to her; they are her. And, in relation to me, maybe our situation is more transcultural than transracial. That is, my kids and I are all part Asian but of different cultures within that race.
Eight. The number of times I have heard Jen mention white privilege to our Auden. She will be tossing him about as he giggles and smiles that sideways D-shaped smile that takes up half his face. His blonde shadow of hair gleaming in the afternoon sunlight. She’ll say, “Well, buddy, it looks like you and me are gonna have to have a talk about white privilege.” Then, she kisses him and laughs. He chews on his fingers and echoes her laugh, and they snuggle, snuggle close.
Nine. The number of tough discussions so far Jen and I have had about racial identity and our babies. When our babies were born, I looked for every little sign of their Asian-ness within their more European features. “Look how dark and curly Reese’s hair is. Aw, I think her eyes are shaped just like Jimmy’s. I wonder if their eyes will stay blue or become brown.” Other people did this too. Talking to my parents on Skype, my mom nodded her head toward Reese and said to my dad, “That one, that one looks Asian.” Or, when Jimmy’s mom and her friends met the babies, her friends wondered how “Jimmy’s babies” could be so fair skinned.
Little did I know that each time I and others searched out the Asian-ness in our kids, Jen felt unseen. “Why isn’t it a good thing that the babies look like me?” she would say. Or, “I feel that you are disappointed that the babies don’t look more Asian.” Oof. Could she be right?
On some gut level, I do want the kids to look like me—half me and half Jen. I want people to recognize me as their mom. I want Reese and Auden to look mixed, not 100% white. Of course, they do look mixed because they are mixed and that is what mixed looks like. Period. Yet, most anyone who sees them will likely assume they are white. And that is a pain and privilege for which Jen and I will have to prepare our children.
I look at my twins and see, however, that they may need to be prepared slightly differently for how others might read their race. I look at Reese’s dark, curly hair, her full lips like Jimmy’s. I look at Auden’s blonde fuzz, his thin Jen lips, and long Lindquist legs. I see their now blue eyes, their slightly flat noses and light skin. Reese will likely tan in the sun, while Auden will likely burn. They–the same race–will experience the world differently, as the world isn’t ready to read them accurately.
Ten. That is about the number of lines that our birth plan was. Even before the babies came into the world, the complexity of their racial identity was on my mind. I was worried that the medical staff would register surprise if the babies came out dark-skinned when Jen is so fair. So, we put in our plan, perhaps the shortest birth plan ever written, “Jen and Mimi will be equal parents of these twins. Evidence of homophobia or racism will not be tolerated in any hospital staff.”
The staff was wonderful. If anything, some of them overcompensated. In the delivery room, I was holding Reese not three minutes after she emerged, and one nurse walked up to me and said, “That is the most beautiful baby I have ever seen.” I replied, “Really?” thinking there is no way that this baby among all babies that this delivery-room nurse has seen is the cutest baby of her career. Cute, yes. Cutest, no way. I managed a ‘thank you’ but even in my deliriously tired state thought that her comment was an odd attempt to honor our birth plan. As in, “hey, man, I’m not racist. I think your baby is the cutest of all.”
I think it was also ten o’clock when we went into the delivery room where Jen could start pushing our babies into the world and I could stand around feeling helpless. Our doula asked me, “In one word, what is it that you most want to teach your children?” At first, I thought it an odd question at this intense moment of exhaustion, fear, and hope. We were in an operating room, after all, in case of an emergency C-section. I was about to meet the babies we had been waiting years to make. Yet, I knew what I most wanted them to learn.
And, perhaps surprisingly, it wasn’t ‘love’.
So many of my white family say that love is enough. “We love your babies no matter what.” Yes, it is wonderful that they love our mixed babies unconditionally. But love is not enough. It plain isn’t. I know this first hand.
My own parents loved me. They wanted me to fit in to American culture, and to that end, they told me I was white. That is what was on my social security card. And that is the box my sister and I checked on official forms. And I am white. But I am also not white; I am Japanese. And I had no model for that mixed experience. Other white people I knew didn’t celebrate Japanese New Years. They didn’t eat with chopsticks that often. They didn’t bow to each other or have perpetually full electric rice cookers. They didn’t eat salmon skin. And, if they did any of these things, they didn’t look quite like me. And they don’t look quite like Reese or Auden.
I suspect that for my babies, as it has been for me, love will not be enough for us to survive in good mental health.
I hold my babies each day and love them as I wonder how I will help them navigate their rich racial and cultural maps. In the end, what I think will most prepare them for the world is: resilience. The word carries with it a sense of recovery after trauma or healing even after small hurts. A returning to the self after being “bent, compressed, or stretched.”
No matter if Reese and Auden’s skin echoes the color of sand or of bronze, no matter what sex they are called, no matter if their eyes have almond edges or are little moons… I want my babies to learn resilience. Whether they will identify themselves as Japanese-American, white-American, Asian-American, or mixed; whether they tread through Japanese ekis or American stations or both, they will need resilience as they grow into their choices. As much as I love them, they will need resilience. Our whole family will.