Blood Always Wins

Creative Nonfiction
Layla Sabourian

Photo Credit: Charanjit Chana/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

We all come from somewhere, and that place sets the mold of who we will be. I say “mold” because we can fill ourselves with so many things that make up who we are, but we can’t undo the product of that mold whether we like it or not.

When our daughter Delarai turned three years old, we decided to adopt a second child. Because we already had our beautiful baby girl, we—and by ‘we’ I mean myself and my husband, Antoine—were hoping for a boy. Given Antoine’s Belgian looks and my Iranian appearance, we wished for a new baby that would fit this genetic description. We wanted our new baby to look like he could have been our own. I cannot deny it; it felt incredible to look at our sweet Delarai and be able to pick out which features came from whom. It was so much fun to watch her quirks and pick which personality traits she had of his or mine. When she drew beautifully, I would say with great pride that she must have taken after my great aunt, Khaleh Mahi, artist and art teacher to no less than the Pahlavi Prince and Princesses. When she would sing, my husband would proudly say how her voice sounded like his mother when she sang to him.

Even though we were committed to adopting, I would be lying if I said we did not each feel a bit of sadness in giving up the idea of having a son that could look like us and carry on our ancestors’ heritage and legacies. Having grown up without parents myself, adopting felt like saving a child from enduring a childhood like mine. Fear also played a part in my decision. We’d gone through several painful ectopic pregnancies, and I didn’t want to risk one happening again.

“Why not have one of your own?” “Do you not want to ruin your body?” “Are you worried you’ll get a girl again?” “How will you raise a child that doesn’t look like you?” So many people asked us why we wanted to adopt a child; they wondered (among other things) why we wanted a child that did not carry our genes. An insensitive question, to say the least, filled with assumptions about our ability and even attempts to have more biological children.

The questions might have added to my sadness on the matter until I thought about our family history. Like my mother, Antoine’s mother had schizophrenia. Every family member on my dad’s side suffered from extreme anxiety. In addition to my mother’s condition, two of her siblings also suffered from severe mental health issues. Would those genes really be that much of a gift to give to our future child? No thanks. I was willing to take a risk and leap into the unknown.

Hand in hand, Antoine and I began our adoption journey. In the USA, you have several options. You can go through the public system, first fostering and then adopting, which can cause a lot of uncertainties and stress. Many people shy away from this option because they are not willing to put up with the ambiguities. The alternate domestic routes are either going through a private domestic agency or an attorney with private adoptions; these have a price tag ranging from $40,000 to $50,000. There is also the option of adopting through a foreign agency, but even if you look to adopt from an impoverished country, the bill for these services can exceed $70,000.

After much consideration, we started our journey with private agencies. What a matchmaking adventure we were rolling into! In order to compete with other parents, we were told we had to dress very nicely. Our profiles had to be super exciting. Agencies advised us to hire professional hairdressers, make-up artists, and photographers to take shots of us at our best doing various activities. It was like creating a magazine spread of our life to prove our worth as parents. Some people were on bicycles and strolling in a park, some on a yacht showing their wealth. Our neighbors even hired someone to film them doing extreme sports. We were constantly being pushed to impress birth mothers by paying for rent, offering to pick up all their hospital bills, or whatever else the agency could dream up. It felt ridiculous to me, more like an elaborate dating competition than the chance to change a life.

“Oh, make sure Antoine does most of the talking. His French accent will surely charm the birth mom over the other couples she is considering.” These were the type of suggestions thrown our way. I felt like I was partaking in some kind of couple’s swinging adventure: there was so much pressure to look better than the rest of the adoptive families, to portray the perfect family life, to hide anything and everything that would basically show we were human and anything less than a faux Facebook-perfect image.

“Are we here to help a child, or show off to a bunch of childless families how much better we could be at the superficial race? I want to help a child in need, not take away the chance from other families who desperately wanted a baby.” Spoken words of concern rushed through my conversations with my husband. “If these babies are in such high demand, then my little efforts towards improving the world could certainly come in another form.” These words came with such sadness that a glance of concern crossed Antoine’s face. For me, adopting a perfectly beautiful and healthy blue-eyed white baby just did not feel like the best I could do. At the same time, I also recognized that I lacked the courage to adopt a child with special needs. During my time at SAP, I had taken part in a meaningful project, where I had worked on a solution for families with children who had special needs. I had fully immersed myself in their lives and feared I would not be able to summon up the strength I had seen in those mothers.

Sick of the domestic adoption agencies’ games, we then tried international adoption. Bulgaria’s agency told us we could not adopt a white Bulgarian baby, but if we wanted a “gypsy” child, that would be no problem. “Gypsy,” of course, was the name colloquially, and often insultingly, given to the Roma people, a semi-nomadic ethnic group spread around Europe and the Americans, with origins in the northern Indian subcontinent. The distinct Roma culture, coupled with Roma people’s tendency to live on the outskirts of cities, has led to their facing a great deal of stigma and additional hardship due to racist discrimination. Part of this could be seen in the apparent ready availability of Roma children for adoption, who were often unfairly stereotyped as ‘conflictive’ or less intelligent than their white counterparts.

After a day of thought, I asked the question: “What shall we do?” I worried about the answer I might receive, for Antoine wanted a boy… one that would look like him. But my husband’s reply surprised me.

“Well, it will be an uphill battle, but at least we don’t have to pretend to be people we are not. I’m sick of the fake portfolios as if to be parents we have to play the part of the perfect person,” he said with frustration in his voice. “I just want to have the opportunity of being a dad to another child, and bring more joy to our home.” After this remarkable comment, Antoine and I agreed to adopt a Roma child and informed the agency. Then, we waited. We waited for two whole years before finally accepting that there was just no news coming. Deciding to reach out to our agent, we asked if she could put us in touch with other families who had successfully adopted from Bulgaria.

Her answer nearly sent me overboard. “Oh, no one has ever succeeded so far,” she stated as if our two years waiting for a child with no news or communication meant nothing at all.

“Oh, really?” I replied sharply, trying, and failing to bite my tongue. “I wish you would have told us this before taking our deposit.”

We felt ridiculous not to have checked the reputation of the agency before paying the deposit. Only then, after two years of being dragged around aimlessly, did we think of it. We had originally picked Bulgaria because we thought the child would end up looking like us. Bulgarians often look like Iranians but with more European features. It seemed we would have to start looking elsewhere.

Adoption from Iran was not an option because we would have had to move there for six months and buy a house to put in the name of the child. We could barely afford the first requirement. My husband was not Iranian, so we were not even sure if it was a legal possibility.

Next, we tried Ukraine and took a trip there. The Ukrainian agency told us that they would only let Americans adopt a child that was older than eight and had severe mental or developmental issues. Again, I was not feeling competent enough for that challenge.

With these challenges, we shifted our thoughts to adopting from the foster-to-adopt system in the USA, but many people steered us away from that option. Some claimed that the kids would arrive with all sorts of baggage, that they would be victims of abuse, negligence, and rape. People told us that getting a “messed-up” kid, as they called them, would, in turn, deeply complicate our lives and only lead to regret. It’s absolutely baffling, the number of people who warned that adoptable American children would endanger our daughter’s well-being and safety.

It felt like we had traveled the globe to fulfill our dreams of completing our family. Determined, we chose the lawyer route and sat down with our representative. He looked more like someone who wanted to sell me a used car than an adoption agent. It was such a contrast to our first adoption experience where we had to dress like a family of rich models, and now we were in front of someone who used the same oil to slick his hair into a ponytail as he did to lubricate his engine. He explained the hierarchy of adoption. If you wanted a blue-eyed, blonde-haired baby girl, you had to pay the most amount of money. He explained that the next tier was a white boy; downward from there came the Latinos, followed by African Americans and mixed races, and at the very bottom were Middle Easterners.

“It’s best to take a baby and not an older child,” he went on to say. “The older children are already damaged beyond hope.”

Is this man serious?

He continued. “You see, you don’t want to go to a state or foster care system to adopt, as most of the kids won’t be babies or white. You will want to choose a child with healthy blood. One that can easily fit in your family and surroundings. If you pick a Middle Eastern child, chances are you won’t have any positive role models around for them to look up to, and of course, there is a higher risk of them becoming violent. You choose a white baby girl with good blood, and you’re set.”

Whoa. Higher risk of becoming violent? Really?

I looked him in the eyes, wondering if he was so stupid as to not even know that Iran was part of the Middle East. My husband, knowing exactly what I was thinking, and scared I was going to interrupt the guy, held my hands firmly, telling me with his touch how sorry he was. Did the lawyer know, but simply not care?

“Yeah… thanks,” I started, “but I think we’ll go through the state after all.”

Antoine, grateful I was not going to cause a scene, as he hated conflict even more than me, helped me up and shot the smarmy lawyer with a disgusted look. What he was pitching us felt a lot like white supremacist propaganda. We left.

It was hard not to think back to myself as a child—how I wished to be adopted one day, despite constantly being told by those around me that I was “damaged goods,” and filled with dirty blood. I thought those comments only came from old-fashioned, ignorant Iranians. Yet here I was in America, in the country with the world’s best universities, hearing the same ignorant nonsense. Was it possible that people here held the same obtuse beliefs about the purity of blood? In the end, I did not want to compete with anyone else to adopt a baby that hundreds of other adoptive parents wanted; I wanted to help a child that was feeling left out and unwanted, as I had been my whole life.

Another two years passed, and we had already given up on adoption. Out of the blue, I got a call from a state-run adoption agency to see if I could take a newborn baby girl. I reminded the agent that we wanted an older boy, a child that no one wanted, and that she should give the baby girl to people who were obsessed with having a baby. There was a slight hesitation on her end.

“Layla, I really want you to have this baby.”

“Why?” I asked.

Another brief pause.

“Her… urgh… mother is mentally ill, a substance abuser, homeless. She used coke during the past nine months and drank heavily. Most folks are worried about the baby’s health and wellness, bad blood… due to the chemicals inside her system, no one is fighting to get this baby.”

She had me at “bad blood.”

“When does she need to be picked up?”

“The next twenty minutes would be ideal.”

“Give me an hour,” I replied.


Layla Sabourian is a mother, an author, and an entrepreneur with a fierce passion for inclusivity, tolerance, and empowerment from youth, and the stories she writes are an extension of that goal. She grew up in Iran and has since lived in the United States, Central America, and Europe. Email: support[at]

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