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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — For many first-time parents, the biggest challenge to parenting is learning how to be parents.
But for Steven and Ashley Evans, who adopted their son Abriel, now 20 months old, they also are learning how to navigate an open adoption, which keeps contact with the birth family, and how to raise a Black child. The couple is white. Add to that the scrutiny of nearly 870,000 followers on TikTok as they document their journey. They’ve received millions of views in the last six months and the comments have not all been positive.
“It’s learning every day,” said Ashley Evans, a licensed practical nurse.
That includes rolling with the punches when vitriol is aimed at them on the popular social media platform. Their videos have been subjected to a variety of criticisms from those who don’t believe a white couple have the best interests of their adopted Black child in mind.
At first, Ashley, who has Lebanese heritage, gingerly responded to every comment with as much kindness as she could. Now, the couple is taking a different approach.
One of their first posts to gain traction was with Steven, the self-described “fun parent,” playfully holding Abriel upside down to grab his pacifier off the floor.
“Slavery,” one TikTok user commented without denotations for sarcasm, conveying to the couple privately that the comment was intended as a joke. But other TikTok users took it seriously, prompting more fiery criticism against the couple.
So the couple responded with a new video: Abe seated in his high chair at an Applebee’s, pulling his parents’ hands back to lovingly scratch his head over and over. Over the front of the video was the original comment.
“You either laugh about it or you cry about it,” Ashley said.
But other comments have been more serious.
“So like why can’t you guys adopt your own race?” one user commented. “Black kids are not a charity case, or to try to prove a point (you’re) not racist.”
Others questioned how a white couple would ever be able to prepare a Black child for the realities of discrimination and struggles that Black Americans encounter growing up.
For Ashley and Steven, raising Abriel involves more deliberate thought than it would if he had a similar skin tone — a difference they acknowledge. They’ve given thought to not only when they’ll need to have “the talk” about his adoption, but how they will have “the talk” that many Black parents have to have with their children about the realities of racism in predominantly white spaces.
Even in the smaller things, they’ve come to realize how prevalently white faces serve as the default in everything from Santa Claus in children’s books to baby dolls.
“ (He has) different needs, we totally acknowledge it,” said Steven. “We understand we are different colors. It doesn’t mean we love him any less.”
“We acknowledge that not every (interracial) family is doing what’s right, but most families that adopt outside of their race are doing the best they can,” Ashley said.
The couple makes sure that the whole family is educated on Black history and culture, making TikTok videos along the way like a rap mix celebrating Juneteenth. And a toy built into the wall of their home has latches for Abe to open up, with photos of his biological family members behind each little door.
In between the self-deprecating TikTok videos, they sprinkle in generous amounts of tender care that have earned the love of Black and white viewers alike.
After one of the couple’s first videos got flak, Ashley almost stopped posting altogether. Now, they’re looking to hire a social media manager to help manage the amount of traffic their videos are receiving.
“People who are infertile have reached out saying it inspired them to adopt,” Ashley said, inspiration the couple didn’t have when they realized they had fertility problems themselves.
The criticism is everywhere. The couple’s first photo announcing their intent to adopt, posted to Twitter by their niece, drew the ire of an anti-adoption crowd calling them “child stealers.” That was before they were even matched with a child.
The couple’s plan had always included adoption, just after a few kids they planned to have biologically.
“I used to say three kids, then adopt one,” said Steven, a Realtor in Cedar Rapids.
Both wanted a large family. But after years of being unable to get pregnant and experiencing the heartache of watching all their friends and family members have children, they decided to move the adoption to the front of the schedule.
“I would cry every single month,” Ashley said.
Instead of investing thousands into in vitro fertilization with no guarantee of success, they decided to adopt. The post announcing their intention to adopt was Ashley’s way of having an experience that adoptive mothers are often robbed of: the birth announcement, maternity photos, a gender reveal, a baby shower.
“When we found out we couldn’t have (a biological child), I thought I’ll never get to do any of this,” she said. “When you adopt, sometimes you adopt children who are already born.”
Their match with Abriel’s biological mother came after two failed adoption attempts, each with its own heart breaks.
“Third time’s a charm,” Steven said.
The couple didn’t have many filters while trying to adopt.
“When you adopt, it’s literally like shopping,” said Steven — with preferences for race, religion, gender, and disabilities.
“We didn’t care if they came out without an arm. We didn’t care if they had Down syndrome. We didn’t care if they were a boy or a girl,” Ashley said.
When they were matched with Abriel, whose biological mother chose the couple to adopt him, the Evans didn’t think twice. It was only with the stares in public that they realized others don’t automatically see them as a family.
“When Abe was born, it was hard not to think of yourself as child stealers,” Ashley said.
But as they celebrated the one year anniversary of his adoption finalization on July 13, they knew they were as natural a family as any. Ashley, 29, and Steven, 35, will celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary this year.
“This is my family. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to watch,” she said.
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