Isma Alma is a lesbian, Muslim, British-Asian. Isma is married to a woman and together they decided to adopt. In this stand up comedy routine, Isma shares some stories from her own life and what lessons she has taken into the journey to become an adopted mother.
Isma has sometimes been discriminated against for being Muslim and also for being gay. As part of the adoption assessment she was asked if she planned to join Isis. Once approved she was told, by the social workers, that she could not be paired with several Muslim children because she was gay.
Meanwhile, a two year old boy with African heritage sat on the online “Tinder for kids or Kinder” database with no enquiries from adopted parents. Statistically Bangladeshi children are less likely to be adopted than Pakistani children, African children are less likely still, African boys have some of the lowest rates of adoption.
Isma and her (white) wife became his adopted parents and brought him to their forever home.
Unlike a Disney movie, that is not the happily ever after. Isma talks about some of the challenges of being an adopted parent.
Bonding in adoption
In a particularly poignant segment she talks about attachment in adopted children – some children who grow up in care learn that “mummy” figures are unreliable. Maybe their birth mother neglected them, maybe they have been moved around a number of different short term foster placements and have not had a consistent care giver.
So when Isma’s son comes home, he bonds with his white mama but totally rejects Isma who he will only address as If-ma instead of mummy. Isma talks about the impact this had on her sense of self and having to accept that her partner is his main carer.
On one occasion, her partner left them together in a supermarket and her son started screaming “help”. Isma describes the looks from concerned people who wonder if she is kidnapping this boy of a different racial heritage as she rushes around the shop searching for her partner.
When a baby is born there are certain biological things designed to build the bond of love – the hormones released after birth, the smell of the babies head, the pitch of their cry. These all have a much stronger impact on the birth parents than on anyone else.
With adoption, the same instant love is not always how it works, sometimes it may feel like caring for a stranger – you may love your friends kids or nieces and nephews but it is nice to give them back to their parents after.
Some adopted parents experience love fatigue where it can feel difficult to feel attached to the stranger who has just moved into your home and turned your life upside down.
This can particularly be an issue within adoption when the child has experienced trauma, abuse or several broken attachments, and is already trying to defend themselves against the danger of love, as Isma’s son was.
Isma talks about how her and her wife responded to this family dynamic, what adjustments they made, what they accepted and what small changes happened over the coming years.
Race and Culture in Adoption
Isma talks about parenting in a multi race household. There are some things that people who are Asians and Africans share, there are other things where she has had to make an effort to help her son understand his racial heritage and African identity.
Isma talked about how other people would sometimes make assumptions about what her son could or could not do based on his race and the ways society told her son that black meant bad.
In any relationship there will be things shared and things not shared. Perhaps some of Isma’s experiences about being a lesbian Muslim have informed her approach to how it is to feel like the “other”.
Isma talks about some of the things they do to encourage their son to take pride in his racial heritage and the ways they stand up to racism to try and get the best for their son.
Good enough mother
The stories Isma shares about her own life lead up to where they are now as a family. Perhaps not everything is perfect but no family is.
Donald Winnicott used to talk about the “good enough mother” who is caring enough to meet the child’s needs and can repair any damage where there are small ruptures.
Isma has named this show About a Buoy because he keeps her world afloat. There are funny stories and challenges but the whole show oozes love.