"Families don't have to match. We don't have to look alike to love alike," LaKeia Jones-Baldwin says during our chat about her touching transracial adoption journey. The mother of four—which includes raising her now 5-year-old adopted white son, Princeton, and two multiracial adoptees, Karleigh and Ayden—is not only an adoption and foster care advocate, but she and her family welcome thousands into their lives daily via their social media platform, Raising Cultures Family.
Nearly daily, she shares with her social media audiences the highs, and occasional lows, of opening her heart and home to Princeton, whom she met when he was just 3 weeks old. After taking him in as a foster child for a few years, his biological father asked Jones-Baldwin to formally adopt him, as he was having a hard time meeting the often overwhelming demands placed on him by the state as a teenage father.
"Princeton's biological dad asked me himself to adopt him. It was an emotional moment, but I absolutely said yes. He terminated his own rights, but he can have access to Princeton anytime he wants. We have an open adoption," explains Jones-Baldwin.
But, this wasn't the beginning of her story of fostering and adoption.
Jones-Baldwin's journey to motherhood is unique in many ways. She successfully birthed her oldest daughter, Zariyah, during a previous relationship. When she met her husband, Richardo, she was drawn to the way he cared for her daughter like his own. Seeing their interactions was the sign she needed to start a family with him as well. While the two were certainly very excited to do so, several heartbreaking miscarriages led them to consider other options.
"Families don't have to match. We don't have to look alike to love alike."Keia Jones-Baldwin
"My husband met my daughter when she was about 3 years old. He was such a great dad, and I couldn't wait to give him biological children of his own. The first time we attempted to do so, it ended in a miscarriage. Doctors urged us to try again in 3–6 months, since they didn't see any reason why I was unable to birth additional children in my twenties. After that first miscarriage, we ended up having 7 more over the next few years, as well as two failed IVF attempts and a failed surrogacy. One day, I looked at my husband and said, 'I just don't think biological children are in our cards. I'm done trying,'" shares Jones-Baldwin.
She recalls the emotions she and her husband experienced during those times: sadness, anger, bitterness and so much more. Through much-needed therapy and letting go of resentment, both she and her husband were able to heal and reach healthier mental and emotional states. Something Jones-Baldwin says was so needed before going into their next chapter.
Zariyah—around 11 or 12 at this time—urged her parents to somehow give her siblings, despite all the family had been through over the years. That's when the Baldwins welcomed their next daughter, Karleigh.
After that first miscarriage, we ended up having 7 more over the next few years, as well as two failed IVF attempts and a failed surrogacy. One day, I looked at my husband and said, 'I just don't think biological children are in our cards. I'm done trying.'"Keia Jones-Baldwin
"We met Karleigh when she was around 12 years old. She had befriended Zariyah and they were really close. Initially, I didn't really think about growing our family any other way other than having kids of our own. We didn't consider foster care or adoption. But when Karleigh came around, I just loved her like my biological child and my heart opened up to the possibility. So, we became her legal guardians when she was 13 and adult adopted her when she was 18," explains Jones-Baldwin.
A radio commercial on a local station urging residents to consider fostering would later end up becoming the driving force for the Baldwins opening their hearts and homes to their sons—Ayden and Princeton.
"When I heard the number of children in foster care in our area at the time—it was about 14,000—I was shocked. So, I went home that night and asked my husband if he was open to fostering children," Jones-Baldwin shares. "He literally said, 'I'm open to it if you want to.' We called the agency the next day and started the 8 or 9 months of classes to become foster parents."
The Raising Cultures Family journey hasn't been easy, but certainly worth it. The Baldwins were eventually given the chance to officially adopt their sons after their biological parents made the tough decision to give up parental rights. However, the couple wanted their boys to still have relationships with their biological families, so they chose open adoption.
I really feel like we're at a place in our lives now where we're basking in the glory of being parents—biological or not.Keia Jones-Baldwin
"Ayden’s biological mother can have access to him anytime she wants.," shares Jones-Baldwin. "I just couldn't stomach putting either of them back in the system after having them for a few years. I was just happy to be there and open up my home to children who needed stability."
Of course, transracial adoption can present its own issues. As a Black mother raising a young white son and multiracial children, there are lots of stares, tons of questions and just as much ignorance. But somehow, some way, Jones-Baldwin and her husband our able to navigate those uncomfortable moments with class. She urges any other parents considering a similar process to be very intentional on making sure their children see representations of themselves reflected in everyday life—despite what their family dynamic may be. This includes seeking out diverse communities, schools or even churches. It is important for your children to see and interact with people who look like them.
"I don't get offended any more by the questions or comments. I really feel like we're at a place in our lives now where we're basking in the glory of being parents—biological or not. All of our children are wonderful; they're great students. Ayden is on the honor roll; Zariyah and Karleigh are doing really well in college, and Princeton is doing great in school. Those are the things you want for your children. They are also doing very well emotionally, too," shares Jones-Baldwin. "My children have experienced a lot of traumas in their lives. Adoption is trauma; foster care is trauma. Different things can trigger them and may continue to trigger them for years. We cycle in and out of therapy as needed. I am a licensed therapist myself, so I understand its importance. At the end of the day, we are a family that loves. As a transracial adoption family, we don't let skin color get the best of us. We just genuinely love each other for who we are, and not what we look like."