Steven and Ashley Evans laugh as their 20-month-old son Abriel takes a bite of a slice of cake at a party to mark the anniversary of his adoption on July 13 at the Evans family home in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin / The Gazette)
CEDAR RAPIDS – For many new parents, the biggest challenge of parenting is learning to parent.
But for Steven and Ashley Evans, who adopted their now 20-month-old son Abriel, they also learn how to navigate an open adoption, which keeps in touch with the biological family, and how to raise a black child. The couple are white. Add to that the close examination of 870,000 subscribers on TikTok as they document their trip. They have received millions of views in the past six months, and not all of the comments have been positive.
Steven and Ashley Evans celebrated their 20-month-old son Abriel’s adoption anniversary with friends and family on July 13 at their Cedar Rapids home. (Liz Martin / The Gazette)
“It’s learning every day,” said Ashley Evans, a licensed practical nurse.
This includes rolling with the punches when the vitriolic is aimed at them on the popular social media platform. Their videos have been the subject of various criticisms from those who do not believe that a white couple has the best interests of their adopted black child in mind.
At first, Ashley, who is of Lebanese descent, cautiously responded to each comment with as much kindness as possible. Now the couple are taking a different approach.
One of their first posts to gain traction was with self-described “fun parent” Steven, holding Abriel upside down to grab his pacifier on the floor.
“Slavery,” one TikTok user commented bluntly, letting the couple know privately that the comment was meant to be a joke. But other TikTok users have taken it seriously, sparking more vocal criticism against the couple.
So the couple responded with a new video: Abe was sitting in his high chair at an Applebee, pulling his parents’ hands back to lovingly scratch his head over and over again. At the beginning of the video was the original commentary.
“Either you laugh about it or you cry,” Ashley said.
But other comments were more serious.
“So why can’t you adopt your own race? »Commented one user. “Black kids are not about charity, or trying to prove a point (you are) not racist.”
Others wondered how a white couple would be able to prepare a black child for the realities of discrimination and struggles black Americans face growing up.
Abriel takes the hand of his mother Ashley Evans as he finishes his dinner on July 13 at the Evans family home in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin / The Gazette)
For Ashley and Steven, raising Abriel involves more deliberate thinking than if he had a similar complexion – a difference they recognize. They reflected not only on when they will need to have “the talk” about her adoption, but also how they will have “the talk” that many black parents need to have with their children about the realities of racism in the world. a predominantly white population. the spaces.
Even in the smallest things, they realized how white faces are typically used by default in everything from Santa Claus in children’s books to baby dolls.
“(He has) different needs, we totally recognize that,” Steven said. “We understand that we are of different colors. It doesn’t mean that we like it less.
“We recognize that not all (interracial) families are doing the right thing, but most families who adopt outside of their race are doing the best they can,” Ashley said.
20-month-old Abriel Evans dives into the ball pool in his bedroom on July 13 in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin / The Gazette)
The couple make sure 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 embedded in the wall of their house has latches for Abe to open, with photos of her biological family members behind every back door.
Between TikTok’s self-mockery videos, they sprinkle generous amounts of tender care that has won the love of black and white viewers.
After one of the couple’s first videos was criticized, Ashley almost completely stopped posting. Now they are looking to hire a social media manager to help them manage the volume of traffic their videos are getting.
“Infertile people reached out and said it inspired them to adopt,” said Ashley, an inspiration the couple didn’t have when they realized they were having fertility issues themselves.
Criticism is everywhere. The first photo of the couple announcing their intention to adopt, posted on Twitter by their niece, angered an anti-adoption mob calling them “child thieves.” This was even before they were paired with a child.
Ashely Evans laughs as her 20-month-old son Abriel uses his hand instead of the tee-ball bat while playing in their basement game room on July 13 at Cedar Rapids. The Evans family celebrated the anniversary of their adoption of Abriel on Tuesday. (Liz Martin / The Gazette)
The couple’s plan had always included adoption, right after a few children they biologically planned to have.
“I used to say three kids and then adopt one,” said Steven, a real estate agent at Cedar Rapids.
Both wanted a large family. But after years of not being able to get pregnant and the heartache of seeing all of their friends and family having children, they decided to put adoption at the top of the list.
“I cried every month,” Ashley said.
Instead of investing thousands in in vitro fertilization with no guarantee of success, they decided to adopt. The message announcing their intention to adopt was Ashley’s way of having an experience that adoptive mothers are often stolen from: the birth announcement, the maternity photos, a gender reveal, a baby shower.
“When we found out that we couldn’t have (a biological child), I thought I could never do any of that,” she said. “When you adopt, you sometimes adopt children who are already born.”
Their match with Abriel’s biological mother came after two failed adoption attempts, each with their own broken hearts.
“The third time around, it’s a charm,” Steven said.
The couple didn’t have a lot of filters when trying to adopt.
“When you adopt, it’s literally like shopping,” Steven said – with preferences for race, religion, gender and disabilities.
“We didn’t care if they came out without arms. We didn’t care that 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 birth mother chose the couple to adopt, the Evans didn’t think twice. It wasn’t until watching them in public that they realized that others don’t automatically see them as family.
“When Abe was born it was hard not to think of yourself as a child thief,” Ashley said.
But as they celebrated the first anniversary of her adoption finalization on July 13, they knew they were as natural a family as any other. Ashley, 29, and Steven, 35, will celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary this year.
“It’s my family. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to watch,” she said.
A calendar at the Evans’ family home marks the anniversary of their adoption from Abriel on July 13 at Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin / The Gazette)
Ashley Evans hugs her 20-month-old son Abriel in her nursery at a party celebrating the anniversary of her adoption by Ashley and her husband Steven Evans on July 13 in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin / The Gazette)
20-month-old Abriel Evans plays in his home’s basement rec room on July 13 in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin / The Gazette)
Abriel, 20 months old, laughs as his mother Ashley Evans tickles him at a party marking the anniversary of Abriel’s adoption on July 13 in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin / The Gazette)
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