Does Grey Hair Matter?

IMG_0020There are all kinds of stereotypes about women who opt for adoption. The main two are likely that they’re very young and that they’re poor. There are similarly stereotypes about adoptive parents (read, mothers) like they’ve grappled with infertility and they are rich. Of course, none of these things are across the board true. Amongst the random things I learned about first or birth mothers is that the “average” age is twenties, not teens.

Amongst the things I worried about during the process of seeking a “match” with a birth mother was this: if I let my hair turn grey, would I appear too old to a birth mother? Would I be as old or older than a birth mother’s mother? That was absolutely a possibility.

The back-story on my hair: I had a few silver strands before I turned thirty. I colored it, first just a little over the glittering hairs and then my whole head of mottled dark and grey. As the area I had to cover grew so did the strength of the dye. By my early forties, I felt trapped: to color my hair was expensive, chemical-heavy, time consuming and an environmental faux pas. By my early forties, Al Gore lived on my shoulder, the economy was on a precipice, and I had three children, soon, I hoped, four. And I’m not much into primping or preening. I had no idea how I’d ended up in a salon on such a regular basis. I didn’t like the fact that I no longer really knew what my hair color actually was, mine, the one that wasn’t bottled up and squirted on my already colored hair.

Call this a moment of emotional and practical dissonance, which, I guess you could also make into a larger statement, since to have three children and want a fourth represents a meeting place of heart’s desire and practicality creating nothing short of a cacophony. Add to this the fact that when the hairdresser told me the smart idea was to create highlights to wean me from the color, think, fake salt and pepper, I balked; I thought it was a ploy to keep me in fake salt and pepper forevermore. Anyway, reason—and the colorist—lost that bid and off I went to spend many, many months in an awkward slide down of a silver line from the top of my scalp to the ends of my soon to be unprofessionally cut (by friends and babysitters and myself and now my husband) hair.

Take into consideration that the matching process is, by nature, stressful for everyone. Adoption, however positive it tends to be for the adoptive family, exists because there’s a crisis—a woman is pregnant and about to have a baby that for whatever reason or reasons, she will not raise. You can’t ignore that and you can’t, therefore, turn adoption into a stress-free experience. Every situation is just too loaded for absolute certainty or joy.

The decision about which family a birth mother chooses I’ve been told tends to be made in the gut. One friend told me that the birth mother to her first son said what cinched her wanting them was a photo of my friend and her husband taken in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. The birth mom had been to San Francisco and had fond feelings about the trip. She imagined her baby getting to go there, too.

I wondered what would click about us for “our” birth mother. The grey hair was a perfect flash point for all my anxieties about the process. So I worried about hints of grey or lots of grey, along with all the other stuff, like what if I were old enough to be my baby’s mother’s mother and what if no one wanted us?

The social worker in our agency met a birth mother she liked—for us. The social worker liked us—for her. It was kind of an arranged marriage scenario. Her instincts were right. In the end, the birth mother who chose us turned out to be in her forties. She wasn’t young enough to be my daughter nor was she unfamiliar with the process of accumulating grey hair. So, filed under unexpected good fortune, I add this: we are fortunate to be able to talk hair color and hot flashes and to kvell over our daughter.

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This entry was written by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

About the author: Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Brain, Child Magazine, and Salon, amongst others. Follow her on twitter–@standshadows.

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

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  • http://ninabadzin.com Nina

    Those last few lines gave me chills. What a gift to have this social worker who had the right feeling to put your family together with this particular birth mother.

    As an aside, I’ve been coloring my hair since I was in my early 20s. My mom, incidentally, let hers go gray in her mid-30s. (My age now.) She had me when she was 32ish. I don’t remember her with anything but grey hair. I think I always saw her as smarter than the other moms. I still color my hair though. And yes, that salon is practically my second home by now. I do my best catching up on Twitter while I’m sitting in that chair. ;)

  • Randi

    I love how, in the end, you had so much in common with your birth mother – your age, your hair color and your daughter. Thank you for this honest piece. I would have never thought about potential age stereotyping when seeking a “match” for a birth mother.