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Black Ink Crew

Confession: I love tattoos, Black people and Harlem, and if I wasn’t such a punk for pain and had a little cash, I’d totally go to New York City to get myself a signature tat at Black Ink, the tattoo parlor featured in the hit VH-1 show, Black Ink Crew. But after this week’s episode, I want to go there, too, to hug Sky, the shop manager who tearfully revealed that she gave up two sons for adoption when she was only age 14.

Sky’s revelation came at the doctor’s office, where, frankly, adoption secrets always find an airing. I promise you, every time I look a doctor in the eye, whether for myself or with my children, I lose a small piece of my soul explaining over and over again how I don’t know my full medical history because I’m adopted, don’t have access to my medical records and have no idea what traits and diseases run in my blood, which, of course, means that my daughters only know half their medical history, too, and can’t find out what’s lurking in their own blood until their mommy gets sick. Trust me, it’s a devastating conversation to have again and again, particularly with strangers, even if they are medical professionals.

In Sky’s case, she was forced to reveal her choice to give up her babies for adoption when she went in for a Brazilian butt lift. Apparently, in order to get the procedure, she had to tell whether she’d ever been pregnant or had a baby. At first, Sky lied to the nurse who asked, even though her stretch marks betrayed her. But when her friend was ushered out of the room and her doctor arrived, Sky came clean: she was only 14 when she gave birth, and she gave her babies away knowing that another family could and would provide the stable home she couldn’t give them. She was embarrassed, it seemed, by a number of things: having children at such a young age; being unable to financially afford to take care of them; going to jail and having to make the heartbreaking decision to give up her kids. Still, she was desperate for us, the viewers, to see the upside of her decision. “The end results is, my kids [are] with a beautiful family and they’ve been to countries I can’t even pronounce, got shit I’d never be able to give them, and I love them dearly. I just couldn’t do it, and I’m not going to be some slouch-ass, bum-ass parent. I tried to take care of them and I couldn’t.”

The moment after she explains why she gave up her babies for adoption, she breaks down and cries out in sheer agony over her loss. Anyone with a heart that beats and pumps warm blood through their veins should sympathize with this mother, not only for her choice, but the bravery and heartbreak that came with that choice. Those are the tears of a mother’s love.

It’s rough having to explain and defend and suffer and pray over all that comes with adoption, even as you try your best to process it for yourself, no matter if you’re the birth parent, the adoptive parent, the adoptee or the family of one of the three. But I’m grateful to Sky, for, as always, being incredibly transparent and candid about her life journey, and inviting us into this, her most intimate space, to shine a light on this oft-overlooked perspective.

I once wrote an open letter to my own birth mother, thanking her for giving me away. She could have, after all, taken my life to save her own—by aborting me or putting me in a trash can somewhere. Instead, she or someone she knew gave me away, and my parents found me and took me home. My birth mother was the vessel through which I took my first breath, but she made it possible for two people to love me and raise me and give me a life. I wrote this passage in 2011’s “A Mother’s Love: A Love Letter To The Woman Who Gave Me Away,” and it remains true, today:

In my mind, though, I like to think of my birth mother as selfless. After all, she could have easily given birth to me in secret, ashamed and scared and in deep denial—a pain so searing that she saw no other way out but to take my life. Or she could have found herself on a table in the backroom of an illegal abortion clinic, desperate for a way to end my life to save her own.

Instead, though, this woman gave me life by giving me away. She, or someone she knew, left me on a stoop, I’m told, somewhere down on Canal Street. As far as I know, there was no note—no details, no explanations, no promises. Just the expectation that the people who ran the orphanage would find a decent home for the chocolate dewdrop of a baby with the chubby cheeks and the curly hair, with arms outstretched, looking for a mom and dad to love me and nurture me and care for me and pray for me for the rest of my days.

It could be that my vision of what led me to that stoop on that day at that particular time—just four days before my parents came looking for me—is more romantic than the truth. Or maybe it’s spot on. Whatever it is, I know this much is true: I am forever grateful to her, this woman who gave me life, for letting me live and loving me enough not only to want for me what she knew she couldn’t provide but having the strength to find someone who could. It was a decision that led me to this specific place at this specific time—to a life filled with love and joy and peace and beauty.

What I’m sure she wanted for her baby girl.

Know this, Sky: though your heart is still heavy and may remain that way for a long time to come, the truth is you did something incredibly selfless, incredibly noble, incredibly beautiful. Through the heartbreak, through all that pain, you were and are a mother in every sense of the word—a mother who loves her babies with abandon.

Real talk: next time I’m in Harlem, I want to hug your neck.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


  1. In tears. Wanting to hug her and you.


  2. I know your pain and the loss you feel. I gave a baby girl up for adoption when I was 17. I feel your heart ache and cry with you. Even though it was difficult, maybe the most difficult thing you’ve ever had to do, you should feel proud that you gave selflessly. It takes a beautiful soul to do what you did.
    Be at peace and God bless you b

  3. I’m a child of adoption and my story is unique in that I was adopted into my own biological family. Mt biological mother’s oldest sister (my aunt) fostered me until I was 14 and then she legally adopted me. I knew my mother and heard her story right from her lips. I held a grudge for a long time because I couldn’t figure out why the baby she had after me (her 4th and final) made her get her life together enough to be the mom he deserved. Did she not love me enough to get and stay clean? That’s the one question I’ll never have the answer for. She passed away two years ago yesterday and I miss her terribly but I’m at peace with our relationship and the answers I did get.

  4. To sky, I am a mother of 6 had my first at 15, please know this u were only 14 it was not your fault u were still a baby yourself (as I was too). Thank god i had my parents to help me or I don’t know what I would have done. What I’m trying to say is at the age of 14 you couldn’t get a job, drive ect. I know you love your sons I could feel your pain through your tears and anger it hurts, I’ll keep u in my prayers and pray that u and your sons will both be at peace with the decision that was made. On a side note the system is effed up, they give foster parents 5,000 a month to foster a child how about helping mothers who feel their only choice is adoption because in the long run the mother and child will need psychological help. Much love sweetie 😉

  5. Long time reader, first time commenter. For many years I could not comprehend the selflessness of adoptive mothers. When I was looking into adoption to grow my family and the agency representatives would talk about maintaining some form of contact and providing updates, especially the early years, I would often wonder why the contact was necessary and pressed upon prospective parents. I would think if the mother wanted to know what was going on with the child they should raise their child. How very wrong I was. Not until I gave birth to my own child did I fully understand the bonds between baby and mother and how special adoptive moms are and have to be in order to break that connection, for whatever reason(s) or circumstance(s), in order to give their baby the life they did not feel they could. It is a selfless act indeed to let your baby go.

    I feel for this young woman and hope she can find some solace somehow with her decision. She shouldn’t beat herself up and instead find comfort in knowing that what she did was what a mother’s love is all about, if faced with making such a decision.

  6. This is beautiful, Denene. Brought me to tears.

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