What an amazing and agonizing journey we have been on! There have been incredible highs and the lowest of lows. When my husband and I married just over twenty years ago we never would have imagined that we would travel to South Africa to meet our children, that we would end up with two beautiful and amazing children. We have had so many experiences that have forced us, allowed us, to learn and grow.
When we decided to start a family we followed the traditional route, never imagining the obstacles we would encounter. This led us to consider international adoption. It was a tough decision to make, with so many pros and cons. At the time we thought we wouldn’t be able to complete an international adoption, and that it would be beyond our means. But we made lifestyle choices and worked through our finances, and ended up able to complete two adoptions from South Africa.
Many people ask us why we didn't adopt from Canada, why we chose South Africa. We did explore all options but felt international adoption suited our family. Since my husband is of mixed race, we were always comfortable with and welcomed a transracial/transcultural placement. We felt that would benefit any child we welcomed into our home as they would see themselves reflected in other family members.
Some Words of Advice for Waiting Families
Find your inner resilience: My professional background is Early Childhood Education, and I have specialized training in fostering resiliency. As we worked through our adoption journey, I needed to revisit the principles for myself many times. The following points are some of the ways we tried to maintain our sanity, and remain resilient. Now as I parent, I still need to check in with myself in similar ways.
The Homestudy: A lot of couples are daunted by the hoops that need to be jumped through as they complete the steps of the Homestudy. They see it as an invasion of privacy, which it is. We chose to look at those meetings as a means to the end, an opportunity to share the best qualities of ourselves, and our dreams of raising a family. Working with an Adoption Practitioner and completing a Homestudy was the only way we were going to accomplish building a family, so we chose to be proactive and view it as a positive process. Once we found the right social worker, it became easier. When she visits it's like an old friend stopping by for a coffee and a visit Even after eight years of her coming to visit I still clean like a mad woman and often bake something! To add to the stress of the Homestudy is the documents that need to be gathered. The need for these is obvious, but it would be so nice to just get a simple extension on a Police Clearance check or a medical record. It would save time for people on both ends and be much more cost effective.
Rely on your circle & pass it forward: When we were going through the tough days of infertility, then moving through the maze of figuring out the adoption world, we've had many family and friends who stuck by us and supported us. One thing I would do differently is be more open and share how truly emotional the roller coaster is. The infertility and adoption journey can be so secretive sometimes, for obvious reasons, but in order for people to learn to be empathetic of others situations, they need to hear the hard reality. I spent too many days letting people think everything was okay. I’ve made the decision that I would pass that gift forward and be there for others facing the same challenges.
Share the important stuff with family and friends: There is so much that your 'people' should know about adoption and the transition that your children are going to be dealing with when you welcome them into your family. Some people choose to sit down and talk with their friends and family, others choose to send out a letter. We created a website to share this important information. Our families are large, and we knew some people would appreciate a place to go back to and reference a few times (and in all honesty so we could send people back to reference if necessary!). The website is where we shared what we needed to do to prepare for the adoption. As international adoptive parents we pay for services, not children, and we needed to make that clear. The website also detailed the specific steps we would be taking to ensure our children were attached to us, and information about our children's birth country. Everyone enjoyed reading about our journey and it kept us busy while we waited. We had people thank us for being open and honest. My mom told us she was glad we shared that my husband and I would be doing the primary care, so she knew and wouldn't be upset when the baby wasn't passed from person to person. Recently a family member bought a baby doll for our daughter, making sure the colour of their skin matched. The effort we put into sharing information was more than worth it.
Have faith: This is simple, yet so hard. It's not necessarily about religion, but having a belief in something that is greater than yourself. Bottom line, we wanted to be parents, we wanted to raise a family. We had love and a home to share, and we knew there were children who needed to be loved and needed a forever home. We don’t ignore or minimize the tremendous loss our children experienced, and we are committed to dealing with that as part of our family’s journey. Even on the most difficult days, we held onto the glimmer of hope that it would all fall into place as it should. It has. Yes, there are tough days, but still there are more good times than hard times.
Keep busy: As we were waiting we tried to live as normal a life as possible. At times we completely filled up our calendar. This kept our mind off the wait. I would rather cancel plans we made if we were suddenly travelling overseas instead of sitting around waiting for the phone to ring.
Be aware of and accept what you can and cannot control: It is tough to just sit back and ride things out. As a waiting parent you want to be proactive and move the process along. Sometimes we must send another email to the agency, sometimes we must simply sit and wonder what life is going to be like with a child added to the mix. You can control the profile you create, the timeline for gathering the necessary documents. But you cannot control when the documents are going to be completed or when the call is going to come. When several levels of government from two countries are involved, rarely will everything be done at once.
Adoptive families support network: Find other people who have travelled the road you are on. Connect with others. Seek out a formalized support network. We joined our network when we were waiting for our son. It was invaluable! The support we received and the things we learned about our children's birth country were so important. Some families in waiting have a difficult time seeing the families that have already been brought together. They wonder if it will ever happen for them. For my husband and I it touched our hearts, because we saw the possibility. This network is important for us as parents, but even more so for our children. They see other families that look like theirs and build relationships through the years that we hope will help them through challenges they may face because of being adopted.When we chose to build our family through adoption our intent was to grow our family by one or two; in actuality, it has grown by more than more than one hundred. We have met so many amazing people along the way, many we now consider close friends and family. If you are considering an adoption from South Africa, I can provide you with the link to join our network.
There are many different views on international adoption, from it's a blessing, to it's the worst thingthat could ever happen to a child. It's a huge debate. In a perfect world adoption wouldn't exist, but until the problems of humanity are erased, it is a reality that is necessary in order for children to have homes. The challenge is how do governments and agencies make sure the process is as transparent as possible, and adhere to the law to protect the rights of the child and make the adoption experience as positive as possible?
PART II to follow later in the month