Before introducing you to Julie and her family I have to take a breath…the tenacity and vigour of this mama is truly inspiring. I sent Julie a mail a while back asking if she would like to do a story with us. She was keen, but asked me to give her some time as they were possibly on their way to Durban in the next week to fetch the newest addition to their family. All went well and Julie is now the proud mama of 3 heart-wrenchingly gorgeous children.
My husband, Ryan, and I are the proud parents of three of the best kids. Ilan is four and the cuddler in the family – he enjoys ‘dancing like a Zulu’, riding his bike dangerously down hills and being a big brother to ‘the kids’ as he calls them. He summons the family together for ‘family hugs’ most mornings. Kira is almost two and is a real busybody – she likes to pull out her beautifully braided hair at the very first opportunity, has a deep belly laugh and has eyes only for her brothers. Judah is sixteen months and a new addition to the family – he is a gentle soul with a dimpled smile that can knock your socks off. We’re a family pieced together through adoption.
Ryan and I have been married four years and have three kids already, so we’re a bit nervous about what the future will bring our way considering this track record so far!
Adoption has always been on my heart and it was something that we chatted about before we even got married. These days when you think about starting a family, there are options – try for biological kids or adopt a child and for us adoption was our number one choice. It helped that we’d seen adoption played out in other families and that we were able to discuss adoption with parents who had pioneered into the world of social workers and courtrooms ahead of us.
We approached Wandisa, a Not for Profit company who are based in Somerset West, to facilitate the adoption process for us. Wandisa means ‘one who adds to the family’ in Xhosa and Zulu. They’re fantastic and after three adoptions, the staff at Wandisa feel like extended family now. Every adoption story is different and so there is no hard and fast rule about how long the screening process will take or how long it will take to be matched with a baby, but we appreciated the efficiency of Wandisa and feel that their social workers prepared us so well for the journey of adoption. It’s really nice to know that your phone calls will be answered and that your emails won’t sit unnoticed in a busy inbox.
Although I’ve heard some great stories of families who have adopted via Child Welfare, it is common knowledge that their social workers have a massive workload and limited resources which sometimes causes delays in the process. In contrast, we averaged about six months from screening to placement and were happy to pay for the fantastic service. It’s worth doing your homework to find an agency or social worker that you trust who charges fees that you can afford – Child Welfare is the most affordable route and some agencies are subsidised while others are not.
Adoption is about finding families for kids, not the other way around. Children who have been placed for adoption are assigned a social worker and parents who would like to adopt are also assigned a social worker. In our experience, the process is much quicker if both the child and prospective parents have social workers from the same agency which usually means that the birth mom has made contact with the agency directly.
The birth mom has 60 days to change her mind after signing consent and attempts need to be made to locate the birth father if he is not directly involved. This is usually done by placing adverts in local newspapers and he has 90 days to come forward after the advert has been published. This all means that the youngest a child can be matched with prospective adoptive parents is usually about three months.
Our kids were 10 months, 3 months and 12 months respectively when they joined our family.
It’s a lot of ‘hurry up and wait’ before you get matched, but the most gruelling part of the process has probably been dealing with Home Affairs to have our children’s names changed. Adoption screening is not easy, nor cheap and you never know how long it will all take, but all of this fades into the background when you get ‘the call’ to say that you’ve been matched as parents of a precious little one. When you meet your baby for the first time it really feels like you deserve to be there – the home visits, prying interviews and psychological assessments were so worth it.
That we didn’t know what we were doing! When you adopt, you are thrown into the deep end (often at relatively short notice) and you suddenly become parents who haven’t attended ante-natal classes and who have read more adoption books than parenting books. Usually your parenting skills grow as your child gets older, but if you adopt a child who is already a couple months old then you need to get used to thinking on your feet.
Each of our children were given such beautiful and meaningful birth names that we decided to keep these as their middle names, but we named them ourselves. It’s pretty tricky finding a name that you and your husband both love, but we got there eventually and chose these names for our kids that have special meaning and strong symbolism:
Ilan (strong tree) Sthembiso (promise) – There is a beautiful verse in Psalms about a strong tree firmly planted beside a river that yields fruit and prospers. We believe that our Ilan is going to be a life changer and a strong leader of men. God’s promise is that He places orphans in families and Ilan is now and forever our son.
Kira (precious) Mae (bitterly wanted) – Our Kira Pie is so precious to us and to God. We want her and love her so very much.
Judah (praise) Hlelo (God’s plan) – ‘Praise’ for ‘God’s plan’. We praise God for our Judah. Judah belongs in our family and God placed him with us.
Go for it. Chat to other couples who have adopted but realise that every couple’s adoption experience is different. There are some helpful local support groups on Facebook – search for ‘Passionate about adoption’ or ‘Adopt and Foster SA’ to ask your adoption specific questions and receive a variety of answers from different people. My blog also has a series of interviews with Moms through adoption called ‘Meet the Mama’ which has some great insights.
If you’re in Cape Town, get to the Arise adoption conference which is taking place on 24 October in Cape Town.
We were given the best advice which is to get used to sharing your kid’s adoption story with them in an age appropriate way from when they are very young. This means that you can get used to telling them their story without getting too emotional (it happens!) and then when your kids are old enough to understand what adoption really means, they feel like it is something that they always just ‘knew’. There are some great adoption themed books out there that can help you broach the subject too.
Definitely don’t wait for your child to ask questions before you broach the subject of adoption and don’t share their story with anyone else besides them – it’s their story and they can choose if and how they want to share it. For us, this means that not even Granny or Grandpa know the adoption history. You might find it hard to deal with your child’s story on your own and be keen to discuss it and process it, but it’s really best to keep these discussions between you and your partner or social worker. Your child is not defined by his or her story and once it’s out there in public, there’s no taking that back.
favourite Saturday outing: Park or beach adventures
favourite baby product: Our diaper champ nappy bin – we only discovered it with kid # 2 & have never looked back.
what does your family not leave the home without: The nappy bag and Kira’s dummy
favourite family activity: Family cuddles in our bed, although it’s a bit chaotic these days