Where to start? Well, the thing with me is that I’ve always known that I wanted to adopt, and living in South Africa, I always assumed that my adoptions would be transracial.
Being one of five daughters, and the only unmarried one, in my 20s, I used to tell my dad that his brown grandchildren would continue his name. And that is how it has transpired. Although, my dad died before he met his grandson who bears his name.
My mom tells me that I told her at 16 that I would not make my own children, and I would adopt.
I have not suffered the pain and anguish of infertility and therefore cannot speak to how it affects one’s sense of self, femininity, identity and place in the world. I have much admiration for the courage that I’ve seen from couples who’ve dealt with infertility and have emerged from their anguish with happy and complete adoptive families.
I have never tried to get pregnant and have no idea whether I’m able to.
I spent my 20s and 30s building my career, singing in a band and dabbling with the concept of a boyfriend, possible husband or lifelong partnership of some sort. I got engaged twice. Then changed my mind and then decided to choose a single life. A decision that is proving to be a happy one for me.
All I’ve ever really wanted as long as I can remember is a home with a big garden, old trees, dogs and short people.
In 2009 I decided it was time, so I started to investigate adoption and, first I met with a private adoption agency who advised me of all of the processes, legal, financial and emotional. She suggested that I also do the orientation offered by Johannesburg Child welfare, because, at the time, one couldn’t apply for adoption privately as well as through Child Welfare.
I attended the Child Welfare orientation in July 2009. I then applied for my police clearance certificate and went for medicals. I figured that if there was a medical reason that I would be declined, I wanted to find that out prior to actually applying and then going through all of the disappointment.
During this time, I had bought a house and was in the process of renovations.
During my 30s I had what could be described as the ultimate self-involved life style, I was responsible to no one – I started my own business and worked long hours, would make social arrangements at the drop of a hat and spend weekends reading books and lying in my bed all day.
So, when I finally moved into my home, I decided to adopt rescue dogs because I figured that I needed to practise being responsible for something alive before I became responsible for a real human. And dogs are better practise than goldfish.
We (my company) had done some charity fund raising work for an animal shelter and I had chosen two of their doggies from their website and went to fetch them on 23 December 2009.
I came home with four.
So there I was, with four terrified, traumatised and very hungry rescue dogs, and with a lot of help from a doggie behaviourist, we soon settled into our lovely routine. I knew that I had to be at home at a certain time and they needed the security of a routine of play time, love time, eating time and sleeping time. It was helpful for me to learn a different lifestyle.
Almost six months went by and I kept feeling that I wasn’t ready to apply for the adoption. Does anyone ever wake up one day and say – “ok, today I think I’ll have a child/adopt a child/get pregnant?
Life happens to us (hideous cliché) and I firmly believe that our children choose us, whether we make them ourselves or not.
Cut to a Saturday evening in May 2010 when I had some girlfriends over for dinner. One of whom, has three adopted children. Extraordinary Brave lady. The conversation moved to when, “When is it time for the children, Nic?” and again I heard myself saying that I didn’t feel ready and that I was terrified of the permanence and the responsibility.
She was telling us that she’d experienced some paperwork issues with her third child’s adoption, and as such was meeting with a new social worker the following Thursday who would help her conclude the process.
That Friday morning, she sent me a skype message which read something like, “I’m so sorry to do this to you, but I met with my new social worker yesterday and she told me that there’s a tiny baby boy who’d been left at Tembisa hospital, she asked me if I knew someone who should be his mom”.
She continued, “I’m really sorry but I’ve been awake all night and all I can think of is you and this little boy”.
You can imagine, 9-30am on an ordinary Friday morning, you can hardly continue with your work after a message like that.
I almost hyperventilated. I walked out onto the balcony of my office, looked at the sky, took a deep breath and knew instantly that he was my son. So many people have asked to me explain that – but I simply cannot rationalise it, because there is no rational explanation. It was a feeling and a KNOWING that this was it.
Knowing him now, I can just tell by the bossyness of his character, that his little soul was saying to me. “Enough of this self-doubt and procrastination already, l’ve found you, now come and fetch me”
I had been chatting to another friend of mine at the same time and we both left the office at 10am that memorable Friday morning and went to drink tequila and all I could say was. “oh my God, I’m somebody’s mom”.
I called the social worker and said to her, “that little boy in Tembisa, I’m his mom. What must I do now?”
The following five weeks was made up of paperwork and bureaucracy. The case was transferred from Midrand (under which Tembisa falls) to Witkoppen Child Welfare (because I live in Bryanston).
I had the love and support of a wonderful social worker at Witkoppen, but because all of my screening paperwork had not been completed and I had not yet formally applied to adopt, I wasn’t allowed to meet Oliver until all screening was complete.
It was a very long four weeks in my life. Every morning when I woke up I used to wonder to myself, I wonder how long he’s slept. I wonder if he’s done a poo today. I wonder if he throws up each time he eats. All those kinds of things.
My mom was visiting her family in Holland and (once I knew for certain) I called her at my cousin’s house and told her she was going to be a granny – next week.
She was absolutely thrilled.
During the four week wait, my sister and friends threw me an “emergency baby shower” and when I blinked, I had a room full of baby things, blankets, a cot, car chair, carry cot, clothes, about 6 month’s worth of nappies and baby toiletries, some of which I’m still using.
My friends still complain that it was not fair that I could drink champagne at my own baby shower.
It’s amazing how 9 months can be compacted into five weeks.
During the weeks that the social workers were finalising my screening, Oliver was moved from Tembisa hospital to Botshabelo babies home in Kyalami.
I was finally allowed to meet him on Friday 25 June where my social worker accompanied me to the home. He was then 10 weeks old and a whole 3kgs.
The following week was a haze of emotion, I spent the entire weekend at Botshabelo with Oliver, my sister and my mom came with me to meet him. During that following week, I would arrive at Botshabelo each day in time for his 3pm feed, bath him and then put him down to nap, read to the other kids while he slept, then I’d do the 6pm feed and put him to sleep and cry all the way home.
I have to say that I had the most amazing love and support and help from the care givers at Botshabelo, they showed me how to take care of such a very small human, so that once he came home I was much more confident with this tiny little human with the huge beautiful eyes.
The following Friday morning I received a call from my social worker to tell me that Oliver could come home the following day. I drove to Baby City and pretty much put the entire shop in my car, I then went to my office and announced that I was on maternity leave with immediate effect.
It had been five weeks between the first phone call and Oliver’s coming home to his forever home.
As with all new moms, I’m guessing, the first few weeks and months were an adrenalin filled blur, I was constantly concerned that I was doing the right thing and he cried a lot.
When I think back, I was really lucky with the timing of my maternity leave, because Oliver was almost 7 months old by the time I went back to work. I got to be with him during important formative times. We went to baby massage classes, baby gym classes and lunched with all the other mommies. I got to be there when he started sitting at six months and when he started crawling at 7 months.
Oliver started attending a play group three mornings a week when he was 17 months old, and is thriving. He is a very sociable, confident, happy and extraordinarily chatty little guy.
He is truly the best decision he ever made in my life, I often find myself wondering how I ever lived without him. He has brought such joy into our family. My sisters adore him and spoil him terribly and it is evident in his behaviour just how loved he feels.
I mentioned earlier that my dad died six years ago and left my mom absolutely bereft. She mourned for close to two years. Oliver has brought such joy and love into her life – they have such a special relationship that I’m quite convinced they knew each other in another life.
She spends many weekends with us and at the age of 74 proudly announces to Oliver that she’s wearing her soccer shoes and he should be ready for a game.
Oliver is 2 ½ now and we have settled into a very happy life with our four dogs and our home with big trees. I can honestly say that I have the life I’ve always wanted.
When people find out that I’m an adoptive parent, the question I most often get asked is “Isn’t it hard?” and that’s such a weird question, because yes, it’s hard because it’s an emotionally charged experience, but most life changing experiences are emotionally charged. I generally answer “No, it’s not hard, it’s a LOT of paperwork and just be prepared to accept that and go with the flow.” And remember that the universe is colluding so that love is the outcome.
My hope is that I can somehow play a role in promoting the concept of adoption to prospective adoptive parents and that in some small way I can help other people to experience the huge amount of joy and love that I have experienced.
I have a firm belief in the power of gratitude and Oliver has taught me a measure of gratitude that I didn’t quite understand before.
Oliver and I are both blessed to have chosen each other and I’m very aware that as he grows older there will be difficult issues that he will have to deal with. There will be the rejection of his birth mother, the fact that he is a different colour from his mama, and that he has no dad.
I hope to do my best to equip him with the strength and love that it will take for him to manage each of these as they arise as issues for him.
Oliver and I have a little “thank-you” ritual every evening. When he goes to bed, we talk about all the things we want to say thank you for.
I hope to teach him that when life becomes difficult, if “thank you” becomes your automatic fall-back thought, you’re less likely to behave like a victim and more likely to believe in your own strength and courage. Who knows whether that has any merit at all – I figure it’s worth a try.
For example, we say – thank you for the sunshine, thank you for our lovely doggies, thank you for Gogo, thank you for my friends at school, thank you for play time in the garden, thank you for our lovely home, thank you for the time we have together. And I always end with “Thank you for choosing me, Oliver”.