How I explained adoption to a class of six year olds

So, today is Ilan’s adoption day! Our special boy has been part of our family for five years and I can’t quite believe how time has flown since that first day we met each other in Durban. Ilan’s teacher invited me to use this opportunity to come and speak to his class about adoption. I thought it was a good idea and asked Ilan what he thought – he said YES with a big smile on his face. I was pretty intimidated at the thought of speaking to his class because I wasn’t sure how to frame the conversation and how to prevent the chat from getting out of hand, but I sucked it up and set a date. I need practice doing this and they’re only six year olds, right?

I invited my pregnant mom friend, Leigh from The Mom Diaries, to join us as she is 28 weeks pregnant and her son, Noah, is in the same class as Ilan. I’ve heard that when you speak to your child’s class about adoption, you shouldn’t single out your child but invite another mom to speak too, so that you can both chat about the different ways that children join families.

I did some research and got some input from other adoptive mom friends and this is what I planned to say, in six easy steps. (We didn’t get to all of it, but kids are forgiving and I think they caught the gist.)

1. Frame the conversation & invite another mom to join you

“Today we’ve come to talk to you about how God made children who all look different and how children join families is different ways. Some moms and dads choose to grow a baby in the mommy’s tummy and some moms and dads ask a Social Worker to help them find a child to love, a child who needs a forever mommy and daddy. We’re going to talk about how Noah grew in his mommy’s tummy and about how we adopted Ilan into our family.”

2. Read a relevant book

“Now I’m going to read you a story about a family that don’t all look the same, it’s called A Mother for Choco.” It’s a story about a little yellow bird called Choco who becomes part of Mrs Bear’s family. Leigh had to help me finish the story because I started getting a bit choked up, but fortunately I don’t think the kids even noticed.

After the story I asked: “Does it matter if your family don’t all look like each other?” The kids responded with a resounding ‘No!’ and then we spoke about how ‘Love makes a family.’

3. Share your child’s journey to your family

“Ilan’s adoption story belongs to him, but he is happy for us to share some of it with you today. Ilan was born in a hospital in Durban (who was born in a hospital?) and his first Mommy asked the Social Worker to find him a forever family because she wasn’t able to look after him herself. Yes, Ilan has two moms – lucky boy! His first mom grew him in her tummy and I am his forever mom.

From the hospital, Ilan went to live at a special home for a while. Our Social Worker phoned us to tell us about a cute little baby boy in Durban and said that he needed a family. We were so excited to go and meet Ilan.”

4. Share some pics and point out the similarities of your child’s story with that of his/her classmates

“Here are some pics of the place where Ilan was staying:

-This is Ilan when he was a baby (Did any of you also wear nappies when you were a baby?)

-This is the play area (Who likes playing with toys?)

-This is one of his friends

-This is his cot (Who else slept in a cot when they were little?)

-This is the home where he lived (I told a story about the resident monkeys that climbed all over the roof and used to steal the toys from the garden if we didn’t pack them away.)

-This is the highchair where Ilan was sitting when I first met him. (He was about to have lunch and so I fed him. He liked my red nailpolish. I gave him lots of kisses and cuddles and was so happy to meet him.)”

5. Explain what Adoption Day is all about

“Today is a special day because it’s Ilan’s adoption day. Ilan has been home with us for five years now. Five years ago we went to court and a judge said that Ilan is officially part of our family. It was a really exciting day for us and when we flew back home to Cape Town all of our friends and family were so excited to welcome him home.”

[Ilan was keen to chat about adoption and celebrate this special day, but not all children enjoy the attention and may not want to celebrate the day so publicly, or at all. Every child is different, so read your child before you make a big fuss. Ilan’s teacher made him a special crown to wear and he was over the moon.]

6. Hand over to a mom who can talk about her pregnancy journey

Leigh showed an ultrasound of her baby girl and spoke about how her baby is growing in her tummy.

“I have nine months to anticipate, pray for and plan for my new baby, just as Ilan’s mom prayed for him before they met each other. My tummy grows bigger every month before my baby is born. Ilan’s Mom’s tummy didn’t grow bigger but her heart grew with more and more love until it was about to pop. It’s very, very exciting for moms to meet their babies for the first time.

Meet the Mama – Stacy Saggers, Heart Mama of Faith Aviwe

Stacy is a very special Heart Mama – not only are we friends and (almost) neighbours but little Faith is betrothed to our Judah. It’s true, my boy will go to battle to win her heart! We met the Saggers when they visited our small group and we soon discovered that God was at work in the timing of our meeting because unknown to us, adoption was already on their hearts, and unknown to them, they were about to join a small group with two adoptive families – us and the Hamptons! (You can read the Hamptons story here). Thank you for sharing your story, Stacy!

Tell us a bit about yourself and your family

My name is Stacy, I’m wife to my wonderful husband Graeme and mom to my beautiful daughter Faith Aviwe. I’m pretty disorganised (the only form of grocery shopping that I know is panic shopping on the way home and the only ingredients that I always remember are milk, wine, oats, wraps, cheese and peanut butter (dinner is not fancy in the Saggers home), I work at a research company based in town (great coffee), my parents and one of my sisters (who, together with my other sister in Grahamstown, will soon be sending out a Facebook request for you to LIKE “FAITH’s BIGGEST FAN CLUB – daily pictures, updates and video’s straight to your mobile phone) live just around the corner, effectively setting us up with on-call babysitters and a never ending supply of love and support. My husband and my daughter are everything to me; every day that I wake up and I see them is a wonder to me; how did we ever find each other in this world?

Did you always know that you wanted to adopt?

Yes, my husband and I discussed adoption even before we were married. For sure we had a few challenges along the way which led us to question God’s plan for us but ultimately, we’ve always known we would adopt.

Did you use an agency or did you adopt through Child Welfare? What would you recommend?

We used an agency called Procare. They were absolutely wonderful – they held our hands the whole way through the process and they continue to offer us support post the adoption. We highly recommend them.

What was the hardest part of the process?

The wait! After we had submitted all the forms and done all the interviews and were finally declared “fit for adoption”, we just waited. To be fair, we only waited 3 and a half months but to us it was three and a half years. The day we got THE call that our little girl was ready to come home (well at the time, home affairs had her pegged as a boy but that’s another story)…. Well I can’t describe the feeling of amazement and wonder and the joy that filled our hearts.

What was your first night together as a family like?

Well our little girl went right to sleep when she got home so Graeme and I sort of looked at each other with a kind of “now what” shrug. So we ordered pizza, poured some wine and put a series on. And just before the first pizza slice was eaten, our little girl let us know that she was ready for a nappy change and some night time partying. And so brought to a close uninterrupted evenings of pizza, wine and series. So yes, best night ever.

What is your funniest adoption-related family story?

I don’t know that it’s terribly funny or even that its adoption related but we laugh about it a lot. On Saturdays, we take Faith with us for the Rondebosch Park Run. Graeme pushes her in the pram (and is always neck and neck with another father competing for the prestigious ‘first in the pram category’). Well Faith puts her feet up on the bar of the pram, crosses one leg over the other, sucks on her Squish baby food and waves her hand at the runners as we pass. Like the queen of England. But in a pram.

Do you celebrate ‘adoption day’ with any traditions?

I don’t know, do we? Our first anniversary is yet to arrive…

Advice for the screening process?

Accept it as part of the process that will bring your child home. While the process does feel tedious and at times terribly intrusive, it has so many advantages. For one, it forces you and your husband to discuss areas of parenting that you may not have considered if it had not been explicitly asked of you and for another, the workshops are so insightful in that they guide parents through the business of raising a well-adjusted child rather than simply focussing on the basics of keeping a baby alive.

How can friends and family best support those adopting?

The best support that friends and family can give is to treat families born by adoption like any other family. Something that tends to hurt me a little is when people ask me why I chose to adopt. Why does anyone need to know that? It is a special family secret that I share with my husband and daughter that is of no consequence to anyone else. Other information related to the adoption is just as sacred to us – it is all a part of our daughter’s life story which we will share with her and allow her to share with the world if and when she is comfortable to do so. So the best support you could offer those adopting would be exactly what we have received; lots of love and support. And offers to babysit.

Top tip for doing life as a rainbow nation family?

Know that people can’t help but have love in their hearts when they look at children, regardless of race. More often than not, when I catch people looking at Faith it’s because they are so taken with her gorgeous smile, not because she is adopted.


Meet the Mama – Sandi Gilmour, a South African Heart Mama living in Singapore

Today we meet Sandi Gilmour, a Cape Town mom of two who is living in Singapore with her husband Mike. Although I have never met Sandi in person, we have some mutual friends (including her husband Mike) and have been online friends right from the start of her adoption journey. Sandi shares her story with us here today, but also on her blog madisongracegilmour. Thank you, Sandi!

Tell us a bit about yourself and your family

My husband, Mike, and I live in Singapore and have two children. Madison has just turned two years old and Jack is 12 weeks old. We are originally from Cape Town and have been living in Singapore for just over 5 years. Mike and I are both teachers – Mike is the Deputy Head Master at GEMS World Academy in Singapore and I have recently stopped teaching to be at home with our two children. Both Jack and Maddi are Singaporean Chinese and they were really young when they joined our family – Maddi was two weeks old and Jack was one day old.

Did you always know that you wanted to adopt?

To be honest, adoption was always something that we thought very highly of but was perhaps something that we would look to do once we had biological children first. However, when the “plan” to have biological children didn’t happen due to multiple miscarriages, adoption became a very real option to us. It was definitely something that we had many fears and questions about but looking back we can’t believe we even had all those fears. We feared being able to love a child who wasn’t biologically ours and who I didn’t give birth to. But as soon as our babies were put in our arms, the love we felt was indescribable.

Maddi was ten days old when we got the call from the agency (after only being on their waiting list for four days), and a few days later we met at the lawyers office and brought her home. That was a really incredible experience – having nothing and then in a few days being a family of three with a newborn!

We were matched with Jack’s birth mom when she was 31 weeks pregnant, so we had a little more time to prepare physically, emotionally and mentally. She gave birth to Jack at 39 weeks and we brought him home the very next day. We have closed adoptions for both Jack and Maddi, meaning that we have no contact with their birth parents and haven’t met them.

(Here in Singpapore, the majority of adoptions are closed and that is the option that we felt most comfortable with. However, we do have the birth parents details and pictures for a time when / if Jack and Maddi would want to pursue meeting them. We have said that we are willing to send pictures or updates to the birth parents via the agency but that is not wanted by the birth parents so we respect that. I think there are mant situations where an open adoption works well, but it is very much dependent on the people involved and the circumstances surrounding the adoption.

Did you use an agency or did you adopt through Child Welfare? What would you recommend?

In Singapore it works slightly differently to South Africa. The perception that many people have is that it’s near impossible to adopt from Singapore as the birth rate is actually decreasing. There are no orphanages in Singapore. There are foster families who foster children while their family unit is being rehabilitated and the majority of the time those children are reunited with their families. On the rare occasion where these children are not able to be placed back with their families, then they become the care of the Ministry of Social and Family services and can be adopted. This process tends to be a long process and there are not too many children in this position.

With all that being said, there are private adoption agencies in Singapore that walk alongside mothers who are wanting to place their child for adoption and we chose this route. These agencies will place a child / baby with a family, take them through all the legal steps and assist in getting the child’s new birth certificate. The one drawback is that the private agencies are incredibly expensive.

What was the hardest part of the process?

The hardest part of the process for us was the waiting period for the adoption to be finalised. In Singapore the birth mom can legally change her mind and decide to parent the child right up until the final adoption order is granted. As time goes on, it does become more difficult for her to request the child back but she is well within her rights to do so. Maddi’s adoption took just under ten months to become finalised and so we are expecting a similar time frame with Jack. Once the adoption order is granted it only takes about two weeks to get the new birth certificate which is really efficient.

How was your first night together as a family?

The first night with Maddi, we were both just on such an adrenaline rush. We just wanted to stare at her. We were just in awe that she was ours and just so perfect! I do remember waking up in a sleepy state to a baby crying and then remembered that we had a baby in the house who needed a bottle.

Jack’s first night at home made me remember how tough it was getting up numerous times during the night to feed a newborn. Life is also a lot busier with two children than just one so I feel a lot more exhausted with the two children than I did with just Maddi.

What is your funniest adoption-related family story?

There are so many that come to mind. Having children who do not look the same as us definitely gets a lot of attention here and many strange comments (mostly from strangers). I had a lady at the check out counter at the grocery store ask me if I “bought from China?” I thought she was referring to my Fuji apples but no she was referring to my daughter. Other questions we have had is “How much you pay for them” and “you must have paid a lot more for the boy than the girl”. In Chinese culture, boys are seen as more “valuable” than girls.

Once Maddi was having a meltdown in the shopping aisle, so I just ignored her and carried on getting items of the shelf, until a lady came around the corner, bent down to Maddi and said “Oh dear, have you lost your mommy?” She was rather puzzled and I said that I am her mother and she is fine!

All these comments used to really bother me when we had just got Maddi but now I think I am more equipped to know when to ignore, how to answer, or what to answer.

Do you celebrate ‘adoption day’ with any traditions?

Maddi and Jack are still rather young and don’t have an understanding of their ‘Adoption days’ just yet, but we make it our ‘Family Day’. It’s a day to spend together as a family, doing fun things together and just reflecting on what absolute treasures our children are and how we love being a family with them. When they are older, we would love for them to chose the fun activities for us all to do together on their special Adoption Day.

Is there anything that you do to celebrate your childrens’ heritage?

We want to celebrate their Singaporean Chinese heritage as much as we can, and also introduce them to certain South African traditions that we have too. There are certain festivals celebrated here in Singapore that are really big such as Chinese New Year. Each year we have bought Maddi (and now will for Jack too) the traditional Chinese clothing and we enjoy watching the Lion Dance that is done throughout the Chinese New Year period.

We have also given our children a chinese name. And incredibly, before we had met them we gave them their chinese names and when we saw their original birth certificates, we saw that their names were the exact chinese names that their birth parents gave them. In Chinese culture there is usually a link to names passed down to family members. Maddi’s chinese name is Xuan En (meaning: to proclaim, declare Grace) and Jack’s is Jian En (meaning: to establish Grace).

If we are still living in Singapore when Maddi and Jack go to school, the International schools offer Mandarin as a foreign language so they will have the opportunity to learn to speak the local language. On the South African side, Maddi loves biltong and boerewors. Thanks to friends and family back home, we have a great selection of African story books, the South African Alphabet book and traditioanl African clothes. Maddi loves watching rugby (and Im sure Jack will too) and when it’s a big game on, then they wear their Springbok rugby jerseys and shout “Bokke”.

Advice for the screening process?

My advice would be to just take things one step at a time. It can seem very overwhelming when you look at the whole picture. I really had to break the whole process down into manageable steps and make lists. The ‘screening process’ is a little different here in Singapore. The government does not require a Home Study Report if you are adopting a Singaporean child. However, after the first court date, the child falls under the guardianship of the Ministry of Social and Family Services (MSF) and then a Social Worker is assigned to you and does all the necessary checks and home visits etc. The MSF then submits their report to the courts, who will then grant the final adoption order in your favour if all requirements are met.

How can friends and family best support those adopting?

The support of friends and family is just so important. We are very lucky to have family and friends who have always supported our decision to adopt right from the beginning. To have our children loved and accepted by everyone is incredible. Parents who are wanting to adopt have the normal pressures of raising children but also with the added strand of adoption. In the back of my mind, I am very aware of the questions that my children will have for me in the years to come, how will they will process their adoption story. So to have friends and family who are walking alongside us is just so incredibly valuable.

Top tip for doing life as a rainbow nation family?

As a cross cultural family, I was very aware of our ‘differences’ in appearance when we first got Maddi. It made me feel very insecure and uncomfortable. To us, they are our children. We don’t see them as ‘Chinese’ – they are first and foremost our children.

I am proud of who they are and where they have come from. So my top tip would be to go out and be proud of your family. Yes, there may be stares and comments. Some of those are out of curiosity and/or ignorance but it’s important to hold your head up high and be proud of this little family unit that is unique and has been woven together in a special way.


New series ‘This Is Us’ gets it right: Five lessons for adoptive parents

Tears people, tears. This show is so beautiful in so many ways, but if adoption is part of your life you should really have a box of tissues ready. ‘This Is Us’ follows siblings Kate, Kevin and Randall as their lives intertwine. Kate and Kevin were originally part of a triplet pregnancy but their biological brother was stillborn. Their parents, Jack and Rebecca, intent on bringing home three babies, decide to adopt another newborn (Randall), a child who was born on the same day and brought to the same hospital after his biological father left him at a fire station because he was unable to care for him himself.

This comedy-drama series portrays an incredible insight into the complexitites of adoption in a way that no other mainstream media has succeeded to do until now. I’m so excited because this popular show featuring the likes of Mandy Moore, Milo Ventimiglia and Sterling K Brown has the potential to change society’s opinion of adoption. Episodes move between the stories of the past and present of the characters and the themes of transracial adoption, reunification with birth family and racism are explored with clarity and empathy.

Watch the trailer and then scroll down to read more:

Here are five lessons that I’m taking to heart from ‘This Is Us’, although I could share many more than five:

1.  Adoptive parents, tell your kids everything that you know about their story 

Adoptive parents: ‘Suck up your own feelings about him (or her) having birth parents out there’ and keep your child’s birth parents part of the story. Because your child’s story didn’t start with adoption. Yes, you want to be enough for your child, but love isn’t enough and kids all need to know where they come from so that they can build their own identity. Don’t keep secrets, but tell your child what you know in an age appropriate way and be proactive on a fact gathering mission if you don’t know much.

Although open adoption isn’t as common in South Africa as it is in the States, there are other ways to keep birth parents part of the story. In a flashback scene, young Randall goes in search of black adults who can curl their tongues as he can in the hope of finding his birth parents – this unsuccessful mission of his wouldn’t have been so important to him if he’d been shown a photo of his birth father, been told his name and reassured that he could meet him at some point.

Note: I know not all adoptive parents have access to information, let alone a photo, but if you do know something then pass that info along. Adoptive parents who don’t have much info may want to maintain contact with their child’s safety parents or baby home.

2. If you plan to adopt transracially, you’ve go to be prepared to do the work

Adoptive parents, don’t whitewash your child’s childhood. Don’t move in such white circles that they feel the need to count the number of black people they know on a little notepad, as young Randall did. This leads me to my next point..

2. Racial mirrors are so important 

You need to make a plan to put racial mirrors in place for your black kids. Black role models will show your son or daughter who he or she might grow into some day. In this series, Randall’s father Jack takes him to karate and finds a community of black men and their sons who welcome Randall into the fold and perfom a moving initiation ceremony for him. This is one of my favourite scenes because I love the idea of a coming of age ceremony and hope to do something similar for my son one day.

Back to the scene, Jack is asked to lie down as if doing a push up and then Randall is invited to lie on his back. Jack responds yes to each of these questions as he does push ups with the extra weight of his son on his back:

‘Are you willing to hold him up whatever comes his way?’

‘Are you willing to raise this young boy to a strong man.’

‘Are you willing to push this young man to be the best he can be?’

‘Are you willing to lift him to greater heights even if it hurts?’

I dare you not to cry.

4. Blended families are beautiful and complicated

Diverse and colourful families are beautiful, but a family with both bio kids and adopted kids can add an extra layer of complexity to the family dynamic. In ‘This is Us’ Randall questions his place in the family because he is constantly picked on by his brother, Kevin. Kevin carries a lifelong grudge against Randall because he feels that their mom overcompensated for the fact that Randall was adopted and he felt overlooked and ignored in the process.

If you have a blended family, don’t let this dynamic slip off your radar.

5. Birth parents hurt long after the adoption too

I often think about this and although every adoption story is different, I am certain that biological parents don’t find placing their child for adoption easy. Maybe necessary, but never easy. I wish that open adoption in order to facilitate some contact between children and their first family was something that we aimed for in South Africa.

While I loved every single episode of this series, there are just two things I’d like to point out:

-It is highly unlikely these days that a family can just adopt a newborn without screening or training. It’s also not best practice for a Social Worker to place a child with adoptive parents until the allocated 60 or 90 days have passed as birth parents have the right to change their minds.

-Secondly, while the back story Randall’s adoption is made known to the viewer for the sake of the storyline – if we were able to step out of the series for a minute, we’d be reminded that it’s never a good idea to publicise the reason why your child became available for adoption. Your child’s story is their story to share and it’s best to keep it to yourself until you can share it with them in an age appropriate way. The fact that we know that Randall was abandoned at a fire station by his drug addicted father is too much information full stop. (Yes, I know this is just a show!)

If you’ve watched it already, I’m keen to hear what you think of ‘This is Us’? Pop me a comment below >>

Photo credit: Ron Batzdorff/NBC

Have you heard? Kids eat free at John Dory’s on Sundays

Ilan and I recently spent a Sunday afternoon at John Dory’s in Canal Walk with a bunch of lovely bloggers and their little ones. It was my first time at John Dory’s largely because I’m a vegetarian and assumed that there wouldn’t be anything on the menu for me (I was wrong!). I also wouldn’t ordinarily choose a restaurant in a mall as my first choice for a family treat, but I was pleasantly surprised. Here why I’d take my family back to John Dory’s:

-Although John Dory’s Canal Walk is situated above the busy food court it has plenty of glass windows letting the outdoor sunshine stream on in and the seating is spacious and less chaotic than other family-friendly restaurants that we’ve visited in the past.

-The kids loved the fantastic indoor play area and it took some convincing to get them to come and sit down to eat their lunch. The kids in the play area were supervised and there was free facepainting the day that we were there too. Win! This meant that us moms got to enjoy a glass of bubbly in peace.

-KIDS EAT FREE ON SUNDAYS – On Sundays kids under 12 eat free: for every adult that is dining off of the main menu, a child (under 12) eats free off kids menu. See the full kids menu here: https://www.johndorys.co.za/Menu/kids

.-The sushi is pretty damn tasty and there are plenty veg sushi options if you’re not a fan of raw fish. You can take advantage of half price sushi on Wednesdays and half price sushi platters on Sundays.

Ilan tucked into his ribs like any other meat-loving kid who has a vegetarian mom who feeds him soya every other night.
Vegetarian sushi is a thing. You should try it sometime.

Meet the Mama – Nancy Barber, a Heart Mama who pursued adoption as a first choice

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This story is an extra special one for me. My hope for this blog has been to design a space to pop adoption onto prospective parents’ radars and to create a platform for adoptive parents to share their stories. Sometimes all it takes to encourage those who may already have adoption at the back (or front) of their minds to take that next step, is share with them that there is a wide community of like minded people out there!

Today we meet Nancy and her husband Dean, who adopted little Daniel when he was 4 months old. I met Nancy on Instagram and love the pics that she shares of her little one – yay social media! The Barber family story is a beautiful illustation of how God is always in charge and how He cares about the smallest details of our stories.

Tell us a bit about your family

My husband, Dean, and I have been married for 7 years. Dean is a Primary School teacher. I am a speech-language therapist with a passion for working with adults with neurogenic disorders. Dean is from Natal and I am from Johannesburg. We currently live in Jhb. We have a beautiful, happy baby boy, Daniel, who is now 11 months old. He joined our family in May 2016 when he was 4 and a half months old. We enjoy road running and have already indoctrinated Daniel into the world of running by letting him watch the winner of Comrades cross the finish line. He has also watched the Soweto Marathon with Granny and Pops while we ran it.

Did you always know that you wanted to adopt?

I had desires in my teenage years to adopt and in Dean’s early twenties he also had desires to adopt. Dean and I started discussing adoption from when we were engaged. Over the years of our marriage, the discussion of adoption has occurred numerous times. In 2015 we started talking a lot more seriously about having biological children but also our desire to adopt. We were trying to decide if we needed to have a biological child first or if we should adopt first. In our researching we came across the HeartMama blog and when I read Jules and her husband’s story, it was like an instant awakening in my heart that adoption can be a first choice. I was so excited that I shared this with Dean and through prayerful consideration, we knew that this is what God wanted for our family- adoption as a first choice. It was so liberating to not feel the pressure of trying to justify and decide between a biological or an adopted child and that adoption can be a first choice for growing a family. We have chosen not to pursue biological children because of the love and conviction God has put in our hearts for adoption.

After making the decision, Dean and I were unsure as to the next step to actually adopt as there were so many different agencies when we googled. At a friend’s birthday in September 2015, we were introduced to an amazing couple who were going through the adoption process and were about to do the preparation course. They were instrumental is helping us decide on the agency we went through. They were also so supportive in explaining the process and sharing their heart for adoption with us. We then started the process in November 2015 with the orientation session and it was cemented in our hearts that adoption was the first choice for our family. It was amazing how God put the right people in our path to help us on our journey of adopting. What was also so special is that we always wanted to name our son Daniel and we had not told anyone this (not even family members) so when our social worker phoned us with THE call and told us our little boy’s name was Daniel, it was just another huge confirmation from God that He wanted our little boy to be a part of our family. The way God has been in the details of the adoption has been amazing!

Did you use an agency or did you go through Child Welfare? What would you recommend?

We went through an agency. They are a very ethical agency so we felt we could trust them in the process and believed they had the best interest of the baby/child at heart. Going through the agency and working with the social worker was like having a pregnancy and each interview and discussion time was like having an ultrasound and gave us a lot of food for thought. It grew our marriage and our hearts for the arrival of our precious boy.

What was the hardest part of the process?

Waiting for all the government documentation was frustrating at times but we have found the hardest part of the process was the first few months of having Daniel as part of our family. What has been challenging is trying to convey to society in general that we are not saviours who need a “well done” as well as the subtle racism that can be directed towards a transracial family. It has been eye opening and has challenged us as well.

What was your first night together as a family like?

Daniel is and has been such an easy, happy, content baby so our first night was peaceful and it felt normal for him to be part of our family. Waking up the next morning and realizing that this little human was our son was so exciting.

Do you celebrate ‘adoption day’ with any traditions?

We are going to give Daniel the choice as he gets older if and how he would like to celebrate the day that he joined our family.

Advice for the screening process?

Just be yourself and be very open with your social worker. Also acknowledge that the government aspects of the process are going to take time and require you or your spouse to make numerous phone calls and visits to government departments. Accepting this made following up on documents etc feel a bit “easier”.

How can friends and family best support those adopting?

Treat it like a pregnancy- ask how the sessions are going, be interested in the process just like one would for the process of pregnancy, do a baby shower, offer meals for after the baby arrives. All those things make a huge difference for the family adopting. Only don’t ask frequently if you have the government forms you require 😉 haha.

Top tip for doing life as a rainbow nation family?

Embrace it and allow you and your spouse and your family the space to discuss the hard topics and have your own world views and prejudices challenged and changed. Also accept that every time you leave the house your family is on show (many people stare, comment, want to touch or hold him) and be proud of your beautiful family!

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Because best friends are furr-ever – WIN a Build-A-Bear experience this festive season

If bear hugs are your thing, you absolutely have to pop in to your local Build-A-Bear workshop with your kids this festive season, or perhaps save it for a ‘Build-A-Bear Workshop Party’ for your kid’s next birthday?

Ilan, Kira and I were treated to an afternoon workshop experience at Build-A-Bear, Canal Walk a few weeks ago and it was just magical. The kids were able to customise their bears from scratch – they could select their bear (there are superhero choices for the boys!); record a voice message or choose a scent for their bear; stuff their bear (see video below) and then ‘make their bear come alive’ through a little heartwarming ceremony full of kisses. Before they left they were also led in a little chant: ‘Best friends are furr-ever, so I promise right now to make my bear my number one pal’ and given birth certificates for their bears. A sweet afternoon from start to finish.

Build-A-Bear has a special story in our family because Judah was given a blue dragon Build-A-Bear with a personalised message for his first birthday before he left the La Lucia Baby House to come home with us. I was told that this bear-giving is a tradition for little ones that turn one while still in their care. Judah presses his dragon’s paw for his ‘God loves you’ message almost daily. And now I have THREE talking bears in my home. Well, one purple bear named ‘Princess Maya’, one Ninja Turtle called ‘Ninja Turtle’ and then Judah’s blue dragon. I recorded a message for Kira and I can hear her playing it on repeat before she goes to bed every night and Ilan recorded his own Ninja Turtle message – ‘Cowabunga dude! Let’s dive for pizza’. Less nostalgic, but that’s ok.

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Kira and her ‘Princess Maya’.
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Princess Maya and Kira were given matching pink bows. They both love pink (and purple).
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There’s a big smile hiding behind that bear.
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Ilan and his Ninja Turtle with the same name.
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Boys. You’ll be glad to know that T-Rex did no permanent damage to Mr Ninja Turtle.
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Thanks to the fantastic Build-A-Bear staff for a fun afternoon!

For more info check out the Build-a-Bear Website and Build a Bear Facebook Page or enter to win a Build-A-Bear Ultimate Experience valued at R599 right here, right now:

  1. Like & Share the pinned Facebook post on Heart Mama Blog.
  2. Comment here on this post with the name of your closest Build-A-Bear Workshop.

The competition closes on Friday 2 December at 12h00 and the winner will be selected via Random.org. The winner drawn must have followed all necessary steps above in order to qualify for the prize. This competition is open to South African residents only. Good luck!

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‘I’m adopted’ – A chat with Geoffrey Wardropper on World Adoption Day

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Today is World Adoption Day – a worldwide awareness campaign and celebration of adoption. It’s a day to celebrate the joy of adoption but also to remember the loss of first families and ‘honour the full range of experiences and feelings of adoptees’ (paraphrased quote from my friend and new Heart Mama, Erin Jegels).

I’m so keen to share this next adoption story – Geoffrey is a Durban-born Glenwood boy who was a student there when my husband was teaching back in the day which is how Geoffrey and I started chatting. And now we’re friends on Facebook which is legit. Geoffrey, thanks for sharing your personal story with us!

What is your definition of adoption? 

To me adoption is when someone is accepted into a family as if they were born from that family. They take on the family name and characteristics and are included in all aspects of that particular family.

How do you feel about adoption in general?

Adoption is great. They say blood is thicker than water etc but I don’t always believe in that entirely because sometimes people are meant to be in each other lives for many unknown reasons and adoption allows that to happen. It was like that for me anyway.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your family

I am 25 years of age. I am completing my second year as a candidate attorney at a prestigious Law firm in Durban, Shepstone and Wylie, specialising in the maritime department (International Trade, Transport and Energy). I am a sports enthusiast and currently compete in Powerlifting.  I have 3 sisters and one brother who are all much older than me. I am the only adopted child in the family. My parents played a huge role in raising a few of my cousins that live/ lived with us, so growing up there was always children my age around the house. At home now it’s just my mom, Brenda, my closest sister Michelle and my 14 year old cousin, Brian. My dad unfortunately passed on quite some time ago.

How do you feel about your parents?

Love my parents. That’s an easy one. I didn’t see as much as I would have liked of my father as he worked away from home a lot but I loved him, still do, miss him a lot, always respected the sacrifices he made to provide for his family and for me. I used to just sit and watch him, he wouldn’t always speak a lot but I learnt plenty from his actions and the wise things he did tell me. My mom, well she is just a gem. She is probably the only person that truly understands me, even emotionally, she’s my confidant, the number 1 lady in my life. We were meant to be in each other’s lives.

How do you feel about your biological parents?

I don’t know them. What I will say is that I am grateful that they allowed the adoption process to go through. I have never wanted to connect with my biological parents and family.

How were you told that you were adopted? 

My parents made sure that I knew from day one as far back as I can remember, that I was adopted. What is important to note here is that my family also always told me how much they loved me and physically showed me so I never once felt like I was different. I grew up thinking that I was one of them, part of the family, I still think that way even though I’m brown.

Has race been an issue? Has race affected your friendships?

Yes race has affected friendships but the friends I have in my life now, the longest standing friends, have never seen it as an issue and so I am extremely lucky to have a close group of friends from various race groups.

What has been the hardest part of adoption for you?

Hardest part of adoption for me has been the way in which society have looked at my family and myself. Lots of people are happy when they find out I’m adopted but unfortunately the majority of people are still very anti especially when I tell them I can’t speak Zulu etc. It’s funny because if I wasn’t adopted I probably wouldn’t be alive today yet they want to criticize a family who in essence saved a life and gave an opportunity to better their future. Its sad how backwards most people are in their thinking. I learnt from a young age to accept being different and have a tough exterior which has made me the strong secure person I am today.

Hmmm language, well I am a bit different. I have never wanted to learn to speak zulu, that’s my own choice. It might be because all my life people have been telling me to learn it and that it’s my duty to know it as it’s my mother tongue etc but who are they to say what my mother tongue should be just because of my skin colour. I hate being told what to do haha so it’s probably why I do the opposite.

Do you wish you had been taught Zulu as a kid? How do you think white parents of adopted kids should negotiate language?

I feel that because I am black it doesn’t mean that I must speak Zulu. I think it’s very arrogant for people to think that. I am black but I could be from France or Scandinavia etc especially in today’s world.

So to answer your question I think have your child speak the language spoken in the family home. And then expose them to various languages and let your child decide what additional language they want to speak if any. I used France because I would probably want to learn French or even a Scandinavian language before I learn to speak zulu. It’s just my preference. People might say it’s crazy because you need to learn Zulu if you are living in South Africa but honestly English is fine and who says your child will want to stay in south Africa. The world is so big, you never know where they could venture off to.

Is there anything in particular your parents did really well? Anything they could have done differently?

My parents never forced anything and allowed things to happen naturally. They showed me love like any other parents would show their children and I therefore believe there is nothing different they could have done.

How can adoptive parents best equip their children to deal with the hard parts of being adopted cross culturally?

I would say love them. Let them know that they aren’t different, that we are all human. Show that particular child their beauty or strong points and help them focus on those points growing up while minimising any weaker flaws they might have, just as any person would have.

Are you treated differently by people of your birth culture when they discover that you are adopted by parents of another race?

Yes, most of the time I am treated negatively. I’ve reached a point now where I walk away from them while they are in mid sentence if they happen to be speaking to me negatively.

Was/is “belonging” and feeling like you belonged ever an issue?

Yes, when I was younger, never at home but with society before I ‘found myself’ and realised the type of person I am. The process that every young adolescent goes through while growing up.

What would you say to other kids who have been adopted?

I would tell them to embrace what’s inside of them. Tell them that they should never change to be accepted by others. They must stay true to themselves and let people know who they are.|

What should adoptive parents say to their adopted child?

Tell them that you love them, that you are their parents. More importantly it’s what you do. Show them the world and try to teach them to understand it and that people will have negative things to say but let them know that they are stronger than those people or bad situations. Tell them to be proud. Tell them to reach for the stars.

What not to say to your adopted child?

Things like: ” your parents hated you” and “that’s why we adopted you” or “nobody loved you” etc.

Would you ever consider adoption in your future?

Yes, I hope to someday if it is meant to be.

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We finally got a puppy! Does a Laugh & Learn pup count?

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So our kids have been begging for a puppy for the longest time but it’s just not going to happen for them right now – we live in a complex with a no dogs rule and to be honest, I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready for the barking and constant poop scooping that comes with the territory. Enter a special delivery from Fisher Price to save me from their constant nags and voila, my kids are overnight pet owners – to a Laugh & Learn Smart Stages Puppy! (And this particular pet is cute and fluffy and has an off button.)

Our much loved Laugh & Learn pup has been given the name ‘Puppy’ and is the toy of the moment in our house. He’s not only teaching our kids colours and parts of the body but is teaching them how to SHARE too. I’m a long time Fisher Price fan as their toys are educational, durable, built to last and there is definitely a degree of sentimentality attached to the brand for me. This toy is no different and just see how much Kira loves playing with Puppy:

Want to see what our new @fisherprice Laugh & Learn pup can do? #fisherprice

A post shared by Jules Kynaston (@heartmamablog) on

 

Puppy is for kids from 6 to 36 months and has three different age appropriate stages (there is a button on the left foot to switch between the stages) and you can also press and hold puppy’s heart to play all 20 sing-along songs in a row. Even though Kira and Ilan are both over 36 months, they still love taking turns pressing the buttons and singing along with their pup. Judah who is two and half is beyond besotted with Puppy and when the novelty of the new toy wears off with the others, I think he will claim it as his own.

These are the Smart Stages of the Laugh & Learn pup, with learning content that changes as your baby grows:

  1. Explore 6 months + – Teaches first words, colours and parts of the body.
  2. Encourage 12 months + – Teaches counting and colours with sing-along songs.
  3. Pretend 18 months + – Baby enjoys roles play fun with songs, phrases and music
  4. Sleep – You can switch your pup to silent so that there are is no sound or lights.

Why I love this toy for my kids: You can select high or low volume (um, you can guess which one I chose!) and the sound is not grating at all. I generally avoid toys with batteries, but Puppy get the thumbs up from me. And because Puppy makes learning fun – it’s the sweetest thing to hear your kids singing together first thing in the mornings. We’re loving our new pet!

What’s your favourite Fisher Price toy?

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If you’d like to find out more about the Fisher Price toy range, follow them on Facebook.

This post was sponsored by Fisher Price.

Meet the Mama – Naomi Botha, a Heart Mama surprised with twins!

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Naomi is a local-living, British-born Heart Mama who started the adoption process soon after gaining permanent residency in South Africa and was surprised with twins – double joy! We met online in the Passionate about Adoption Facebook group and have a couple of mutual friends but this is the first time I’ve heard her adoption story. Thanks for sharing it with us, Naomi!

Tell us a bit about yourself and your family.

My husband, Troskie, and I have been married for 9 ½ years. I’m from the UK and he’s South African. We met in England in 2006 and moved to Cape Town in 2012, where I immediately felt ‘at home’.

In August 2015, after 9 months of waiting… we found out we were to receive a double blessing; not just the one baby we were expecting and were all set up for, but we got ‘the call’ and discovered we had been matched with TWINS! To our even greater surprise we were asked if we could pick them up in two days?! So, we went from being ‘just the two of us’ to a ‘family of four’ virtually overnight. We celebrated Esther & Josiah’s Homecoming, a year ago, on 19 August 2015; undoubtedly the happiest day of our lives! The twins were almost six months old when they came home to us and their Homecoming Day was exactly 1 month before my 40th Birthday!

We had wanted to adopt two children and loved the idea of having a boy and a girl, so these two precious munchkins have completed our family perfectly and have turned our world upside down. We find it quite incredible how well matched we are to our children, as Esther’s character and personality are so much like her mama and Josiah is just like his dada in so many ways! We know without a doubt that God has chosen us to be their parents and them to be our children.

Did you always know that you wanted to adopt?      

Adoption has always been on my heart. Ever since I was a young girl and was personally adopted into God’s family, I knew that I would one day adopt and that adoption was part of God’s plan for me. Interestingly, a couple of years later my parents adopted my older brother. This was not without its challenges, as I was the eldest of three daughters and was nine when my parents adopted my brother who was eleven. Although it is now not recommended to adopt out of birth order (and I completely agree that it has significant implications for both existing children and adoptees), I do believe God chose my brother to join our family.

When I met my husband, we talked about adopting one day and although he had not really considered adoption before, he was in complete agreement with the idea and shared my heart to open our home and family to children who were in need of a loving home. When we got married, we both decided we wanted to have children by birth and adoption and always said, “Whatever happens first!” Unfortunately, we soon discovered that I had a severe gynae condition which was not only physically debilitating but which prevented us from conceiving. So, when we moved to South Africa and I gained my permanent residency, we decided to start the process of adoption.

As adoption was a relatively new concept for my husband, I wanted to be sure that we were on the same page and that he was 100% certain about adopting before we proceeded with the process. We attended the Arise Conference in 2012, soon after we arrived in Cape Town, where Troskie found he gained all the information he needed to know and understand, as well as the space to process the questions he had about it all. It was a very valuable time for us both.

Did you use an agency or did you adopt through Child Welfare? What would you recommend?

I always like to gather as much information as possible so we can make informed decisions, so we attended the Arise Conference and I contacted a number of different adoption agencies and Child Welfare here in Cape Town. I also joined a couple of adoption groups on Facebook and spoke to friends who have adopted. Having all the information and approached a few different social workers, we both felt at peace that Abba Adoptions were the right people for us to pursue our adoption journey with. They are wonderful people and their adoption administration fees are extremely affordable, as they are government subsidised and offer a sliding scale depending on income. We were really happy with the service, love and support we received by Abba Adoptions on our adoption journey and the care they took in matching us to our precious children.

We highly recommend Abba but I would recommend anyone who is interested in adoption to contact a few different options and find who you feel most comfortable with. Also, if you can, do attend the annual Arise Conference (happening in November 2016 in Cape Town and PE) as it’s incredibly informative and answers so many of the questions you are burning to ask and even those you didn’t know you had.

What was the hardest part of the process?

The waiting and uncertainty of when to expect our baby was most definitely the hardest part for us. Especially the months of waiting to be matched, after we had completed the interview stages and been approved as adoptive parents. We had waited so long to start our family over the years and had dealt with much pain and heartache together, and this final stage of waiting during the months after being approved seemed to go on forever! In actual fact it was only 5 months and incredibly it took 9 months altogether, since we first handed in our adoption application.

It was amazing that as soon as we heard the news that we had been matched and all the waiting was finally over – all the frustrations and anxieties we had felt about ‘when will it happen?’ melted away – we were suddenly going to become a family of four and our lives would never be the same again! When you hold your precious baby (or in our case babies) in your arms, all the waiting and angst pales into insignificance and you know it has all most definitely been worth the wait!

What was your first night together as a family like?

Bringing our babies home was so incredible, if a little surreal! Was this REALLY happening?!

The minute I saw Esther & Josiah in the baby home, I knew that they were my son and daughter. My daughter’s little face lit up with the most beautiful smile when she saw me smiling at her; it was such a precious moment! And my son clung to me so tightly, smiled happily as I cuddled him and let me feed him… Driving home with them strapped into their car seats on the back seat of our car, it suddenly dawned on us that they were actually coming home with us and that this was forever! I think we both felt a huge weight of responsibility and fear in that moment! Hoping we could be all that they needed us to be as their parents.

Just before we met the twins, we had been given a whole lot of information at our meeting with the social workers and baby home staff so it was all a little overwhelming, but I was immensely thankful that the babies had been so well cared for and had a great routine in place, so we could just continue to go with the routine when we got home and this certainly helped them settle very quickly. I was amazed that they were not at all distressed or anxious when we got to our home. It was almost as if they knew they were ‘home’!

We bathed them, fed them their bottle and put them to bed (following their usual routine) and they went off to sleep really well… Then, our first night of very little sleep began, as Esther woke up 7 times, needing to be fed and comforted!  A year on, she still wakes 2-4 times a night! Thankfully her brother is a much better sleeper. Yet, for me, even the wake ups were such a joy; as I went in and held my baby girl, I was filled with so much love and adoration for this precious soul who had been entrusted to me, it frequently made me cry!

What is your funniest adoption-related family story?

Not sure if this counts but probably the funniest thing that regularly happens for us is people’s reaction to realising they are twins! We often go for walks and have an inline stroller for two kids. So, people walking towards us will see the first baby (whoever gets the front seat that day) and will smile and think how cute they are but then, as they pass us, they spot the foot or hand of the second baby sticking out from the seat behind, and they look so surprised, and often exclaim, “Wow, are they twins?!” It’s become quite funny for us to see people’s reactions.

Do you celebrate ‘adoption day’ with any traditions?

We celebrate their Homecoming Day: 19 August. We read their adoption story book together and look at the photos and also give them a small gift to open. Their Xhosa names (which we have kept as their middle names) mean ‘gift’; we explain to them that they were not only a gift from God but that their birth mom chose their Xhosa names and also chose us to be their parents and for us to be a forever family and so they are a precious ‘gift’ to us from her.

Our final adoption order was received in June this year! It is a day we acknowledge but don’t really celebrate as we became a ‘family’ the day they came home!

Advice for the screening process?

As I said before, I think it is wise to gather as much information about adoption and the process as possible before you choose a social worker and start the screening process. Joining a group like the ‘Passionate about Adoption’ Facebook group and reading blogs like this one, to hear stories from other people who have gone through the process, can be really helpful in order to ask questions and process your thoughts and fears.

It is essential that you and your partner (if you have one) are both on the same page and in agreement with adopting before you start the process. You want to be sure you are informed about what to expect before your start the screening process, but just know that you also learn so much on the adoption journey and your feelings and preferences can change during the process… Finding the right social worker to walk that journey with you, who hears your hearts and understands you, is really key. Don’t rush that part. Take your time and know that it will all come together at the right time!

How can friends and family best support those adopting?

Although we live far from both sides of our immediate family (my family all live in the UK, and Troskie’s are in Johannesburg, Mpumalanga and Kwa-Zulu Natal), we knew that my parents and all our siblings were supportive of our decision to adopt. It was something we have talked openly about for some time and so it was not really a surprise to them all. We also openly shared the information and advice we had been given by our agency to prepare our family and friends for the imminent arrival of our babies. Because this was a transracial adoption, it was important to talk openly about issues of race as well as how we would not be sharing their personal story as that is their story and not ours to share.

Being far away from immediate family, we are hugely thankful for our loving community of friends around us and their support of us as a family. Some of the best supportive things were:

  • Organising a meal rota for our first month of being a family (as we do for families expecting a baby by birth). This was incredibly helpful as you just don’t have the mental energy to consider what you are going to eat!!
  • Arranging a baby shower to celebrate our new arrivals.
  • Showing interest and asking questions about the adoption process and being emotionally involved in the process with us.
  • Accepting and reading the information we shared about the realities and complexities of adoption, especially transracial adoption, and being willing to listen and learn and consider the words and language they use when discussing adoption.
  • Being excited with us and supporting our decisions.

Top tip for doing life as a rainbow nation family?

  • Get to know other families who have adopted and share your adoption journeys and life.
  • Be intentional about living in diverse areas and growing your friendship circles to include people of your children’s race and culture.
  • Be intentional about learning your child’s birth language and encourage them to learn the language, as well as understanding and connecting with their birth culture.
  • Be intentional about learning to care for their beautiful natural hair and celebrate their differences (I have found a fabulous Facebook group who have been inspirational in learning how to nurture and care for both my children’s hair and learn protective styles for my daughter’s hair: Chocolate Hair Care).
  • Be intentional about finding similarities in your child’s character, physical qualities, personalities and interests, to you and your family that will really connect them to you and their forever family and help with bonding.
  • Be prepared to attract attention!

One thing we really were not prepared for was the ‘lime-light’ of being a transracial family! I used to enjoy going for a walk and being anonymous, that is no longer possible as you attract so much attention wherever you go. Babies will generally attract attention anyway, I know (as people enjoy coming to coo over and admire your little one). Having twins also increases the attraction (with frequent questions like “Are they twins?!” and “Are they identical?!”) and the fact that we have twins who are clearly of a different race obviously adds yet another level of fascination (“Are they your children?!”)

Most of the attention we receive has been very positive and encouraging, as people seem genuinely intrigued by our family and we have been greeted with many smiles which is great. Occasionally you meet someone who insists on asking quite intimate questions. It is good to be prepared for this and have an answer. For the question, “Are they your children?” I simple answer, “Yes!” My standard answer to questions about their birth mom or their adoption is, “I’m afraid we are not sharing that information, as it is not my story to tell.” For questions about fertility (and you’ll be shocked just how many strangers will ask, “Can’t you have your own children?”) I simply say “That’s personal information [and really want to say “That’s really none of your business!”]

Most people are simply intrigued and I want to be a positive advocate for adoption so I do take the time to answer any questions that I can answer and help educate the world around us… I am conscious that as our babies grow up and hear these questions from others, how I respond is really important in how they will ultimately see themselves and understand their adoption. So my answers need to be carefully considered in this light…

So, do be prepared that you will lose your ability to just quietly ‘pop to the shops’ or ‘go for a walk’ without having a conversation with someone, somewhere! But I have chosen to see this in a positive light and as an opportunity to help open people’s eyes and minds to accepting and embracing difference.

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Homecoming day 2015
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Homecoming day 2016