Cocoa from Cocoa Cherry is dark & lovely just like your daughter

Social media is just crazy, I love how it makes the world a smaller place and how I’ve been able to connect with so many other adoptive moms. It helps to know that I’m not alone on this journey as a heart mama. I recently spotted Cocoa Cherry on Instagram and ‘met’ Liz who makes the most gorgeous range of fabric dolls and animals. I was so excited to learn that she is also an adoptive mom and this is the story behind the Knysna brand Cocoa Cherry:

“In 2010, my daughter asked me for a doll that “looked like her”. I couldn’t find a dark-skinned ragdoll for my adopted daughter, a beautiful African girl, so I decided to make her a “Cocoa” doll. She loved it! And hence “Cocoa Cherry” was born. The Cocoa Cherry range has expanded over the years to include “Cocoa” and “Nilla” dolls, as well as the smaller “Nandi” and “Rosalie” dolls. African animals are also part of the range – I revel in my African heritage! Cocoa Cherry has expanded its range to include African dolls (which represent all children of Africa), African animal toys, and baby rattles too. Each creation embodies the bright, bold and colourful spirit that is Africa. Our chameleon, sea horse and elephant toys are especially special. These creatures, endemic to Knysna, inspired the ‘Knysna range’.”

“The dolls and toys are made using 100% cotton Shwe Shwe fabrics which are made in South Africa. The bright colours and beautiful, bold, eye catching designs are perfect for our dolls and animals!”

“To make the Cocoa Cherry dream a reality, I work side by side with delightful and joyous local seamstresses from the Knysna community who are passionate about toy making. The work provides the ladies with an income and they have expanded their skill set somewhat.”

“Through the Cocoa Cherry brand, I make dolls that girls can identify with. I want to raise awareness of adoption and educate people about the blessing of each and every child. I want children to play with the dolls and toys and have fun and enjoy the beauty of African heritage – the people and animals that make Africa the most incredible place. At Cocoa Cherry, toy making is our passion and we take both pride and joy in creating each and every doll and animal. Our toys are of the highest quality and are durable for little hands to play with. They’re soft and cuddly and are bursting with endless imagination and adventures to be had by all who play with them!”

Liz, your dolls are so beautiful and Kira just loves snuggling with her baby Cocoa and her pink bow puff balls. Thank you!

Meet Cocoa.
Meet Nandi, Cocoa’s younger sister and Rosalie her light-skinned friend.
Kira and Cocoa. They look so sweet and innocent in this photo, but these two really get up to a lot of nonsense together.
If you think your child needs a Cocoa in his/her life, email your order directly to with the code ‘heartmama’ to redeem the special price of R350 for Cocoa and R230 for the smaller doll, Nandi. Price inclusive of door-to-door courier delivery.

*This is not a sponsored post, but Cocoa Cherry sent Kira a gorgeous Cocoa doll as a gift.

Black Dolls Matter

When little girls are little, they want to look just like their moms. And so as a white mom of a black daughter, it is especially important for me to do everything I can to help Kira love her brown skin and her curly black hair, even if it is different from my long blonde hair. One of the ways that I can do this is by finding her black dolls to play with because when black children play with black dolls that reflect their beauty they develop a healthy and robust sense of self. But black dolls aren’t just for black kids – when white children play with black dolls they become familiar with racial and physical differences which is so important.

I love that there are more brown-skinned dolls on the market in South Africa these days – we recently discovered the gorgeous Buhle doll from the Sibahle Collection, designed by two local moms whose business model is to encourage black girls to embrace their natural beauty.

This is what mom bosses, Khulile Vilakazi-Ofosu and Caroline Hlala, have to say about their dolls, “Sibahle is a Zulu word that means ‘We are beautiful’. The Sibahle Collection was born out of a need to encourage our black children to be comfortable in their own skin. Our first doll is called Nobuhle, Buhle for short which is a Zulu name meaning ‘the one that represents beauty.’ Her hair is the most distinguishing feature of this doll. The child gets to experiment with the hair, wash it, care for it as their own hair. We hope the doll’s hair will teach our children how to take care of their own natural hair from a young age. Up until recently, the European market attempted to fill the gap for black dolls with western dolls just painted black with hair nothing like the typical African kinky hair.”

“The dolls under this collection have features that resemble more African children’s facial and body features. The flat nose, the fuller lips, the kinky hair, the dark skin, the more pronounced cheeks etc. We want our children to know that they are beautiful the way they are.  The princess theme is meant to reassure our children that no matter what shade of black they are, in our eyes they are perfect African princesses!”

Kira just LOVES her new baby, Buhle. After she stopped sniffing the vanilla scent of the doll she said, ‘This baby looks like me, Mommy.’ I agree that it’s so important for little ones to see themselves represented in their dolls – not only does Buhle have perfect brown skin like Kira but she has a soft, curly babyfro like her too. Buhle has been part of our family for two weeks now and I can already notice the difference she’s made in the way that Kira feels about her hair. On wash day this past Saturday, Kira played with Buhle’s hair for almost the entire time that I was styling her hair and even requested ‘magic powerpuffs’ so that she could ‘look like Buhle.’ This is huge progress for us!

My daughter you are fearfully and wonderfully made and you deserve to grow up in a world where your beauty is celebrated and your brown skin is represented wherever you look. My girl, you are an African Princess just like Buhle.

You can purchase your own Buhle online here  (sign up for the newsletter and get a 10% discount) or at selected Kids Emporium stores.

*This post was not sponsored, but Kira was sent a Buhle doll by the lovely ladies from Sibahle Collection.

Photography by the fabulous Sachi Saville.

Let’s Talk Racism and Your Black Child

Sho, it’s taken me a little while to put pen to paper on this but let’s do it, let’s talk racism and my black child. Your black child. Our black children. What’s okay to say? What’s not okay? How can we all treat each other better with our words? What can we do to raise strong black children within our white homes?

Let’s start here. I’ve been made aware (I was not always aware) that comparing a child of colour to a monkey is one of the ugliest things you could ever say. And although I’ve been aware of this and it actually seems really obvious now, I initially struggled to reconcile this to my life with three young black kids who love ‘climbing like a monkey’, doing Monkeynastix and have even found themselves in the ‘Monkey class’ at school.

Social media insight from local adoption forums has cautioned white adoptive parents against using the term too flippantly because although we may not see the ugliness in the word ‘monkey’, it is very much there when used to describe a person. While I personally agreed, I didn’t take this caution to heart until one day earlier this year when my son’s teacher called me in to the office to let me know that my son had been targeted in a playground game at school because ‘he looked like a monkey.’ Suddenly the racial insult I’d been warned about became so personal and it hit me like a ton of bricks. In that moment the scales fell from my eyes – I realised that I can’t protect my kids from the world and I wept right then and there and for a long time at home too. I’m not here to share details of the incident so much as it happened.

It’s hard to be vulnerable and talk about hard things because it’s always easier to sweep it under the carpet, pretend that you haven’t been affected by it and hope that it doesn’t happen again. While this may be easier, I’m reminded that the reason I started this blog is to dialogue around adoption, race and my learnings on this journey and so here we are. If you’re a white parent of a black child, please listen when a black person with lived experience of racism tells you to stop calling your child a monkey. It might not make sense to you, you might think it’s an overreaction but it’s real. Friends and family of adoptive families, we understand you mean no harm but please can you also stop. It’s enough, it’s 2017 and we can’t claim ignorance any longer.

So is there anything that we can do to prepare our kids for the racism they may meet in the world?

Yes! My wise friend suggests that the best thing that parents of black children can do is to help grow and establish their kids’ racial identity (through race mentors, racial mirrors, seeking diversity in our day to day lives) so that they feel proud to be black and comfortable in their own skin. ‘Reinforce identity to a point that it annoys them and that’s all that they hear when they shut their eyes’, is what she said.  And then teach them how to recognise if they have been on the receiving end of a racist comment without over exaggerating the point or developing a victim mentality.

Parents of white kids, if you’re still reading this, you’ve got a role to play too – teach your kids that it’s okay to see in colour but that diversity is beautiful and should be celebrated.

Let’s nip this in the bud.

Sunday Lunch Made Easy with Zapper

Has anyone ever tried eating out as a family with more than one kid at the table? We have and it’s chaos, but sometimes it’s worth the chaos for an afternoon out of the house and a break from the kitchen. It was time for us to get out the house and let someone else do the Sunday lunch cooking, but where to go? We hardly ever venture away from the tried and tested but I was ready for something new.

Zapper to the rescue! Not unlike most moms, I’ve become a real ‘specials’ seeker and so when Zapper approached me to review their app with promises that they could make the eating out process easy, I hopped to it and downloaded it straight away. Zapper is really big in Durban, but this Cape Town mom was a real novice. This is what I discovered about the app: not only do first time Zapper users get R25 off their first bill, but Zapper also has features that allow you turn on your smartphone location and do a search for nearby restaurants. I spent some time scrolling through the various options and even discovered a new-to-me coffee spot three roads away. From the app you can check out each restaurant’s website or call them directly from the app to make a booking. You can also scan and load your cards and pay your bill via the app.

Zapper makes it easy to find restaurant specials in your area and you can also accumulate and redeem loyalty cards on the app.

So, where should we go? I drive past The Eatery Wood Fired Grill at least twice a day and have been curious to visit since it opened. I also know that the kids love their play area because they share it with Vida Belvedere and we’re regulars over there. Although The Eatery didn’t pop to my mind as a suitable lunch destination option straight away, my investigative skills led me to discover that they have a R69 lunch special every day of the week (and they have vegetarian burgers on the lunch menu). Perfect! I gave them a call via the app and set up our reservation for a table close to the play area.

Half an hour later the kids were noisily enjoying the play area and we ordered our meal. I chose the Mushroom Burger and Ryan had the Shisa Steak and Chips off the lunch menu. I ordered 2 x Kiddies meals for the kids and split it between the three of them which worked out well as the portion sizes were pretty big. Fast forward to payment and I was able to scan the restaurant’s QR code via my Zapper app, and enter in a total including a tip. It was quicksticks. My folks paid the remainder via a credit card so the app works well even if you split the bill. No fuss!

The chaotic family table with evidence of crayons and colouring in. My mushroom burger was so good.
We don’t send anything back to the kitchen, Not even the lemon in the water jug.
The glorious play area.
Ilan actually pushed impatiently pushed Judah down the slides, but luckily it ended in smiles.
Winner winner, chicken nuggets and chips for dinner.

Thanks for the treat, Zapper!

*Disclaimer: Zapper gave us a restaurant voucher to trial their app, but didn’t pay for this review.

Swimming Isn’t Just for Summer! A Perfect Family Getaway at Goudini Spa

Our family had been anticipating this family getaway for a very long time and the kids had been practising saying ‘Goudini’ over and over with the sweetest pronunciation attempts. And finally the time came to pack up our car and set off for a hot spring adventure! As we popped through the other side of the Huguenot Tunnel, the excitement in our little Getz was palpable. I breathed in the fresh mountain air and was completely awestruck by the magnificent beauty of the Du Toits Kloof mountain range. A few more minutes down the road and we found ourselves at Goudini Spa, which is in total a mere hour away from Cape Town, give or take a few roadworks.

If you have kids who love swimming as much as ours do, you can appreciate how this trip was a match made in Heaven for our family. We were spoilt by being set up in the new Slanghoek Villas but there is a diverse range of accommodation available to suit any budget or you could choose to camp or caravan. The Slanghoek Villas are located higher up on the mountain which means that you need to hop in your car to get to the hot pools (unless you’re up for a VERY steep climb back to the top after your swim), but the peace and tranquility are so worth the short drives from villa to pool. We shared the villa with my parents and my sister, her husband and my brother stayed at a Rondavel just down the road.

The Slanghoek Villas sleep six and are kitted out with three comfy rooms (one with aircon & a hairdryer), bedding, two bathrooms, TV with limited DSTV, almost full kitchen (no oven) and a nice big braai with outdoor seating. There is also a fireplace in the lounge for winter visits. You can opt to have your villa cleaned daily (with the delivery of fresh towels) at no extra cost and we were pleasantly surprised when someone knocked on our door to come and clean up the the braai area for us on the Saturday. Seriously great, friendly service.

Take a peak into our accommodation and be wowed by the valley vistas:

How’s this view from our accommodation, overlooking the Slanghoek Villas. Simply breathtaking.
Each of the rooms has a door that opens onto an outside stoep. My folks slept with their door open for fresh air.
The lounge area. This is where I almost won a game of Monopoly.
The kitchen with unusually high counter tops, that quickly became the spot where we placed everything that we didn’t want the kids to fiddle with.

As lovely as our villa was, we spent virtually every waking moment in one of the three public pool areas and the many hours in the pool really grew the kids’ swimming confidence. The pools are beautifully kept, surrounded by lush green grass and there is also a security presence subtly keeping an eye on everything at all times.The pools open at 6am every morning and only close at 11pm and we made the most of it! There is also a free entry super tube for the bigger kids and Ilan went down countless times with anyone willing to take him. I love that Goudini is a real rainbow nation holiday choice and that people of every age and shape are welcome to enjoy the hot springs without a fear of ‘bikini body’ or ‘dad bod’ judgement. Goudini just isn’t that type of place.

Check out this video of our little swimming star and then some pool action in the pics below:

Our little swimmer!

A post shared by Jules Kynaston (@heartmamablog) on

The early birds get the pool to themselves.
The kids loved their before-breakfast swims in the shallow paddle pools.
When your mom is a blogger you have to pose for a hundred photos, but you’re in a good mood and so you tolerate her behaviour.
A family that swims together.
The kids were high energy the whole weekend, but they slept really well!
Spot the super tube.
‘I’m just chilling, Mommy.’

So, now that I’ve convinced you that ATKV Goudini Spa is a top notch destination for a family holiday, here are six insider tips for packing your suitcase from a family who have gone before you:

1. Pack more than one swimming towel (and costume if possible) – because it’s not fun getting into a wet cozzie or trying to dry yourself with a damp towel.

2. Pack gowns and towels for the kids – Be ready to dry your kids and wrap them up warmly after night time swims and in cooler weather.

3. Take along some inflatables (pool rings, noodles etc) – We bought a few for next to nothing from Osmans & left them with day visitors who came through on the Sunday.

4. Snorkles, goggles, flippers – As much as kids love swimming, it helps to add some other swimming activities into the mix.

5. A water bottle – Whilst food isn’t allowed in the pool area, take a water bottle to keep hydrated otherwise the warm water will give you a headache as well as wrinkly fingers.

6. Cash or card for the Huguenot Tunnel Toll (R38 for an average sized car) – My brother-in-law had to drive back to Paarl to find an ATM as his card wasn’t accepted for some reason. You don’t want to be that guy, especially if you have kids in the car.

Thanks for having us Goudini! We loved everything about our weekend full of warm water swims and fresh mountain air. If you’d like to find out more, please check out

*Disclaimer: Heart Mama Blog was not paid for this review, but were provided with a complimentary stay in the Slanghoek Villas.

Meet the Mama – Donna Msiska, a Heart Mama Crushing the Stereotype that Black Moms Don’t Adopt

Yay! It’s time for another Meet the Mama interview and today I’m chatting to Donna, a Heart Mama who I met through this blog. I am so excited to share her story because it crushes the stereotype that black families don’t adopt. Because they do! Donna has started her family via the formal adoption process but there are many other black moms who have informally adopted their relatives through kinship adoption. Donna, thank you for sharing the story of how little Tapola became your son.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your family.

My name is Donna, sister and friend to 6 siblings, aunt to 6 nieces and nephews and my most recent and (in my mind) important role – single mother to my gorgeous son, Tapola Sibusiso. I met my son when he was about 10 minutes old and I took him home when he was 7 weeks old. I always describe our coming together as being God sent. Tapo’s birth (first) mom had specifically requested that a black female adopt her child. It may seem that this request would be common in SA but by making this request, Tapo’s birth (first) mom shrank her pool of available potential adoptive parents significantly. She also wanted to meet the potential adoptive parent in person instead of reading a profile book. At the time I was struggling to put together a profile book so I jumped at the opportunity to meet her – it just felt right. When we met, I knew without a doubt that our lives would be forever intertwined so I when I got home I packed away the baby girl clothes I had bought and started buying clothes for a baby boy.

I still have limited contact with my son’s first mom and send her updates and photos via our Social Worker. Due to the circumstances surrounding the adoption of Tapola, I had full access to him from the day he was born and it was agreed that it was a safe bet to bring him home before the 90 day period had expired.

I am a “not so boring” accountant and am based in Johannesburg. I love sports, so on weekends you will often find me camped on the couch, remote in hand and in sports heaven. I am hoping that I can get Tapo to support Manchester United so I am guilty of attempting to persuade him in that direction early.  I also enjoy reading and running.

Did you always know that you wanted to adopt?

I knew I wanted to adopt from the age of 16. I cannot remember what inspired me, if anything did, but I knew then that part (if not all) of my motherhood journey would include adoption. Over the years, studies and work took over so I did not pursue adoption earlier. I am glad I did not pursue it earlier though as my attitude towards adoption has changed quite a bit over the years. At 16, I wanted to “save” a child but as I got older and read more about adoption, even seeking the negative views, I started to appreciate how complex adoption is. I realised that it is about the birth mom (first mom), the child and me and all the diverse emotions that exist in this Triad. I often find myself conflicted because with the very real joy there is some sadness in knowing that my child’s first mom will not experience the daily pride and happiness I have in watching him grow. I also acknowledge that one day our child will get to a point in his life where he questions everything about how he came to be adopted and I worry that I will not be able to provide him with the answers and support that he needs.

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

I started the process through an agency but had to change early in the process because the agency did not have capacity. I then went through a private social worker. I think it is important that you “click” with the social worker you select because the social worker is going to be part of one of the most important journeys of your life.

What was the hardest part of the process?

Waiting. Fortunately, I did not have to wait long from the time that I met the social worker to getting ‘the call”. However, waiting for conclusion of the legal aspects is frustrating as it affects applications for schools etc. and restricts my ability to travel with him.

Another hard part for me was the resistance I faced from my parents in regards to the adoption once I made the decision to go ahead with it. From the time I was 16 I would talk about adoption but I was not taken seriously. Sitting them down and having the conversation with them about how serious I was about it was extremely difficult. The lesson I learnt is that sometimes resistance is about a lack of education and it became my responsibility to educate them about adoption before they could let go of their fears.

Tell us about your first night together as a family?

Tapo and I had spent every weekend together from the time he was born to the time that I eventually took him home so I was used to his patterns of sleep and he was used to me. However, I could not sleep the first night I took him home. I kept on waking up to see if he was still breathing. He slept peacefully only waking up for his bottle.

What is your funniest adoption-related family story?

Not sure if this is funny but I was determined to adopt a girl. I was petrified of adopting a boy because I had no idea how I would manage with a boy child. When my closest friends heard that I had made a decision to adopt a boy, they all said they were never sure why I had wanted a girl in the first place because they felt I would make a wonderful mother to a boy child.

Do you celebrate ‘adoption day’ with any traditions?

It is still so new so we have not had to cross this bridge yet however, as Tapo gets older, I will allow him to dictate how he wants to commemorate the day he came home with me.

Advice for the screening process?

Be your authentic self. Be open and honest with yourself, your partner (if applicable) and the social worker and don’t make decisions you are not comfortable with. Children who are available for adoption are not looking for saviours, they need to be loved unconditionally as if born to you. If there are any doubts about this, then stop and reassess what you want out of the process.

If there is resistance from those whom you consider your support system, don’t just ignore their concerns, educate them about adoption (use your social worker and other platforms to educate them if necessary). Have those difficult conversations.

I would also say trust your instincts and hold firm to your faith during this time.

How can friends and family best support those adopting?

I would say that one of the things is family (particularly) must not make their dreams for your life a factor in your decision to adopt.

The same level of support that is given to parents (a parent) having a biological child, should be given to those who are adopting during the process and after.

Respect the fact that my baby’s story is his story and not one that I can share.

Are there any special considerations adopting a child of the same race as you?

Same race adoption, so I am not often asked if he is adopted. I do often get comments about “I did not know you were pregnant” which I often ignore because those who matter to me know how my family was formed.


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