Today we hear about Marli’s adoption story. She is a Heart Mom from Port Elizabeth who always knew that adoption would be part of her future and today she is the lucky mom of gorgeous little Stella. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Marli!
Tell us a bit about yourself and your family.
My husband Christ and I have been married for almost 5 years. We are both Dutch and we moved to South Africa in December 2011. I was born in South Africa and I lived in George the first 8 years of my life. When my family decided to move back to South Africa in 2007, I travelled back and forth over the years to visit them. Africa has always been in my blood and I knew that I wanted to come back some day. Luckily Christ also wanted to emigrate, so we started making plans to realise our dream. We decided in July 2014 the time was right to start a family through adoption. We adopted our first child, our beautiful daughter Stella almost a year ago, when she was 4 months old.
In Holland I was a teacher for several years. Now I’m a stay at home mom, which I enjoy because I get to spend a lot of time with my daughter. I also do community work once a week with children from an informal settlement. The children bring plastic bottles for recycling that they’ve collected in their living area. In return they get ‘points’ granted that they can spend on food, clothing, toys, school supplies (all donations) in our ‘shop.’ It’s a wonderful initiative and I’m proud to be part of it. My husband has his own business in water treatment.
Did you always know that you wanted to adopt?
Yes, I did! I’m very passionate about adoption and it has been in my heart since I was 15 years old. My uncle and aunt (who live in Holland) adopted two girls from China. It made a huge and positive impact on my life. My cousins are now almost 18 and 14 years old and I’m very proud of them. My sister and her husband, who also live in Port Elizabeth, adopted a baby girl in 2010. When they adopted our niece, Christ and I still lived in Holland and we were planning our wedding, which was going to take place in South Africa. Our wedding was just a few weeks after our niece’s adoption, so we got to see her very soon after her arrival which made our wedding day extra special!
Christ and I have talked about having biological children, but we both had the desire to adopt. It has been the greatest blessing and the best decision we have ever made! We are definitely going to adopt again in the near future. Almost anyone can adopt, you don’t have to be rich or have a successful career. The most important thing is unconditional love for your child. Loving your child and caring for your child will not only change your child’s life, it will change your own life. I’m lucky to have found a husband who was open to the idea of adoption and could get excited about the process with me.
Did you use an agency or did you adopt through Child Welfare? What would you recommend?
We went to a private social worker in Port Elizabeth – Linda van Zyl. Linda also faciliated the adoption of our niece, so we knew we were in good hands. Linda is a wonderful lady, who has a lot of experience and knowledge about adoption in South Africa. She shows an interest in the people she works with and she has a big heart for children. From the first moment we met her, she made us feel comfortable. Her home office has pictures everywhere of adopted children and families, which I also find very special. We still keep in touch with Linda. I send her updates and pictures of Stella. This way Linda can send the pictures to Stella’s birthmother, which I also find very important.
What was the hardest part of the process?
Finalizing the legal paper work. Not the paper work to adopt, that all went very smooth. But dealing with Home Affairs and applying for Stella’s birth names to be changed and applying for her unabridged birth certificate has been challenging to say the least. I’ve heard a lot of people complaining about this too. My advice is: don’t keep waiting for them to call or e-mail you, because in my experience they don’t do that. If you can’t get a hold of them, go to Home Affairs in person. We applied for the name change and unabridged birth certificate more than 6 months ago. It’s been hard, because without that piece of paper, we can’t get Stella’s passports (South African and Dutch) and we can’t travel to Holland as a family as we were planning to do. We keep checking on things at Home Affairs and hopefully it will be in order soon so we can finally let the family in Holland meet Stella.
What was your first night together as a family like?
It was very special and also a bit unreal. Suddenly we were parents. It was beautiful, but also scary as we were first time parents. The whole adoption process went very quickly. We started the adoption process mid July and mid August we had our daughter! The last thing we did after the adoption paper work, medical test, police clearance you name it, was to hand in our profile to our social worker. That was on a Friday. Then 5 days later, on a Wednesday we received a phone call from our social worker, saying she had matched us with a baby girl! The next day we saw her for the first time and the day after that she went home with us. After her bath and a story we put her in her crib and she slept right through the night. She did get a night feeding and after her bottle she slept peacefully again. So no broken nights for us, she was already in a ‘routine.’ We were pretty tired ourselves, because we didn’t have much sleep during the nights before her arrival – the excitement, getting her room ready, feeling nervous and feeling all these ‘butterflies’ in our stomach had kept our hours of sleep short.
What is your funniest adoption-related family story?
The first time our niece saw our daughter (her cousin) was very sweet and precious. My sister came to visit with her kids and our niece who is also adopted, immediately said: ‘she is brown like me!’ She even thought Stella was her sister, because they look alike. It was very touching and sweet and days and weeks after Stella came home with us I received tons of beautiful drawings for Stella from our niece.
Do you celebrate ‘adoption day’ with any traditions?
We will definitely celebrate this special day. It’s the day we became a family and proud parents of our daughter. Christ and I have talked about doing something special on the day every year. Our first one will be on the 22nd of August and we will probably have a family outing and celebrate this special day with Stella. Once she is a bit older, she’ll get to decide what she wants to do on ‘her day.’
Advice for the screening process?
Ask other people with adopted children about their experiences with social workers or Child Welfare. This will help you to find a trustworthy social worker with whom you feel comfortable.
Be honest with your hopes for your family and what you feel you can handle. We wanted to adopt a baby girl because we already had an adopted niece in the family and I have always wanted a little girl. It is completely normal to have hopes, dreams, desires and fears, be open about everything and don’t keep secrets.
Enjoy the time before you get that phone call that will change your life. Adoptions can go very quickly, like with us, it was less than a month. We had started on the nursery, but we were far from finished. Luckily my sister had a lot of baby stuff we could borrow and we had two days to get her room ready and buy the things we still needed like formula and diapers.
How can friends and family best support those adopting?
Be happy and excited for the adoptive parents to be. And show interest in the adoption process. Like a birth, adopting a child is a very special and joyful experience in the lives of the parents. Don’t project your doubts and anxieties on the parents to be. They have thought about the adoption long before you have and they have done their ‘research’ to come to the actual decision to adopt. Trust their knowledge and if you have questions, ask them in a respectful way. Our family and friends were very supportive of us adopting. It’s the fourth adopted child in the family, so for us it’s normal and treated the same way as a birth in the family.
Surround yourself with people that are positive about adoption, make friends with people who have adopted children like yourself. This way you have people you can talk to when you have questions or concerns and also it shows your child that they are not the only adopted child out there. We are just like any other family – we’ve just look a bit different.
Top tip for doing life as a rainbow nation family?
We have only been parents for about a year now and we get a lot of positive responses from people. You see more and more adopted lies in Port Elizabeth, which makes my heart happy. Although sometimes we get negative and hurtful comments from people, most people are very open and interested in our daughter. Both black and white people show their interest. We do feel we connect more with the black community now we have Stella. We chit chat about how she is doing, I always go to the same shops, so everyone ‘knows’ Stella and comes to say hello. Although I had to get used to the fact that a lot of black women in the shops want to hold her, hug her and sometimes kiss her, like she is everyone’s child. In Holland people do not do that with children they don’t know. Also, black people speak Xhosa to her. I stopped explaining to them that my daughter does not understand Xhosa, because they keep doing it. We speak Dutch to Stella, because we are Dutch and that’s our first language. She’ll learn English and Afrikaans once she goes to school. When Stella is a bit older, I would love for her to learn Xhosa too.