Tell us a bit about your family.
This year marks the 21st anniversary of the year when Neil and I first met. We were friends for years before we finally surprised ourselves by falling in love. We’ve now been married for 13 years and run a chaotic household in our leafy suburb in Johannesburg consisting of two twenty somethings (Neil’s daughters from his first marriage who call our house home), our seven year old son Luke, our two year old daughter Asha, three cats, six fish and every wild bird, insect or snail that my compassionate children can find to care for.
Did you always know that you wanted to adopt?
Sadly no, we had a long painful journey through infertility treatment before we came to adoption. My husband had had a vasectomy while married to his first wife so we always knew that we would struggle to have children. My son was conceived miraculously through our first attempt at IVF (he was our only surviving embryo) but when we went back to try to have another child, we had failure after failure (four in total) before we finally gave up. At the time, Neil wasn’t open to adoption and was quite content with our family. His decision to adopt marked a profound heart transformation that initially came from recognising how desperate I was for a daughter, and then feeling a bit of God’s heart for orphans. Looking back I realise that we needed the journey. But, we do sometimes wonder what took us so long because when we finally decided to adopt, it was the best decision that we have ever made.
Did you use an agency or did you go through Child Welfare? What would you recommend?
We used an agency, Impilo Child Protection & Adoption Services, for our adoption. Our social worker was recommended by a family member who had adopted a little girl through her the year before. We acted on the recommendation and in fact, didn’t look into any other options. And, we were so glad about our choice. Our social worker was fantastic—caring, thorough and above all, an amazing listener. In addition, our little girl came from the Impilo nursery so she had been very well cared for during the first five months of her life. All in all, it was a really positive experience for us.
What was the hardest part of the process?
The wait! After five IVFs, the screening process felt like a breeze (no internal exams!). But, once we were approved, we had to wait ages (more than eight months) before our daughter arrived, something I found very difficult. We also had some resistance from one of Neil’s daughters which was very stressful. We spent many months intensively working through her fears and concerns and amazingly, less than two days after she finally made peace with our decision to adopt, we got the call from our social worker telling us that she had a baby for us.
In hindsight, even the worst moments seem to have had purpose. Had it not been for the long wait, we would not have got Asha (she was born three months after we were approved). And the time spent helping our older daughter come to terms with adoption was so worthwhile—she and Asha adore each other and she has even expressed a desire to adopt a child of her own one day.
What was your first night together as a family like?
Astonishingly easy. The Impilo nursery required us to visit her for three days before we took her home so she was really familiar with the whole family before she came to live with us. The week of visitation and homecoming was chaotic and we were only able to assemble her cot after she arrived so for her first night, we set up a camp cot in her big brother’s room. Neil and I lay in bed—WIDE AWAKE—hoping that she was ok but the two of them slept beautifully that night (and every night since). Two years later, they are still sharing a room and absolutely besotted with each other.
What is your funniest adoption-related family story?
We live in a suburb that is full of nannies (usually black) out walking with little children (usually white) so Asha and I really stand out. Most people respond really positively to us but occasionally we get an odd reaction. Just before Asha turned two, we were out walking when we met an elderly nanny who we hadn’t come across before. She chatted to me for a while and then asked Asha (who was playing at my feet): “Where’s your mommy?” My daughter’s face was a picture of incredulity but she glanced up at me, thinking that would be adequate. It was immediately clear to me that this dear lady didn’t understand but it took Asha a while to realise (she had never encountered this question before, or since for that matter). Eventually, seeing that the goggo was still waiting for an answer, she pointed at me and enunciated, as slowly and as clearly as she could: “Here…here she is.” I don’t know what was more beautiful, Asha’s bemused expression or the image of this sweet elderly woman with understanding finally dawning on her face.
Do you celebrate ‘adoption day’ with any traditions?
Yes, Asha came home on the 27th July 2012 so every year on the anniversary of her homecoming we celebrate what we affectionately call “Ashey Day”. It is a day spent with extended family, a day that we use to remember the amazing moment when she became part of our lives and when we honour her role in our family. We still celebrate birthdays as normal (lavishly and joyously—I love birthdays), but Ashey Day is a special celebratory bonus.
Advice for the screening process?
My top tips for the screening process are:
- Choose a competent social worker, one that you trust. If in doubt, get a recommendation from someone who has adopted through the social worker and feel free to vet them using resources from the National Adoption Coalition.
- Don’t let the admin involved with the screening process get you down. It may seem pointless now but when you look into your child’s eyes one day, you (like me) will probably be glad that they did everything possible to ensure that she was placed with suitable parents.
- Be honest about what (if anything) you are looking for in your child. It is better to be specific up front then to be presented with a child’s profile and realise that there are things that you cannot live with.
- Make good use of the wait.
How can friends and family best support those adopting?
My advice to family members and friends is:
- Recognise that the wait and uncertainty are hard, so be a shoulder for them to cry on if they need one.
- Treat the arrival of an adopted child exactly like you would any new addition to the family. Regardless of the age of the child being adopted, throw the family a baby shower, send flowers and take your lead from the family about whether they need space or lots of hands-on assistance.
- If you are hesitant about the adoption, be honest but even if you cannot support their choice, remember that it is their decision. And, please be willing to keep an open mind (and heart), you may be surprised by love.
Top tip for doing life as a rainbow nation family?
A few months after we adopted Asha we went on holiday to the coast. We live in an area where transracial adoptions are very common and no one really gives rainbow nation families a second look. But, now we were venturing out of our safe neighbourhood and I was a bit worried about how people would react. I thought that my worst fears had been realised when we were at a lookout point and a man strode very purposefully up to my husband who was standing holding Asha. I walked away with Luke (in case he said something unpleasant) but was astonished to discover on my return that he had actually made a special effort to come over to thank Neil for adopting Asha.
That has been our experience over the last two and a half years—most people respond very positively to our family. It belies so many of the articles that we read prior to adopting—and since (mostly, it seems, written by folk living in the US). If anything, the reaction has at times been a little too positive—I will probably never get used to strangers kissing my child in a shop (which has actually happened a couple of times).
So my advice is to live un-self-consciously and love demonstrably; to prepare your family for the one or two people who may not be positive; to be gracious with ignorance; but overall, to believe the best of those around you.
It seems to be working for us. Maybe it is our daughter’s undeniable charm and ability to melt hearts or maybe it is just that South Africans tend to be warm and generous people. But either way, our experience of being a rainbow nation family has been amazingly positive.
Read more about Robyn’s story here – Becoming a Mom