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.