November was Adoption Awareness month featuring World Adoption Day on 9 November. I wasn’t always a fan of #WorldAdoptionDay, but have realised that it’s a great platform for us to talk adoption and share the good, the bad (& the ugly) with each other. With this in mind, I put out the challenge for other (South African) adoptive parents to join me for a 30 day photo challenge on Instagram using prompts as inspiration for them to share part of their adoption story – stories are important, it’s the way we can learn & encourage each other. I was stoked that so many people took up the challenge, with 507 public posts on the #heartmamajoy hashtag! 

For those of you who are not on Instagram or who may like to read the posts all in one place, I’ve decided to load my photos here in three parts. And if you’re interested to read more, please also take a moment to check out the other posts on the hashtag – there are some incredibly insightful and heartfelt posts.

Here goes!

THIS IS US, Day 1 I This is the most recent family photo we have together, taken on a summer’s evening at our favourite beach. Adoption made us a family – Judah is 3.5 and is as outgoing as you’ll get, constantly high fiving strangers and charming random people wherever we go; Ilan is 6 and still missing his front teeth but growing up way too fast, we’ve got his Grade 1 orientation next week; Kira is our 4 year diva who calls the shots in our family, we love her husky voice & infectious smile.

Ryan is my partner in crime, he is the selfless, loving head of our home – we’ve been together for 10 years & married for almost 7. He works as an Environmental Consultant, saving the planet and hugging trees (according to my Gran). I’m a physio turned events manager who gets to work from home, wear lots of K-Way & socialise for a living. We’re a busy family who prioritise midday naps, family fun & spending time outdoors.

WELCOME, Day 2 I The memories of meeting each of my kids is vivid & clear in my mind, I imagine all moms feel the same. The anticipation is overwhelming, it feels like Christmas morning x 100. So, so much has taken place in order to reach the point of welcoming your baby home & then you’re finally introduced and suddenly you’re a mom. Just like that.

We flew to Durban to meet Judah at his Barney themed 1st birthday party, thrown by the baby home where he had been staying. I felt a little overwhelmed by all the eyes on us as we met our son but am so grateful for the welcome we were shown & for the chance to meet the community of people who loved him first.

NATURAL, Day 3 I One of my goals as a blondish, mostly straight-haired mom of a little one with type 3C hair, is to help her see that her hair is versatile & beautiful even if isn’t ‘wash & go’ like mine. Although I initially got lots (LOTS) of help from Kira’s teacher, Teacher Phoebe, I’m trying to take complete responsibility for her hair now & love learning how to do styles that make her smile. I look forward to our ‘girl time’ on Saturday mornings when we comb out & style her hair for the week, watching hundreds of YouTube tuts as we go along. The braids in this pic are a special concession for my sister’s wedding but next week we’re back to puffballs & cornrows.

Some of my learnings so far: buy a shampoo where the first ingredient listed is water; gently pat hair dry, don’t rub with a towel; spritz daily & invest in a satin pillowcase and sleep bonnet. Also, a heads up for (white) friends & family: please don’t gush over the braids only, give the teeny weeny afros & protective styles a public shout out too. Little girls should feel beautiful with the hair they were born with, regardless of how it’s styled on any given day.

Day 4, ATTACH I When you adopt, every prospective parent should be assured that ‘love-at-first-sight’ is the exception, not the rule. I know first hand that sometimes adoption feels like you’re babysitting someone else’s child for a while, loving them and loving them with all of you until one day it just clicks – maybe it’s a moment you clearly remember or maybe something more gradual that takes place. Sometimes it takes a few days or a few months or sometimes even longer. Our children all have different attachment styles and sometimes it comes more naturally to parent one child over another and that’s ok. I feel like I’ve come out the other side and can say that I love each of my kids with every fibre of my being but I’d be dishonest if I said the journey has been easy. The love was always there, but it took some time for our souls speak the same language.

I’m a believer that kids in care should be given the chance to attach to a primary caregiver (or two) and that they respond to consistency in care vs exposure to many people. I know this isn’t always possible as many homes are only able to function with volunteer assistance, but in an ideal world this is what we should strive for. I’ve also learnt that motherhood is relentless but that family is so worth it. [*I hope I’ve shared this in a way that is honest but also in a way that doesn’t make my kids ever question my love for them.]
*To add: I still believe that it’s in a child’s best interest to be placed after the 60/90 day period has passed, I just think that access to children in care should be restricted to those who have committed to being around on a regular basis so as to give these kids the best chance at attaching later on. For this reason I don’t love the idea of volunteers popping in to a children’s home for a quick cuddle & then leave because this isn’t helpful in the long run.

Day 5, IDENTITY I There’s not much that gives me more joy than when my daughter identifies as a beautiful black girl. I’ve read accounts of transracially adopted black kids drawing self portraits with blonde hair and peach crayons, so I’m stoked when Kira declares ‘Mommy, that’s me!’ when she see an advert with a cute little black girl with puffballs or a picture of a strong yet graceful black ballerina like @michaeladeprince. Exposing our kids to diversity & representation goes a long way in building their self esteem and racial identity.

Day 6, PARENTING | It’s hard to remember a time before kids, but here we are. I remember jamming to Jack Parow at my Zef-themed 30th with the knowledge that we’d been recently matched with Ilan & knowing that life was about to change in a big way. I felt like I was in the twilight zone between my old life & new life while we waited for the call to say I could fly to Durban to meet our baby boy.

Being parents to three little ones has meant that we have less energy, less sleep, less money & less ‘relevance’ to friends without kids which has been hard at times but I’m grateful to those forever kind of friends who invite themselves over & ring our bell unannounced despite all this, plus our new ‘parent friends’ who are in the same boat and can laugh & cry with us because they know. This is a season of survival for us but there is plenty joy in the journey. *This pic was taken at a windswept Western themed end of year function last night – my husband’s name is Ryan, as his name tag suggests.

Day 7, COMMUNITY |  I’m looking forward to our next annual ‘family’ photo on these steps with this small group that is not so small anymore.

It’s easy to opt out and insulate your family when life gets crazy, but we were created to live in community and not isolation. Being part of this community has been life giving & restorative with the added bonus that through these friendships our kids have become besties with other kids who also joined their families through adoption.

Day 8, BITTERSWEET | ‘He is mine in a way that he will never be hers, yet he is hers in a way he will never be mine, and so together, we are motherhood.’ Desha Wood

Day 9, HIGH FIVES |  Adoption made us a family, happy #worldadoptionday! Come on friends of adoption, join us by posting your own smiley face selfie here on Insta and post it to the thread on my Facebook page

Day 10, FAMILY FUN | This is an oldie but a goodie. Family ‘adventures’ (what we call any activity that requires us leaving the house) are the #1 best way for us to spend our weekends & we are lucky to have Granny & Gramps just ten minutes down the road. I’m not sure that they always feel the same way…!

Thank you for reading this far! Part Two & Three will be loaded here shortly or if you can’t wait then pop over to Instagram.

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