When you announce you’re pregnant, people usually react with excitement and want to know the details: When? Do you know the gender? What’s the name?
But when you tell them you’re going to adopt, the reaction can be quite different.
While the majority are thrilled – sometimes to the point of instant tears – there are some who react differently… with an awkward silence.
It has surprised me how many people are confused by adoption. They don’t understand why a seemingly healthy, fertile couple would choose it over biological children.
I’ve learnt not to be offended by their questions and recognise that some just need time to process the information. So I tell them our story.
In November 2013, my husband, David, and I adopted our son, Ted, from Ethiopia. He was then three month old.
It was the sensible, rational choice. We’re both 37. We had been trying for about a year and a half to have our second biological child.
Multiple miscarriages and abnormal pregnancies later, we were faced with two choices: in-vitro fertilisation or adoption.
I had enough of invasive and disappointing visits to the doctors. Even though I was never told I’d have difficulty getting pregnant a second time, I didn’t want to worry about what I ate and drank or what time of the month it was anymore.
So David and I agreed to have a break from attempting to conceive while we filled out our adoption paperwork. Then we would make a decision.
It took us around four months to be deemed “fit to adopt”. Through that process, we had to undergo 10 hours of online training, four hours of adoption seminars and three counselling sessions.
Hearing stories of the kinds of conditions that many orphaned kids have to endure – their physical suffering and the sheer volume of children who need homes – was enough to convince us that this was the right path.
For us, it was the best way to invest our time, money and emotional resources. And it was the ultimate way to make a lifelong commitment to elevating a life that would otherwise be helpless.
This is a common theme among almost all the other adoptive parents I’ve met.
“(Such parents) are often drawn by a strong desire to parent or have more children, but are unable to conceive,” says Wong Wei Lei, senior social worker at Touch Adoption Services, who has worked with families for almost 10 years.
But while most stories start with an infertility story, they end up being about so much more than adoption as a last resort.
“Some choose to adopt with the objective of providing a loving family to a child who needs one,” she agrees.
Serene Goh (pictured above), a learning designer, and her husband, Jianli, a programme manager, adopted their infant daughter, Melody, from Vietnam in May 2013. She was then seven months old.
They had always been keen on the idea of adoption, but had wanted to try for a biological child first.
After a series of tests, they were told their chances of conceiving naturally were almost zero, and doctors recommended intracytoplasmic sperm injection – the introduction of sperm directly into the egg.
“This (IVF) procedure seemed too much like us playing God, and we decided not to go ahead with it,” says Serene.
“I didn’t want to go through an emotional roller coaster. It was also a time waster and financial burden that we were not keen to carry. Besides, there are already so many children in this world who do not have a family to love them.”
Adopting Melody fulfilled her lifelong desire to assist others in need.
“I wanted to adopt in my teens even before I wanted to date and eventually get married. I was inclined to want to care for little hearts and minds, especially those who have been hurt badly or who had little or no love due to dysfunctional families.”
This type of reasoning resonates. When people hear our story, listen to our approach and then meet Ted, it doesn’t take long for their uncertainty and discomfort to disappear.
Seeing a real-life child – simultaneously so vulnerable and yet such a survivor – somehow makes sense for them, and even for us.
The day I first saw the picture of one-month-old Ted, I knew he was our son. David and I both instantly agreed that we were committed to taking responsibility for this boy’s future.
Serene had a similar experience. “We e-mailed a few adoption agencies and one promptly replied with two Vietnamese babies waiting for adoption. It’s expensive to adopt from overseas and we hesitated,” she recalls.
“We decided to visit the baby first before making the decision. When we met Melody for the first time, she was so adorable. It was then that we decide to go ahead with the adoption.”
From that first photo, we’ve accepted Ted completely as he is. We’ve incorporated his Ethiopian name into his family name.
We’re open about his background with anyone who stops us in the street. And we’ve exposed our biological three-year-old son, Harry, to the orphanage, Ted’s cultural heritage and even the formal court process.
We felt that normalising the adoption was the simplest and fastest way to get other people to accept it.
Chantal Travers (pictured above) agrees. In July 2013, the stay-home mum and her husband, Damien, a marketing consultant, also adopted their son, Zak, from Ethiopia. The infant was then four months old.
“In the beginning, I was quite conscious of watching people’s reactions when seeing us with a baby from Africa. But now I don’t even think about it,” she admits.
“When meeting other mums for the first time, there’s usually some initial interest around where Zak is from and how he came to join our family, which I don’t mind.
“The fascination quickly passes and we just chat as parents do about their kids. The best thing is I get to hear about other people who are looking into adoption and want some guidance.”
Although adoptive parents don’t go through pregnancy to have their children, adoption is its own form of giving birth – to your love of another human being.
There are the sleepless nights – not from hormones, but from worrying about your child at an orphanage in another country.
There’s the exhaustion – not from extra body weight but from endless bureaucracy and paperwork. And there’s the waiting – not knowing the outcome.
The result? I love both my sons with that same, fierce instinct to protect and nurture.
This is another part of what I tell people, so they understand what adoption is really about.
I do not have one biological son and one adopted son – I just have two sons.
While Ted’s adoption will always be something we acknowledge and discuss, as Wei Lei says, it doesn’t define who he is.
“When you adopt a young baby, I don’t think there’s any difference (between your love for a biological child and your love for an adopted one),” says Chantal.
“I stand by the advice of our social worker, which is when you experience problems with your child as he grows up, don’t let yourself or others attribute it to the fact that he’s adopted.
“Instead, consult normal child development resources and deal with the issue accordingly. Even when they become teenagers and start having issues around their identity, it’s likely because they’re teenagers and not due to adoption.”
Wei Lei says that parents should start talking to their child as young as possible about their adoption story in a casual and matter-of-fact way.
“You normalise the idea of adoption for him, and empower him to handle comments and questions from others. That way, being adopted is part of his life story and not something negative that he has to ‘get over’,” she continues.
But talking about adoption doesn’t always need to be such serious business. The other day, an “uncle” at Maxwell Food Centre pointed to my baby and abruptly asked me: “Why so dark, ah?”
I laughed: “From Africa, lah.”
There was a pause, then he nodded. “Good,” he said before walking away. Clearly, nothing else needed to be said.
(Photos: Young Parents)