I’ve been wanting to write that headline for a while.
You see, I’ve been on a beautiful, self-expanding, heart-defying journey. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to adopt. I clearly remember reading a verse in the Bible that spoke to being adopted into God’s family. I didn’t know anyone who was adopted growing up, but the verses spoke deeply to me. Despite my adoring father, impressive mother and rambunctious household of five sisters, plus extended family, the idea of being adopted and being considered as if a child of birth of another family was incredible to me. I must have been tiny, pre-teen, but the resolution stayed with me. I never felt the desire to have biological children.
I didn’t get to test out how another person may feel about this as a co-parent as I was that oddity who didn’t have a boyfriend till I met my husband. Believe me, I tried, but it’s just as well that I was a bit of an ugly duckling or whatever it was that kept other men away as I managed to build boatloads of character till it finally happened.
When my husband, Luke, was pursuing me, I wasn’t sure if I was quite ready to finally venture into the unknown territory of A Relationship, so I was being rather difficult. Before he even explicitly told me he liked me and wanted to go out, he one day casually asked how many children I’d like to have. I was, obtusely, determined to scare him off. “None. Not biologically at least. I’m only adopting.”
His response was incredible. Great enthusiasm. “Really? That’s great. That sounds really good.”
I would later hear, via Luke’s family of similarly rambunctious five siblings, adoring father and impressive mother plus extended family, that a young Luke had announced with great conviction that he would adopt ten children when he grew up. (Thankfully he pulled back on the idea of ten very quickly once we got married!)
Biological children in addition to adoption
When I finally got over myself and dated Luke – and fell in love with him almost immediately – we kept to our resolution. But two years later when we got engaged to be married our parents and pastors suggested we be open to the idea of biological children in addition to adopting. We decided to consider it and I opened up to the idea of perhaps one biological child. Two years into our marriage we stopped using contraception but… nothing happened. I did not fall pregnant after several years. The story of why nothing happened and my personal journey within that is for another day.
What is relevant is that the pregnancy journey added complexity to my original decision to adopt. As there isn’t the same urgency to adoption as there is to falling pregnant for a woman in her thirties, I put the adoption process on the backburner. But it was still there, for both Luke and I. When the time was right, and we had done a fair amount of processing and letting go of the idea of a biological child, we returned to what I called my “A-plan” – adoption. We visited agencies, chose a social worker and embarked on the impressively thorough process of screening before the experts would allow us to have a child that was not born to us.
But here’s the rub. I couldn’t help myself as we started. I began to tell people: “We’re going to have a baby!”
I would then gleefully announce that I was “paper pregnant”, usually while brandishing a wine glass, boasting that I’d still to get to enjoy the occasional drink during this particular pregnancy.
Most people were incredibly excited for us. Many wanted to know more about the process, with more than just a little curiosity. If there is any country that needs more adoptive parents, it’s South Africa so I was happy to answer any and all questions. I may even do something on this site about it as a service for those considering this route.
But… there were other comments. They were in the minority and often from people who were in no way central to my life. But they rankled.
“Ag, don’t worry about it. You’ll fall pregnant after. It happens to everyone.”
“Just keep believing that God is going to give you your own baby. Don’t give up on Him.”
The second one was from someone who hadn’t even known that I had tried to have biological children, yet assumed that only one disappointed in this endeavour could consider an adopted child.
It was perhaps easier to accept from those who I know truly loved me… who would tentatively say they were still trusting and praying that I would fall pregnant. I would get furious at first. “They should pour that energy into praying for my ACTUAL child!” I’d fume to my sisters. But later I would accept it as I saw how quickly they stopped this conversational turn, sensing my distress.
But it is the casual, brutal ignorance of strangers and acquaintances that still get me. The idea that this child we were matched with will be a proxy: a mysterious tool to relax my mind, unleash my maternal instinct and loosen my womb. Besides being based in zero science, it’s incredibly undermining of an entire human being.
As I have embarked on this process, and got myself clued up on the laws, the advice of experts, the stories of grown-up adoptees, the recommendations for transracial adoptions and the many, many sensitivities towards the community the child came from, the birth mother and the intersections of class, language, race and identity, one miracle pearl of a truth remained glowing in my heart… I could not believe I was allowed to do this!
The miracle of adoption
For me, a miracle is not just two stripes on a stick I had peed on. It felt more of a miracle to me that I lived in an age and a country where legislation and societal norms existed where someone like me could raise as her own a child not born to her. I still am often overcome with emotion and wonder at the thought.
So these remarks, these insinuations that this miracle child that will one day be gifted to me to raise was just one more step in the journey to having my “own” child (whatever that means) was a slap in the face.
Please: don’t say this to people who are adopting. If some are adopting with that intention, well, it would be very difficult to do so given the screening process a responsible social worker would follow.
Instead, celebrate with us: for the miracle of adoption. Mourn with us, for the tragedy of orphans and abandoned children – and the birth mothers who bravely choose life for their child even as they choose untold pain for themselves.
Adoption is bittersweet. But none of that has anything to do with biological children. It is a miracle, all on its own.
Written by Verashni Pillay for verashni.com. Please do not republish without obtaining permission.