I am a 42 year old mom to 12 year old Gia and 5 year old Rio. I had no problem conceiving my daughter (which surprised both me and my doctors) as I underwent a liver transplant in London whilst living in the UK in 1993 and was initially warned that pregnancy might not be a viable option for me. I was closely monitored during my pregnancy, but I feel the hospital was negligent in the care I received during labour and the birth as given my history at that same hospital, I probably should have been offered a caesarean right away, but being an NHS hospital, I was left in labour for 20 hours and only then was a C-section suggested. I initially refused and doctors gave me another hour in which to deliver her naturally, which thank God I did, although I did haemorrhage quite badly. Looking back now, it was probably the trauma of that delivery that resulted in secondary infertility when we decided to try for another baby when Gia was about four.
I decided to go off the pill early in 2003 after our return to SA and after a couple of years of no success, went to a fertility clinic to discuss the options available to us. I underwent a number of tests but doctors could not pinpoint why I wasn’t falling pregnant. There was, however, a definite unease amongst the doctors at my determination to try and carry another baby to term, and although I still maintain that I could have done it, I decided to play it safe and go with a surrogate (pretty bizarre idea to get your head around I know). By that stage, I had made a number of friends in Cape Town, amongst them, two couples that had adopted kids. Adoption was never a consideration for me and I believe that destiny conspires to bring people into your life who open you up to different avenues of possibility. It was around this time, that one of these friends suggested we adopt, but although we weren’t ruling this out, we needed to follow our hearts and know 100% that we had done everything in our power to have our own biological baby. It’s funny how irrelevant I now find the whole gene pool thing in the greater scheme of things.
I started exploring the surrogacy route, reading articles on websites, talking to a fertility clinic and speaking to a woman who had two surrogate kids. Strangely, if you want to find a surrogate, you can only advertise in “Die Burger” as that is the only paper that will run such an advert. The clinic assisted me with the wording of the advert and after a month or so, I received a call from the clinic to say they had a few responses and had selected a woman they thought was suitable as she had nominated herself previously for an older couple (but that attempt had been unsuccessful and they hadn’t wanted to try again). They arranged the meeting (very surreal) which went well, although I have to say I had absolutely nothing in common with this woman. She was probably my polar opposite in every way (something I found quite comforting at the time). She was a nurse with two teenage kids and quite conservative in nature.
Although the law was a bit sketchy on surrogacy, it was highly unlikely that a court would have awarded her custody if she had a change of heart post birth, as Craig and I would have been the biological parents of this child. Surrogates aren’t allowed to profit from this process but you are obliged to pay them approximately R9500 to cover living expenses, maternity clothes, hospital appointments etc (a scary amount of money). It’s also interesting to note that you start paying from the date the agreement is signed, so we paid her R5000 for the first month of treatment prior to the insemination. I attended the clinic for hormone boosting injections too for a couple of weeks and then an appointment was scheduled to retrieve the eggs. Although that went smoothly, a few days later, my stomach swelled up and I was getting awful stomach cramps, I went back to the clinic and was admitted for hyper stimulation of the ovaries (apparently quite a common side effect). I was in hospital for over a week (during which time I discovered the pregnancy hadn’t taken despite the 3 eggs that were put back being scored at 5’s and a 4 (5 being the highest in terms of quality). I was in so much physical pain at this stage that it didn’t really faze me that much – I just wanted to feel better. Very little was done for me in hospital, I was just monitored and my kidney function was checked daily (all fluid in and out was recorded). I was then discharged and was still in pain for quite a few days after that. I have suffered recurrent bouts of irritable bowel ever since and I’m convinced it was as a result of the hormone boosting injections. Despite having the go ahead from the liver clinic to have 2/3 attempts, good sense prevailed and I refused to put myself through that again.
This was in November 2005 and after a couple of months digesting everything, we decided to go the adoption route. We were put in touch with the agency that both my friends had used and the process itself was extremely simple. We had an introductory meeting with the social worker and were given loads of forms to complete and asked to compile a profile of our lives, family, friends, photos etc to give to the birth mother. We questioned our decision at every turn and I count myself very fortunate to have good friends with adopted kids to share my thoughts with as we had many discussions about every new doubt or question that popped into my head. Women share far easier and I think guys have it far harder in this process as they tend to only discuss their thoughts with their partner and don’t necessarily get the perspective on it that we do. I was adamant that I would not take this decision unless I was convinced that Craig’s motives were the right ones. He knew I was desperate for another baby and to my mind that was not motivation enough to adopt a child. The biggest worry for any couple going through this must be “what will happen to my relationship if one or other parent ends up resenting this child”. I had to be convinced that he wanted this just as much as me and wasn’t merely going through with it because he wanted to make me happy. What proved an invaluable lesson to me was that there are no forbidden or wrong questions, we were able to voice everything we were feeling to the social workers without any judgment being passed on us. I can’t stress the importance of this enough.
Being a control freak, my primary fear was not being able to personally choose the baby myself, followed very closely by “oh my God, what if I have an ugly baby” – let’s face it, not all babies are cute! I felt so guilty at first and thought I must be the most superficial person ever to have considered adoption, but I was reassured by my friends and the social workers that these feeling are completely normal. I had a vision in my head of the child I wanted (boy, caramel skin, green eyes and little dreadlocks). My husband was happy to adopt a black or coloured baby (neither of us wanted a white baby and if by some force of nature, one had become available, we would told the social workers to give it to a couple who were desperate for a white child). Our logic was that we already had a white child so why did we need two; notwithstanding, the need is so vast for good homes for black/coloured babies. I only wanted a coloured baby boy because that fitted in with my mental image of the son I would one day have and I had serious reservations about being able to expose a black child to his culture and how to manage perceptions around how he would always be approached (especially by African people) as being a Xhosa speaking black male. All my close friends are white and coloured and there is no language issue so my child will feel completely integrated growing up. I think that we are unfortunately not far enough down the road to total acceptance post-apartheid and the example I used all the time was this: My son would be exposed to a primarily white and coloured environment growing up and what would the repercussions be if he took a fancy to a pretty blond girl in his teenage years and she was not allowed to go out with him because her parents were racist and forbid it. That would be like a knife to my heart and what message would that send to him (that actually we are exposing you to a world of possibility but actually you only have access to elements of that because of your skin colour – how crushing would that be for a child?)
Another huge concern for me was the 60 day cooling off period and I had my daughter to consider. What if we had the baby for a month or so and the birth mother changed her mind? For this reason, we actually requested a baby six weeks of age or slightly older, as opposed to new born. The social worker did raise a really interesting point though, when she told me that she had always wanted an “Annie” type child with red curls and freckles and that was her mental image that she held dear for years but that she had to let go of and mourn her loss, as it is limiting and she couldn’t truly open her heart to adoption if she was hanging on to this picture in her mind.
I handed our profile in on 3 May and I got a call to say they had a baby for me two days later. The social worker knew I would be really shocked given that it was so soon after submitting my profile and I had been told it would take six weeks to about three months. She said she would send me a photograph of the child, which she did, but I didn’t feel anything for this baby at all. I showed my husband the photograph and he agreed that this was not the child for us. On paper, he was what we were asking for, a coloured baby boy of about six weeks or so, but I expected to open the photograph up on my laptop and just feel an instant bond (which was probably completely naive). We did consider going to spend time with the baby but my husband said we should go on gut feel and that we would know when it was the baby for us. I struggled with this decision though thinking I might have passed up my future son, but my husband was right. I then got another call a few weeks later and we were offered another baby boy but he was born to an HIV positive mother. The social worker explained that some babies are born with HIV positive cells but after three months of anti-retroviral drugs, they actually then test negative and are then negative for the duration of their lives thereafter. Again, we declined as Craig had serious reservations about this, although I was more convinced. The social worker then suggested that I go to a halfway house that they worked closely with, which housed HIV positive and abandoned babies and spend time with all the different types of babies living there, as well as get a feel for changing nappies etc.
I took Gia (my daughter) along one Sunday afternoon and we had the most wonderful time with these kids. There were nine babies there at that time and interestingly, although a couple of them were that bit older (one even had green eyes and caramel skin), they were not the ones I gravitated towards. There were two tiny two and three week old babies that I couldn’t wait to hold and play with. The smallest one was definitely the centre of attention amongst the volunteers and I could only get my hands on him towards the end of the afternoon. He just stole my heart. He was the cutest thing with tiny hands scrunched into fists and the sweetest little face. All babies housed there have, however, all being placed already. It is merely a temporary stop over between the hospital and their new parents so I was completely blown away when the social worker called me on Monday and asked how my visit went and whether I had an affinity for any particular child. When I told her about the tiny baby I’d been holding and how gorgeous he was, she said that she was hoping I would say that because the prospective parents had had a change of heart and that I could collect him on Thursday if we wanted him. I was ecstatic and petrified in equal measure but Craig and I both felt this was a sign that I was in the right place at the right time and that this was our child. We were only the second couple to have adopted directly from them in a five year period which is yet more evidence that this was meant to be. We collected him on Thursday from the adoption agency as the birth mother had taken the decision not to meet us and he checked Craig out and frowned at him (which was so classic) and Craig said “He looks like a Rio”.
The early days (with any baby actually) pass in a blur of chronic fatigue, bottles and nappies and I did feel a bit down for two days (but given that I’d felt depressed after Gia for three months, this was a good result). He has so many of our traits and we all adore him (although he is a terrorist) and I thank God that the IVF didn’t work, or we wouldn’t have had him. He is now 5 years old and definitely the king of the castle at our house. I would encourage anyone to consider adoption but always do what feels completely right for you. Take the time to speak to agencies/social workers and volunteer at some of the halfway houses, you will surprise yourself with the depth of emotion you uncover and maybe even end up with that much longed for child – GOOD LUCK!