I am the mother of four beautiful children …

… but I have never experienced my body change due to pregnancy, I have never carried a life within me. I skipped the nausea, the swollen feet, the many doctor’s appointments and the late-night cravings. I have never had a due date, never given birth – no epidural, no emergency c- section and no labour pains.

I am not a birth mum. I became a mother through adoption

As with birth stories, every adoption story is unique. We adopted our first child nine years ago. This is her ‘birth’ story …

It all started with a period of mourning. I had to acknowledge the loss of never being able to have biological children. I mourned this loss, good and hard! I did the work and then when I was done, I was free to move on.

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Step two was to find an adoption agency and set the ball rolling. Sadly, in South Africa the adoption process is often marred with tons of red tape, over-worked, unprofessional or misinformed social workers and a fair amount of prejudice within the system, which can leave potential adoptive parents feeling discouraged, powerless and unsupported.

So although our daughter’s adoption process was long, laborious and invasive we still consider ourselves as among the lucky ones, in that our adoption didn’t drag on for years and was not hindered by bureaucracy and grave incompetence. It was, however, filled with many hours of probing questions into every inch of our past and present, not to mention the long list of paperwork we had to get done.

Although the thought of our very own little bundle of joy thrilled us, there were times when the process nearly got the better of me. It can be tough emotionally. I will never forget the day that our session with our social worker consisted of the following questions: ‘Would you be open to adopting a child with physical disabilities? An abandoned baby? Would you consider a baby who’s birth mom was raped? The baby of a drug addict? How about adopting a baby who has a history of mental illness in her family?” As adoptive parents you come face-to-face with some of the harsh realities of the world we live in, before you ever get to hold your baby for the first time.

Eventually, after seven months, our application was complete and the process of waiting started. I found this period especially tough!

Social workers often compare the time of waiting for an adopted baby to the time of pregnancy. But there were obviously no external physical signs that we were preparing to receive a baby. No bump. No due date. No ante-natal visits or classes. As a result, I often felt that family and friends didn’t speak to me about our ‘coming’ baby as often as they would have if a growing bump was present. At times it felt like a long, secret and lonely pregnancy.

It took a fair amount of faith to wait for this unknown baby

To choose a name for the unknown baby. Prepare a room for her. To pray for her. An unknown baby from a stranger who we would never know, but to whom we would be forever connected. There are so many unknowns when adopting, so many ‘ifs’, so many questions, doubts and fears. An overwhelming degree of the adoption process is out of your control, you just have to let go and trust.

In order to keep myself sane while waiting, I took a part-time job and prepared a baby room. Just as a pregnant woman gathers information about her pregnancy and birth, an adoptive mother gathers information about the adoption process, and about her child’s upcoming transition into the family. When adopting you usually don’t know when your baby will come home or how old your baby will be and so shopping for clothes or nappies and even toys is not practical. You just have to wait.

Then one Friday morning we got what is known in adoption circles as ‘The Call’!

Our social worker, sounding as formal as always, informed me that she had matched us with a baby. The wait was finally over. Now I knew that our little girl was nearly seven months old and we could finalise the shopping list and announce the long-expected and wonderful news. It was a mad rush to get everything ready, a wonderfully sweet rush!

The following week, we flew to Durban to meet our precious little one. As she was placed in my arms, the long wait became a distant memory. It was done. Our daughter. At last! We called her Mia, which means ‘she is mine’. The next morning we made a quick court visit and then we brought our perfect little girl home … forever.

The wonder of adoption

The wonder of adoption is truly that this little person I have never met before is instantly connected to me. It is really difficult to put into words, but it is as if your heart just opens and receives this precious gift, no questions asked. I accept and embrace her as my daughter 100%. I suspect this is pretty much the same with a birth mom and baby.

Having said that, bonding with your adopted baby does take time. My children were respectively seven, four, five-and-a-half and two months old when they came home. For those birth moms out there, you know that by the time your baby is only a few months old you are already very well acquainted with their cry, expressions and gestures. You have seen their first smile and heard their little giggles. You know your baby’s body well and baby is familiar with your touch. When an adopted baby comes home, all is new and the journey from ‘strangers’ to ‘mom-and-baby’ that unfolds, is beautiful, often scary and in many ways so sacred to me.

All relationships take work, and attachments take time to form. A baby spends nine months getting to know the sound, scent and rhythms of its birth mum. An adopted baby needs the same kind of close bonding time to feel safe and comfortable. When we adopted our third baby, my then five-year-old son asked me: “Mommy, how will the baby know you are his mommy?”. I loved the honesty of his question. I told him that the baby would learn to know that I am his mommy as I care for and love him.

We don’t all become mothers in the same way. Our birth stories are unique. Our journeys are different. But at the end we all receive these amazing gifts who change our lives forever. It is both hard and wonderful!