What She Said

Two Women and a Baby

Health4Women shares the insights into two lesbian couples who adopted children.

Ronel, who is in a same-sex relationship with Sonja, says they knew once they got married they wanted children. After all the paperwork and preparation was complete, they welcomed two girls into their family.

What inspired you to adopt?

Sonja and I have known each other for many years as we saw each other from time to time in the same circle of friends. It was very clear from the start that we share the same ideals and beliefs, which is why a lesbian relationship is very much like any other relationship where two people love each other and want to be with each other for the rest of time. When we eventually got together 20 years later (yes; we didn’t give up), we knew that this was going to be a lifelong partnership and like any other couple we started talking about marriage and children. We wanted to have a family of our own.

We went for six artificial inseminations with donor sperm and then we decided that we needed to change tact and started the adoption process through CT Child Welfare Society.

How long did the process take?

With the first adoption, a baby girl, the whole process took less time than being pregnant. If I recall correctly, the ‘admin’ stage took about 2-3 months and the ‘waiting game’ less than six. With our second adoption, it took even less time. Within two months we had our precious little girl!

What were some of the biggest challenges you had to face?

Cost. You don’t know what to expect regarding how much it will cost. Even though we did not go the private-adoption route (due to financial reasons) we still got a hefty bill to pay, and the scary part is was that you have to pay the first half upfront for the process to proceed, and the second half you have to have available by the time of placement. The amount is calculated on a sliding scale regarding your income and expenses.

Secondly, the process might feel tedious with having to attend group sessions and then individual interviews and home visits, etc. but once it is all done you realise that it wasn’t all that bad. Just take it one step at a time and they will guide you through it.  Something to also keep in mind is that the paperwork can take years to finalise. You will be issued with a letter from the court to confirm the baby was placed in your care, but the final adoption order can take up to two years in SA, during which time you will still be using the baby’s original birth certificate and names on any legal documentation.

Thirdly, even though for us this wasn’t a huge issue, explaining to family and friends that you are going to adopt and that it might be a child of colour can be a big problem for some people. Some concerns were raised by the fact that there will be no father figure in the family and even though this is a very valid concern, it can be mitigated by having your male family members and male friends play a very active role in your child’s life. To adopt a white baby is possible, but the cost is very high as it is typically done via private adoption and you wait much longer. In our minds, as long as the baby was healthy we were happy.

What advice would you give to any other lesbian couple that is considering adoption?

Make sure that your relationship is healthy. Any relationship takes the strain when a baby arrives, but adoption adds a bit of extra pressure on a relationship. The process can take long, and the waiting is stressful, but once you are approved and on the waiting list it is just a matter of time. It is not IF you are going to have a baby but rather WHEN, and that makes it so much easier. Prepare financially for the process as you have to pay some money upfront, the rest at placement and then, of course, you have to plan for the baby (room, furniture and everything else). While on maternity leave you also will not be able to claim UIF until the final adoption order has been issued. Be prepared for others people’s opinion as they will give it without asking.  Just smile and ‘wave’ as everybody has a right to their opinion, and so do you.

What do people need to know about adoption that most do not?

If you opt to have the placement done for a baby younger than 60 days, you do run the risk of losing that child as the biological mother can change her mind up to 60 days. In both our adoptions, we asked for a baby of 60 days or older as we did not want to risk losing the baby after a few days. You are entitled to maternity leave like anybody else – that is the Law. Even though you are both female, only one parent is allowed to take maternity leave. The other parent can take paternity leave which differs from each employer.

Only once you have the final adoption order can you claim UIF, which will then be paid in a lump sum.

You are not allowed to take the baby out of the country until such time that you have received the final adoption order and baby’s name, and surname is changed. Until the final approval order is received, you will have to use baby’s original birth certificate and name/surname for things like Dr’s records, Medical Aid, Testament, etc. Only once you have the new birth certificate can you update those records accordingly. You need consent from the social worker and or Hospital Administrator for any operations and or evasive medical treatment as the baby is not yet legally adopted by you.

“Choosing” your child doesn’t happen as it does when you go to take a dog or cat (LOL) – they don’t ‘display’ the babies, and you do not get to choose the cutest one. They look at your profile (which is part of the work you do up front), and they then will review these profiles as and when a baby becomes available. You will get a call ‘out of the blue’ to say that there is a potential baby for you after which the social worker will tell you about baby’s background and if you are willing to go ahead after hearing the ‘facts’ you will be able to meet the child at the emergency parents. If you decide to go ahead with the adoption, placement can take anything between one day up to two weeks depending on the situation.

On the day that you go to collect baby, the social worker MUST accompany you

What was the highlight (best part) of this experience?

Receiving that much-awaited call and then meeting our baby for the first time. It was the best and most scary moment(s) of our life. And then, of course, the day that you receive your final adoption order in the post. The letter reads: “…as if born to you….” and you know that nobody can ever take your baby away from you.

How has the adoption changed the dynamic of your relationship with each other and those close to you?

My mom is very Afrikaans and ‘old school’ and getting used to the idea of a black grandchild did scare her initially, but now she loves them with all her heart. She still gets upset when people stare at us in the shops or when they make comments, but I tell her just to ignore it as the positive outweighs the negatives by far. I try to see the humour in it all especially when people address me in Afrikaans and then switch to English when they address my son and him very politely tells them that he is Afrikaans.

Sonja’s family is from Johannesburg, and they don’t see us often so for them it is still a bit strange.  You would see them rather shake my son’s hand than kissing him on the mouth as the race issue is still front and centre in their lives.  BUT we raise our kids to show respect to other people even if they do not respect you.

Sonja and I have moved through various stages during our relationship.  From loving each other from afar for years to falling madly in love and enjoying each other 24/7 to getting married and adopting two beautiful children all in the space of seven years and now being content with our lives as soul mates.  This process has brought us even closer together.

Tell us a short story about the process that you will never forget

Our kids have filled our life with joy, and we believe that they ‘found’ us as we were always meant to be their parents.  The process might seem overwhelming, but it is like anything else in life; take it one step at a time and what is meant to be, will be.

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Ava and Symi’s adoption story

Ava and I had met nine years before we fell in love. We were both “otherwise occupied”. She was straight and married, and I was gay and married.  After we had both been in a different place in our lives, I went to visit my straight friend in Cape Town – and two weeks later, we were giddily in love, she wasn’t straight anymore, and no longer just friends either. She moved to Johannesburg in less than two months.

Symi

What inspired you to adopt?

For the first time, I wanted to raise a child with someone, but we both felt we were past our sell-by dates (39) to fall pregnant, and so the “old-fashioned way” no longer seemed an option.

Coincidentally, the social worker we’d been chatting to on and off, for four years, came to a dance camp Ava was instructing. I was the kitchen boss for the camp, and Michelle (the social worker) had time to see us under pressure, utterly exhausted, looking after 13 women pushed beyond their emotional and physical limits, and she saw something in us that we didn’t at that point. She saw that we remained nurturing, patient, and kind and that we were connecting with people on whatever level they needed us to.

The week after the camp, Michelle was in Johannesburg for a training event and came to stay with us for a couple of days. In that time, she observed us without the “audience”. Just us, in our ordinary day-to-day lives. She went home and then called us the following Monday and said that she knew we sucked at paperwork, so she would help us to get it done. We submitted all the required forms in a few days.

In retrospect, Michelle didn’t place Buhle with us, she placed us with Buhle. Buhle (Boo), is an active little girl, much smaller than the other children her age.

How long did the process take?

After completing the paperwork, checks, and visits, we were approved as holiday parents for Boo. However, she is still legally under the guardianship of the children’s home. We have a six-month window to get the adoption process sorted, which has given us an opportunity to get settled into our new routine as a family.

What were some of the biggest challenges you had to face?

We’ve dealt with two social workers.The first is Buhle’s social worker at the children’s home, and the other is to keep an eye on her, and on us, during the placement. If we decide to go with the foster care option, we’ll always have a social worker assigned to us.

The placement social worker was friendly and kind, but because we’re a lesbian couple, the question “Who’s the Daddy?” came up. We’re both CIS Gendered and happy to be the mommies, so we felt she could have benefited from some sensitivity training. We’re also Wiccan, and that was another conversation that could have been more tactful dealt with from her side, as she told us that she would prefer that we raised Boo as a Christian. Luckily, a call to the children’s home confirmed that this would not be a prerequisite for the adoption to take place. She was just putting us through our paces.

Boo has had to make massive adjustments to a new environment and to being a member of our family.  It took her a while to deal with the loss of the world she used to know and has only recently started talking about “At my old house,” after three months. She’s settled into preschool, even though it’s English, and she was raised Afrikaans initially.  She’s like any other typical 4-year-old girl pushing boundaries and has a lip when things don’t go her way, but her laughter lights up the universe.”

We realised when we went to meet Boo; we weren’t going to fetch a dress on “appro.” There could be no turning back.

What were your biggest challenges?

We’ve never really been bothered by people who judge us. At Boo’s school, there are children with two daddies and kids whose parents don’t share the same skin colour. It’s no longer a strange thing. We’re teaching our child to respond to comments and criticism; much like any other alternative family would.

What advice would you give to any other lesbian couple that is considering adoption?

There’s a big difference between being prepared to be in a relationship, and being ready to be parents. Work your way through both stages first before considering adoption. Figure out who the other person in your relationship is, and who you are, because kids don’t fix relationship problems; they highlight them for you.

Adopting a child means taking on their hurt, disappointments and ideas about the world around them. You shouldn’t begin with an ideal picture of how it’s going to be in your head and expect the child to comply. You have to fetch them where they are and love them, embrace them and balance them from that point of departure. You need to go into the process understanding that you control almost nothing because it’s a journey without GPS. I recommend working with an NGO or an organization like ABBA Adoptions.

 

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