Not in blood, but by bond: my adoption story
By Hoe I Yune, Nov 21, 2019
Over a year ago, Elaine and her husband adopted their first child, a baby boy. They had just moved from India to Singapore when they felt more ready than ever to start a family. She shares what being a new mum is like and how the thought of adoption first came on her radar while growing up in India.
Warning: This story contains mentions of miscarriage.
My name’s Elaine, I’m 38, and I’m mum to a 14-month-old boy named Ian* whom we adopted in Singapore.
I got married at 23. My husband and I were young, so we thought we’d wait a little before becoming parents. We wanted to focus on our careers and earn enough to buy ourselves a home. Only once we entered our thirties did we think we were ready.
Becoming a mum wasn’t something that I necessarily aspired to be but it was something that I always thought I could be after getting married and settling down. In my mind, having children seemed like a natural progression in life. So for me to suddenly realise it might not be an option was hard to take in.
I had a surprise pregnancy in our first year of marriage and miscarried. After I was 30, we felt prepared and took trying for a baby more seriously, but then we would go on to have four more miscarriages. It took a toll on me physically and emotionally and played on my mind a bit. I started to doubt my ability to become a mother, and I wondered if motherhood was for me. It wasn’t easy and it took some time, but my family was a big help and I slowly got out of that really dark place.
Miscarriages are a kind of loss. It’s not the kind of thing you ever forget, but you learn to accept it.
One day, my husband asked, “Why don’t we just adopt a child?”
To adopt a child has always been at the back of my mind. When I was younger, I thought, “I’ll give birth to my first two then adopt our third.” I was inspired by how my parents sponsored a child’s education when I was growing up.
I remember my parents buying lovely school supplies for a boy who lived in an orphanage. They brought my sister and I along on one of their visits. He was such a sweet, smart kid and on our way home, I wondered why couldn’t he live with us. It made me realise that there are children out there without parents in need of a home and parents to care for them.
Still, I wanted to have children by birth because I thought it’d be really interesting to see mini versions of my husband and I. I also wanted to be more mature and experienced in raising a child before adopting.
The difficulty we faced in conceiving changed things. Four years ago, we moved from India to Singapore and a year after we settled in, it felt like the right time to start our family. We talked to people who had adopted here and were reassured to hear how transparent the local adoption process is. Our adoption agent and case officer asked us several questions such as what our family background, health and financial status was to understand our reasons behind adopting and if we were ready to be parents
My husband and I discussed whether we were open to adopting an older child, as well as ethnicity and gender.
He was very open to adopting an older child but I had my reservations. I read about how they might need more patience and that it might take a longer time to build a bond with them, and I wasn’t sure I was ready to take on the responsibility as a first-time mum. In some sense, it’s easier with a newborn who’ll likely only know and remember you.
That was pretty straightforward for us as new parents, although where my husband and I really disagreed was ethnicity. My husband had no preference but I thought the closer the child’s ethnicity is linked to us, the easier it’ll be on the child growing up. I was afraid that there would be a period in the child’s life when he or she would struggle to come to terms with being adopted.
If there was something that I could do to help the child feel like he or she belonged, I wanted to do it to make it as easy for them as possible. Something I thought I could do was have the child look more similar to us, so that he or she doesn’t ever feel like an outsider.
To me, it wasn’t necessary to have a child who’s completely Indian, but maybe someone with Indian ethnicity in the mix. We talked about it in great length and eventually my husband understood where I was coming from.
The adoption process was pretty drawn out, and it’s so important that both partners are truly united and have each other’s backs. We divided the tasks by tackling areas that we’re naturally good at. I handled all the paperwork as I tend to be more particular and on one occasion, I went, “Things should be moving a little faster”. My husband spoke with the case officer who explained that there was a spike in adoption in Singapore. I’m prone to worrying whereas he can be more easygoing, so he tried to divert my attention from the timeline and kept me positive.
Something that might’ve sped up our process was a change of heart we had in the beginning. I always wanted a daughter for an eldest child, but we heard from the adoption agent that baby girls are very popular, especially among Indian families. My husband is very soft hearted and after hearing that, his heart melted. He thought maybe the baby boys were not getting adopted at all because they weren’t as popular, and I felt really bad too. When we got home, we called the adoption agency and said, “We’re open to a boy.”
After three months, we got a call from our adoption agent. It was such a pleasant surprise. The birth mother and her partner were pretty young and didn’t feel that they were at a stage in life where they could raise a third child, so they wished to give their son up for adoption. She was about four to five months pregnant.
The option for us to meet the birth mum was on the table even early on, but I wasn’t immediately sure that I wanted to meet her.
I was worried that she might have second thoughts about giving up the baby if she were to see me, and I didn’t know what we would say to each other.
Having carried a child for nine months, I was sure she’d be mentally and physically attached to him, and I wondered if I was ready to see her anxiety and pain when giving up the child. I agonised over it in my mind.
Singapore is such a small country that I know a lot of people who worry that things might get awkward if they bump into the parents again in the future. But I thought about it and came to realise that the pros of meeting her outweigh the cons. I wound up visiting her the day she gave birth.
The deciding factor was thinking that if my son asks me about his parents one day, I want to be able to tell him that I met his mum. I might not have up-to-date information about her when he asks but I wanted to be able to share something at least. I didn’t want to take away his history from him if I could help it. My husband is a very compassionate and open-minded guy so he was like, “Of course, let’s do it”. However, as it turned out, the baby’s birth coincided with his work trip so I ended up meeting her on my own.
It was about 18 hours after her delivery when I visited her at the hospital. It was a strange experience, but I felt so grateful to her and I’m so glad I did it. The adoption agent was there and broke the ice with a “So, what do you think? The baby’s cute?”. Within minutes, the two of us were talking to each other. I asked her about allergies, illnesses in the family and the interests of her other two children. I think for her, it helped put her mind at ease to know who she was giving up her biological child to.
When I first laid my eyes on the baby boy, I thought he was so cute and wanted to protect him right away. I noticed his pointed chin, which gives him a really determined look. I thought to myself, “From this day on, this baby is going to be my responsibility”.
I returned with my husband the next day and we met the birth mother and the father. My husband has a knack for speaking with people as if he has known them for a long time, so he didn’t have any of the awkwardness that I had the day before. We talked about interests, where they both came from, and the future. We found out that they were both planning to leave and migrate to another country at some point, and they asked what faith we would raise the baby in. I don’t know if it was important to them so much as they were curious, but we’re Christians like them and I think that pleased them.
We named the baby Ian and brought him home from the hospital when he was three days old and honestly, parenthood has subtly changed the relationship between my husband and I.
We’ve suddenly become really mature. You would think people in their 30s would be mature enough but something about being responsible for another person makes us prioritise things in a way that we were not used to before.
We used to argue over the silliest things but we’re now completely focused on raising a healthy and mindful child.
JP, my husband knows that I don’t do well when I lack sleep and he’s incredibly hands on. Sometimes I catch myself smiling while watching the two of them interact. It’s nice seeing my husband in a different light. There’s something quite romantic about seeing him as not just my husband but as a father too.
Ian and my husband's personalities are so alike — they both like keeping themselves busy and are easily restless. My little guy likes kicking the ball and playing with the mud and grass, which is the kind of thing my husband likes to do as well.
Something my husband I disagree on is whether or not we should be strict about our son’s feeding and napping routines. My husband travels a lot as a wildlife photographer so he thinks our son should have a more flexible schedule. He thinks that way, when we travel as a family in the future, he’ll be able to adapt to it. But everything I’ve read and heard indicates that babies need routine!
I’m still pretty adamant about the routines. However, I’ve learned to be more easygoing about certain things. The first time he fell down, I was so worried, but I shared it with my boss at work who reassured me that the first fall hits you the hardest. After that, you realise it’s inevitable with kids trying to navigate their surroundings.
Some folks were taken aback when we told them that we were adopting, simply because they felt we should have continued trying to conceive, but our closest friends and colleagues were very supportive.
My husband and I try not to travel at the same time, and it helps that my husband has a fairly flexible schedule, but our support system has been a great help. My mum and sister are my go-tos for baby advice, and we hired a helper, who’s almost like a third parent to our son. When looking to hire someone, it was really important to us that we find someone good with children and who preferably had a child of her own. In our helper’s case, she has a teenage boy of her own and she came over for work so that she can afford to put him through college. She struck us as someone whom we wanted around our son.
There’s nothing easy about motherhood but it has been a little simpler than I thought it would be. I tend to be a worrier, constantly wondering what could go wrong, yet things were simpler than what I had built up in my head.
Days after bringing the baby home, you don’t think if the baby is adopted or biological. Here you have a little living being who is dependent on you and the first three months is just about feeding, burping and cleaning him. You focus on surviving and making sure that your baby is comfortable.
In Singapore, you have adoption agents and there’s a lot of due diligence that goes into making sure that the child goes to the right family. It was also compulsory to attend pre-adoption briefing classes, which covered everything from making your home comfortable for your child to having discussions with larger families to find out how their opinions will affect the child adjusting to your family. Thankfully, in our case, our families were supportive from the get-go.
We flew to India for our first holiday with Ian. My parents met us at the airport and he immediately took a liking to my mum, cuddling and tucking his face into her neck. I was like, “I’m jealous. He normally doesn’t like to be cuddled or to sit still!” I told her they must have had some cosmic connection.
My mother-in-law said, “It doesn’t matter how God brings a baby to you. Children are children and have to be nurtured and looked after.” It was reassuring how supportive our family was.
Raising Ian has been tiring, exciting, fulfilling, and funny all at the same time. A couple of my friends said it’d be a mix of emotions and it really is. My favourite bit right now is seeing his personality develop, because every month, you see a different aspect of his personality grow. Right now he often has this grandfatherly expression on his face as he advises us on what to do. We have no clue what he’s saying sometimes but he’s very talkative in his baby language.
He has been copying our mannerisms too so my husband and I have been saying that we need to be careful of how we behave around him. The other day, I was talking to him with one finger in the air and he started wiggling it back at me. It’s like he's my mirror reflection!
Between this and noticing his similarities with my husband, you really see how much upbringing can shape a child even though he doesn’t carry our genes. Ian is still so young but we plan to tell him about his adoption from the time he’s 18 months old. There are some lovely books out there that help with this and I Wished for You is my favourite so far.
Whether he can comprehend it as a child is another thing but we don’t want to hide anything from him. It’s hard to predict how he’ll take it. Some children respond in an, “Oh okay, fine” manner, whereas others might think they don’t belong to the people they grew up with, but we want it to be an open conversation.
Our little one is keeping us so busy that we haven’t discussed it in great detail, but we’d like to expand our family in the future too. Maybe we’ll adopt an older child this time round! The miscarriages that I went through made me doubt that motherhood was for me, but now I feel that with the right support system and my close-knit family, I can do it.
*Name has been changed as Elaine and JP would like to protect the identity of their baby.
Writer’s note: To share what it’s like from the perspective of the adoptee, we’re currently looking to speak with people who were adopted. If you’d like to share your experience, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!
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