20 years of heartache, then finally, a baby
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When I was 6 years old my mother got pregnant with my little brother and ever since I have been obsessed with babies.
The day he was born was one of the happiest days of my life. I still remember holding him for the first time when he was maybe a day old at the Cooperative hospital in Matara, in the south of Sri Lanka. I had already started primary school by then and my mother used to recall that I would say I was taking a day off from school to look after my baby brother.
Growing up, my interests veered into different subjects but whenever I was near a baby I would be vying to cuddle it and never in too much of a hurry to give it back to its mother.
The thing was that babies liked me too. In crowded buses, babies would hold eye contact with me and coo over the heads of other passengers. I could soothe a crying baby in seconds.
When I started working and my colleagues had babies and were on maternity leave I would visit on weekends and spend as much time as possible with them. When we went on staff and family outings all the little children wanted to sit with me in the bus and I was always the unofficial babysitter and child soother.
There was never a doubt in my mind that I wanted to be a mum. So once I got married during the tumultuous days in Colombo and migrated to new Zealand and set up a home we got down to the serious business of making a baby.
When nothing happened in the first six months we were not worried. The new country, our new house, new friends and my new career were keeping me busy.
But once we celebrated our first wedding anniversary and some of our new friends announced their pregnancies, and my first niece was born in Sri Lanka, the yearning began. We thought we should go see our GP and find out whether we were doing something wrong.
After a few tests and a laparoscopy I was quickly diagnosed with rampaging endometriosis and severe Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). The chances of us getting pregnant by ourselves were pretty slim and we started on the path of the assisted reproduction.
We tried the most low-tech procedures first and gradually had more surgeries, culminating in the most advanced IVF procedure available at the time in New Zealand, in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) with intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) coupled with the Colorado protocol.
Seven years, one chemical pregnancy, one miscarriage and lots of stress, tears and heartache later, we were tired.
We had long ago exhausted the public funding provided by the New Zealand government and a considerable amount of our own money. My body had taken the toll of being under fertility drugs and manufactured cycles for almost a decade and we were emotionally and financially drained.
We made the decision to stop any further medical interventions in our quest for a baby.
Our counsellor at the Fertility Associates, learning that I have not given up the dream of being a mum, recommended that we look into fostering and adoption. Obviously being Sri Lankan, our first choice was to look for an orphan from Sri Lanka to be our baby.
We had to be approved by the New Zealand government department responsible for facilitating adoptions - child, youth and family - so we were assigned a social worker who interviewed us for our motives and assessed our eligibility to be adoptive parents.
To our amazement, we found out that to get the approval to be adoptive parents was as hard, if not harder, than getting pregnant itself, at least for us.
They wanted our incomes, expenses and financial liabilities and we had to provide them with plans on how we planned on raising the baby - would they have a religious education? Would we be happy with contact from the birth family (as only open adoptions are allowed in New Zealand)? They did home visits to see the potential baby’s room, documented our philosophy on parenting and wanted to know how we would pay the mortgage on one income when we had the baby, just to name a few.
And then there were the three full-day courses on adoption-related matters that were mandatory before we were given approval as prospective adoptive parents, and the social worker wrote a home study report which was the all important document you need whether you are adopting locally or internationally.
Our social worker wrote to the Sri Lankan government on our behalf requesting for us to be considered for an orphan. A reply was received from the department of child care and probation services acknowledging our request but also advising us that there was a dearth of adoptable children in Sri Lanka and there may be a wait of many years, with the possibility of a child never being available for us for international adoption.
But we had seen the orphanages in Sri Lanka. After all, we are Sri Lankan even though they considered us non-nationals due to our immigration status.
Full of renewed hope, we rang their offices in Colombo wanting to speak to the commissioner to persuade him of our worthiness to receive a Sri Lankan child and demonstrate how much we could offer that child. We were often put on hold and paid a lot of New Zealand dollars for the hope of eventually being able to talk to the commissioner, but that never happened.
Our well-meaning friends and family back home offered to procure a child for us through various ways, mostly illegal or semi-legal, none of which we were willing to try. Our government-appointed social worker here had warned us of the risks and repercussions of canvassing for a child and our own ethics would not allow us to go about it any way but legally.
Five years waiting for a child to parent from Sri Lanka resulted in a total of one letter of acknowledgement of our request and nothing but dashed hopes and disappointment.
NOT GIVING UP
We had almost given up of ever becoming parents at this point and were contemplating a childless future when our social worker suggested that we try to adopt domestically.
We went into the local pool for a while but quickly realised that it was unlikely a white European birth mother, who were the majority that were placing children for adoption in New Zealand at the time, would pick a South Asian couple to be adoptive parents to her child.
There had been just one Indian/Asian baby that had ever become available for adoption in the local pool to the social worker's knowledge and Maori and Pacific Islander’s unwanted babies were almost always placed with whanau (family).
So our chances were pretty slim but we gave it a good shot anyway, hanging on to hope for just over a year.
My husband had given up by then and was trying to get me to focus on other things such as travel, career, volunteer work etc, but I was still not quite ready to give up my dream of parenting a child.
So when our social worker suggested that we withdraw from the local pool and look at adopting internationally, specifically from China, I was interested but my husband not so much. He saw that as another dead end road that would just lead to more disappointment.
However, once again we sat down with our social worker and did our paper chase for China and our documents were sent to the China Centre for Adoption Affairs. We were told to expect a referral for a baby girl in eight month's time.
We were over the moon as this was the first time we'd been given a timeline, so we shared our good fortune with family and friends and got into the business of setting up a nursery and buying things for our daughter.
The eight months turned into a year without a referral and those that were interested and asked for updates eventually stopped doing it.
The wait of eight months turned into six years, with reasons such as the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome )scare and the Beijing Olympics temporarily stopping overseas referrals.
Then came the western press that snooped around the Chinese orphanages and started reporting on China's problem with abandonment of girl babies due to the one child policy and its growing gender imbalance. This angered the Chinese government, resulting in them drastically reducing the number of children available for international adoption with the claim that the child abandonment did not happen in China any more.
Meanwhile, western press using under cover reporters were reporting on overcrowded orphanages with appalling conditions - babies sleeping eight to a cot that was meant for one baby, infanticide, and abandoned babies not discovered in time dying by the road side in the harsh winter months.
This was a harrowing time for us as we had set our hearts on a baby from China and this news broke our heart.
Almost seven years into the wait, we received a phone call from our social worker saying that she had received a referral of a baby girl for us from China.
My husband and I were in opposite ends of the city at the time and we raced to the social worker's office excited to see the face of our daughter for the first time.
It was the best day of our lives.
She was 16 months old at the time and lived in an orphanage in Guangzhou, in Southern China. After shedding many happy tears we signed on the dotted line agreeing to be her adoptive parents.
Three months later, we travelled to China to bring her home.
Our beautiful daughter is 4 and half years old now and we will celebrate being a family for three years in December.
She has adjusted amazingly and caught up in all the development milestones. She is bi-lingual, understanding and speaking English and Sinhalese, and is a well-adjusted, beautiful, happy and loving child who knows that she is wanted and loved and also that she had a tummy mummy that loved her but was not lucky enough to keep her.
Every year on her birthday we light a candle for her tummy mummy and think about her.
When people comment on how lucky our daughter is we always say we are the lucky ones as she has enriched our lives in more ways than we imagined. All the heartache of our failed IVF attempts, miscarriages and the harrowing wait is just a distant memory now.
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