Lisa Casson: My adoption story

Lisa Casson, creative director at Casson Media, and her husband adopted Liya and are in the process of adopting another child. This is their story:

How did you start with the adoption process? Was there a lot of information out there? What did you find most useful?
Information is minimal. When we decided on adoption, we had no idea where to start. It was a sort of “what comes first” kind of thing – do we find an agency, a child, or what? By some miracle we found a social worker who helped us with everything, starting from finding us a baby.

How long did the process take?
The actual adoption took three months, however we met our daughter a week after meeting our social worker, and took her home two weeks after that. We were a ‘Place of Safety’ while the adoption was processed.

What did the adoption (of both of them) cost you? (We are a financial website and are going to be looking at adoption mainly from a cost point of view). Were there any charges/costs that took you by surprise?
The only fees we paid were for our social worker, and she charged us R10, 000 for ‘everything’. Everything includes court orders, home visits and the mounds of admin she did and helped us with. She is amazing and I find this reasonable (it is also cheaper than giving birth, medical aid just doesn’t cover it). I know that through the state, it doesn’t cost a thing, however you have to deal with the government. Other agencies/social workers will have their own fees. My social worker said if we could not afford it, she would do it at whatever cost we could.

How did you feel emotionally going through this experience?
It is so hard to summarise. I cannot think of a way I didn’t feel. We tried to have our own baby for two years, so I was battling with that. My husband and I had so much to work through. We brought her home so quickly, we never got to process things before she arrived. I got depression, and I had to mourn for babies I could never have… but once I worked through that, my life changed completely. My life went from two to three dimensions instantly, and I was forced to deal with social norms, racism and a million other things I don’t think I ever would have. To top it all, I had to deal with parenthood, which is one of the hardest things alone. But I am so happy with the path my life took, and I would do it all again and sooner, if I could. Our first daughter was the answer to a lot of prayer.

What was the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge was finding support. I felt very alone for many months, because none of my friends were in the same boat. They were pregnant and talking about birth plans. I had an 11 month old, and I mourned for the time lost with her. I felt like life had cheated me. Once everything stopped being about me, this was no longer a challenge. We celebrated her very special life, and the way she had changed ours.

What were the biggest highlights/joys?
My biggest joy has been having her call me mommy, and her daily telling me she loves me. She in no way understands anything about adoption yet, just that she loves us, and we love her.

If the government or any agencies asked you for advice on how to make the process smoother for other parents that want to adopt, what would you say?
The government process, like any government process, isn’t smooth. The courts and other social workers seem uninterested in their work. If it were not for our social worker and all her connections, I am not sure how much more painful it would have been. As for agencies, I don’t agree with all of them and I am glad I didn’t go through one. They require waiting lists, and courses and criteria. None of this is necessary to having a baby. That said, I understand the importance of it, but still painful for parents so desperate for a child, and a country full of so many orphans.

Were you given a choice on what sex, race etc. you could adopt?
Technically we were given a choice. And technically we were told it would be near impossible to adopt a white child. Our God-given plan came to a point where race did not matter. We also didn’t want to limit age too much. In short, you are allowed to specify age, gender and race… but what you choose can affect how long you wait. We were blessed with an 11 month old little African girl. The second time, a little baby coloured boy found his way to us. There is absolutely no problem with adopting cross racially. There is a small detail that says an abandoned baby at 8 weeks needs to try find a parent of the same colour until 12 weeks, but the reality of our country is that doesn’t happen.

Do you or your children keep in touch in any way with the birth parents?
No. Again the reality of South Africa specifically, is there are millions of abandoned children, with untraceable parents. It’s sad, but it made it incredibly easy for us to adopt.

How old were your children when you adopted them?
We have a little girl and a baby boy. My daughter was 11 months, now nearly three years, and our little boy was three months and he’s five now.

How did your children find the experience? Did they know what was going on?
They are still too little, but I see no way it has negatively affected them emotionally at all, despite what they say about the importance of the first few months with a mother. But I can never know how different it would have been.

How are you going to approach the subject if they ask you about whether they were adopted?
We already talk about it, and tell it like a story, so that it will always be a part of their lives and not a ‘surprise’ (hopefully). I am making books for each of them outlining their own story, and how they came to be with us. I know eventually, when their minds can wrap around the full reality of the situation, it is going to hurt. I cannot imagine how they will deal with things in their teens, but we just pray about it, and will tackle it, like everything else, when we get there.