Sharon van Wyk: My adoption story

Sharon van Wyk adopted two daughters Ava and Hannah. She got Ava as a new born and Hannah was adopted when she was two months old. This is her story:

How did you start with the adoption process? Was there a lot of information out there? What did you find most useful?
I had been fairly active on a number of infertility support forums prior to adopting so had picked up a lot of information online and on these forums with regards to what to expect from the process and who to contact. Once I’d absorbed all this information, I immediately phoned our chosen social worker to set up an appointment for an information session with her. I’d encourage all those considering adoption or struggling with infertility to make use of online resources like fertilicare.

How long did the process take?
Both of my children are adopted and both experiences were completely different. With Ava, my eldest, we literally went three weeks from finalising the paperwork to placement. With Hannah, our wait was substantially longer and she was placed with us two years after we decided to adopt a second time.

What did the adoption (both of them) cost you?
Both cost us between R35K – R40K and mostly covered all the legal fees and of course counselling and paperwork. I’d already had five IVF’s by this stage, each of which had cost in excess of R50K so the adoption fees seemed minimal in comparison because there actually was a living, breathing, baby at the end of each process and not just heartbreak at the end of each failed IVF cycle.

How did you feel emotionally going through this experience?
It was very cathartic. We’ve been trying to have a child for more than seven years already by the time we started the adoption process. Although the paperwork and interviews are, at times, very personal and a little invasive and in depth, it was the first time on our long journey to parenthood that I had hope and was actually excited by the process.

What was the biggest challenge(s)?
The waiting. Granted, we didn’t really wait with Ava but with Hannah, the waiting was hard. Also, there was a lot that happened in between.

What were the biggest highlights/joys?
My children without a doubt. Every tear, every bit of anxiety, every heartbreak in the lead up to their placement was worth it. And receiving the calls for both of them, when the social workers called us to tell us that we’d been selected and would be parents, those were some of the most surreal moments of my life. Ava’s birth mom and I share a strong bond and she even requested my presence at Ava’s birth was the single most incredible moment of my life!

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?
Department of Social Services could really improve their service levels. The period of time between having the courts pass the adoption and receiving the final adoption order from the department of Social services is extremely long. We received Ava’s final order a year post placement and Hannah’s was also in the region of year. That’s a very long time to have to wait to change your baby’s name, get a birth certificate for them and be legally recognized as their parents.

Were you given a choice on what sex, race etc. you could adopt?
You are absolutely given a choice in terms of gender and race. However, the more particular you are, the more difficult the matching and placement becomes. Obviously, the entire adoption process is focused around operating within the best interests of the child, so they do try to have babies placed within their race groups, but this i snot always possible. I’ve also been informed that female babies are more popular, so if you are gender specific, you may wait longer, however, ironically, both my children are girls.

Do you or your children keep in touch in any way with the birth parents?
No. The amount of contact is determined prior to placement and is always up to the birth parents. Contractually, adoptive parents are bound to freely provide written updates, sent via the social worker, to the birth parents for the first two years of the child’s life, this is in a closed adoption.

Obviously open adoptions are worked out differently. Both my children have closed adoptions, however, the amount of contact varies as both of their placements and circumstances surrounding their placements are different. I am very close with Ava’s birth mom, while she has not seen Ava since birth, we are friends on Face Book so she can keep up to date with pictures of Ava and we communicate fairly regularly via SMS.

How did the girls find the experience? Did they know what was going on?
Hannah struggled with post placement stress and as a result she’s has some sensory issues. This was largely due to her being in a place of safety post birth for the duration of the 60 day consent period. Ava also showed some signs of post placement stress but research has proven that babies do feel the stress and trauma of being separated from their birth mothers. This is addressed during adoption counselling to help prepare adoptive parents.

How are you going to approach the subject if they ask you about whether they were adopted?
Honesty is always the best policy. Both of my children have always known they are adopted, even before they could fully understand what it meant. Ava has even done a presentation to her class about how she’s adopted and what that means, after a few of them had asked her why I am white and she is brown and how we can be a real family.