When Andrea* and her husband were unable to conceive, they decided to adopt a baby girl. She recounts her experience, and how she has navigated parenthood as an adoptive mother for almost two decades.

I am a Singaporean living in New Zealand. We have a daughter Rachel*, whom we adopted 17 years ago. The move here was a much-needed break for me from my professional career, which took my family and I to China (where we made the decision to adopt) and the US as well.

Rachel was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as a child, although she is high functioning. That was one of the reasons why we decided to move to the US and then New Zealand. It was from a long-term perspective for Rachel, so she could have access to options and opportunities that were accommodating of her differences and learning challenges – which can be difficult in a large school, large classroom and exam-based system such as the one in Singapore.

I’ve always had a desire to have a large family since young – I had imagined that by 25, I would have four children. My husband and I had been married for a while, but were unable to conceive. When we were in China, I learnt about other families who had adopted, and it made me consider the option, so we decided to get into the process for ourselves.

The research and intensive reading we did prior to putting in our application really helped, and I highly recommend that others who are considering adoption do the same. As we are Singaporeans living abroad, we needed to make sure that our adoption was supported by Singapore laws. Touch Community Services (TCS) guided us through the process.

At that time, there were only two approved orphanages in China that we could adopt from. We registered our interest to adopt through TCS along with some basic preferences: We wanted a female child and an infant, as we felt that it would help us with the bonding.

It was a very thorough process, involving an investigation to ensure that we had the psychological and mental preparedness to take on the responsibility of a child. In the process, we were able to look inwards and think about what we were committing to, which was helpful.

Post adoption application, there were many resources made available to us, such as seminars, support groups and books to help us prepare ourselves – from how to bond with the child to being open about the adoption from day one – in more ways than one.

Maternal instincts

The whole process, from when we indicated our desire with all the paperwork to when we were notified by the Chinese government that we could travel to meet our child, took about 18 months. The instant I met my daughter I knew I was meant to be her mother – it was by far the most unforgettable moment of my life.

I’ve not had a biological child so I can’t compare the feeling, but to me, it felt the same, except that I did not go through the pregnancy and the nine months of physiological bonding, the weight gain, and the associated pains and joys. Some women might need that to feel complete, but not me.

The initial stages can, no doubt, be baffling, perhaps because you don’t have the benefit of preparing for a child that is growing in your body – to be talking about it and have the idea grow on you.

I believe maternal instinct is a natural thing. The need to love and nurture a child, to be responsible in shaping her life and personality, and give her the best opportunities and resources in life, so she can fly away on her own – that’s what being a parent is about, and it felt no different.

In fact, strangely, it was stronger in the case of Rachel, because I had chosen her. She was a conscious decision I had made. I was working and travelling a lot for work at that time as well, so I went through a lot of guilt that I was not spending enough time with her. She was 17 months old by the time we brought her home, post the citizenship processes, which meant that she had been institutionalised in the orphanage for quite some time. So Rachel did go through a bit of separation anxiety.

I do wish, though, that there had been better processes in place to cater to adoptive mothers. I understand that adoptive mothers are now entitled to 12 weeks of paid adoption leave if the child is under 12 months at the time of intent to adopt. This is very crucial as, in some ways, you need more bonding time where adopted children are concerned.

Also, with Rachel, a lot of the child benefit schemes were not available to us as she was of a certain age when she came to us. We were blessed with resources to be able to afford to pay for the help she needed with her learning disabilities, such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, and the like. But that may not be the case for all families.

The first few months were an adjustment for all of us. But I guess, like any other new parents, we overcame it. When Rachel was about two and a half, we realised that she had some developmental issues as well, but you wouldn’t believe that looking at the wonderful young lady that she is today.

In the early years, upon hearing our story, it was quite natural for people to say, “Oh wow! This is such a noble thing to do, because you are giving this child such a great opportunity in life.” But it’s quite the opposite. I am the one who feels blessed and privileged to be her mother. Also, the decision to adopt did not come from an altruistic bent – I had needs, as a woman, to be a mother.

The inevitable question

One thing that I urge adoptive parents to be prepared for: There will come a time when your child would want to find her identity and possibly reconcile with it. We had been very open with Rachel about her being adopted since day one – so much so that she grew up thinking that was how all families were. Until she started going to school, of course.

She then wanted to dig deeper into where she came from, and was quite emotional about it. My husband and I knew that this was something we had to address at some point in our lives, so we went through the process without overthinking it. It was scary, no doubt, as we did not know what to expect. But I am so glad we did it. Often, parenthood is about putting your own needs away for those of your child. It involves a lot of sacrifices, but that’s not coming from a place of negativity; it’s just something that you do out of love for your child.

Rachel was perhaps 11 when we visited the beautiful village of her birth – we came away with her innocently reflecting that the things she has now in life would not have been possible had she remained there. We were also lucky to be able to find her biological parents – it can often be a long-drawn process with no outcome. We made contact, but didn’t get around to meeting them. By that time, Rachel had come to terms with it herself. It was something that she had felt that she needed to know, but it was not that important anymore.

I do think it would be nice for her to meet them at some point in time, but, for now, it’s all about school and friends for her. She is very connected with her grandparents in Singapore. I also try to inculcate in her some of the traditions that I grew up with, such as making pineapple tarts for Chinese New Year. I do regret that she does not have a sibling. It was something we had planned to do, but we got so caught up with Rachel that we did not get down to the process of a second adoption.

When I think about it, there’s nothing we would have done differently with Rachel. It has been such a remarkable journey. On second thought, perhaps, we would have taken a video camera along – instead of just a camera – for our first meeting with her.

*Not their real names

This story first appeared in the May 2021 issue of Her World.