Dark spaces, Grace spaces & Me.

This last month has felt particularly hard.

Tuesday last week en route to work at Skatties I stopped to buy supplies for the afternoon’s therapy games. My car trip to Manenberg often serves as a hands free listening time and check in time and this trip was no different. So much so that I missed the shop I had been planning to stop at and ended up stopping at a corner shop in Wetton.

It was a shop that felt dark, manned by 4 men. While waiting to pay for my purchases I noticed an altercation start in the entrance to the shop & stepped back into the shop to avoid being too close to whatever was unfolding. A man was intimidated and verbally chased out of the entrance to the shop which he responded to by throwing a stone. What happened left me feeling initially shocked but then angry. Mama Bear kind of angry when the 3 younger men chased this man down the road, threatening and hitting him with a metal pipe. A younger (coloured) man was sorting through the bin outside the shop with a toddler in a trolley & we stood together watching the chase before the beating started. He told me that these men are always like this towards coloured people.

I found myself shouting and screaming at the men to stop.

People aren’t for hitting. He is a human being. Just stop hitting him. Stop it”.
Just after this, the men returned telling me that I could come and pay now.
I refused.
They were perplexed.

I stood outside of the shop voicing that I couldn’t support people who beat up other people in this way. At this 2 of the men told me to go, dismissing me with their hands.

The 3rd just stared at me, unsettled but determinedly inviting me back into his shop.

I can’t support violence.

Their shop was empty until I entered – it wasn’t a busy shop. It wasn’t a welcoming shop.
I walked away and climbed in my car driving to the BP shop just up the road.

On reaching the till to pay (again) I realised that I no longer had my bank card. It was still on the counter in the shop where the violence had unfolded. I also didn’t feel safe to walk back in there on my own. The heightened awareness of the vulnerability of women that the #metoo campaign left me with was still there- making itself known at different times.

I had to walk back into this shop.

I am so grateful for an (don’t know his rank) army guy who told me his name was Swartbooi who accompanied me back to the shop, walking distance away.
A man who listened and heard my story and simply let me ask for my card and stand my ground.

My ground reaffirming that there is too much violence in my country. “But the coloureds and their swearing” was his response. The shop men weren’t from this continent.
I don’t care who said what – there was a child witnessing your actions and that man is a human being.

“Yes, but…”he said… Yes, but I responded:

I am on my way to Manenberg right now to work with precious children whose lives are full of potential but who live in challenge and witness violence. I am asking you as a South African that you recognise my country is violent. Don’t add to it.
Just go lady. Just go.

So I went.

I went, full of adrenaline and gratitude to be entering into a community space that is healing. Into a space with children & connection and whose school space is a space that also seeks to offer support to families. A space where violence isn’t ever the answer.

In contrast to this space, the body of a 10 year old girl who had been raped and murdered had been found in the bushes of Manenberg. A 10 year old girl with a family and friends and community who was known to the children I know. A girl who in debates was the example given for one of the 900 child murders. A girl whose name was Chanele.

And then the Black Monday social media posts started, with the white genocide things (people who say yes and stats which disprove this) thrown into it and people debating whether farmers had a place to feel vulnerable and how to respond – some gracious challenges, some gracious invites but also some that riled me up terribly.

Farmers (Black and White) are in geographical vulnerable spaces & have been tortured and murdered in terrible ways. This is not a cultural war.
Farm workers (black and coloured) are vulnerable: Both to attacks but also to some heinous ‘discipline’ and acts of violence, including murder and being fed to lions and locked in coffins from their employers along with the exploitative practices in different ways from wages to living conditions to the dop system that still exists.

I recognise this.

I also recognise that the space I inhabit knows that the communities where we have the highest levels of violent crime and murders are also some of the most resource challenged in South Africa in terms of policing and social services & effective interventions.

Nyanga, Manenberg, Hanover Park, Marikana in Philipi recently. Everyone knows someone who has died through an act of violence.

Tonight I feel like if any community is at risk of being ignored by people and powers, it’s once again the communities where we have become desensitized, normalised and accepted high levels of violence as being acceptable ‘there’.  Where it’s become “normal” for streets to remain empty and quiet while gang wars rage and alliances between the corrupted & the broken parts of people get to determine whether children get to go to school or not. Acceptable in how we mobilise, respond and support.

Or don’t.

It’s not a genocide, but it feels like an apathy to some of our communities and a tacit acceptance of the challenges, violence and deaths in them is one. And by them I am talking about spaces where police hippos are driving past children on skateboards, where rocks were still lying in roads after a gang fight and where we shake our heads and want to keep our distance.

Tonight I am weary at the how and what gets reported. Tonight I am weary at the fact that social media spaces don’t always feel different to that corner shop.

Yet there is grace.

A friend posted a response to something I had posted earlier re: #blackmonday and the use of old photo footage. An offline conversation ensued. A conversation in which we both saw each other and recognised the other. The other in the fight to see people recognised and seen. The fight to figure out how to invite people to own our current state and not dismiss this as things of the past only, but that we need to be pushing into a new way of being and can only do so by seeing the things that violently hinder and damage. I removed the post not because I wasn’t able to stand by what I had posted, but because I realise that I am weary.  We are both weary – her at needing to respond to white people asking “is it racism”. Weary enough that we arranged a play date with our boys for us to have a conversation and see each other properly.

This is grace – where we can see,challenge and acknowledge what we know to be true about each other in the midst of seeking change.

There is grace when you arrive at Skatties and are treated like a Skat (treasure) too. When you are held and prayed for and seen, in a moment before heading into a role to hold space.

There is grace when children who initially couldn’t sit with you & whose defences meant avoidant & unhelpful behaviours are able to self-correct with minimal prompts, who tease and invite you to play with them, and in between this tell stories that are violent in their content but are creating their own space. A space where their resilience is honoured but their hearts can also be held.

Children from hard spaces with soft hearts.

There is grace.

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The Wait

Post #worldadoptionday conversations

Monday was our 2nd wedding anniversary.  I can’t believe that it’s been 24 months to the day since we chose each other – to dream and do life with, but also to wrestle the rough edges off of the other and to see healing come in the parts that only heal in relationship.  It was also a day for me that I thought would be a good day to get the CALL despite knowing that it wasn’t likely to happen.  It’s okay to dream dreams too.

We are in the waiting season familiar to most adoptive parents known as waiting for THE CALL.

The call that only comes from our social workers when there is a child who we potentially could be the right match for.

The call that only comes once there is no chance of things not being possible.

The call that social workers for the child, birth mom and prospective parents are working towards and yet no one can talk about anything with the prospective parents until the time is right for the call.

The call that means there is a wait.

A wait while you start to nest (and wash nappies) and prepare for a child who you aren’t sure about in terms of preferences, sizes or sleeping habits.  (On receiving the call some of this is clarified a little, but how many of us on paper reveal the fullness of who we are in person).

A wait in which dreams of babies and bedrooms and nappies and what will our future small look like happen.

I catch myself occasionally looking around at people and wondering whether our small grow up with your build, or your eyes, or your skin tone?  I know that it won’t be mine, so I am curious to discover what the unique blend of birth/ first parents has created.

A wait in which I wish for, and am grateful for, our immediate circles of family and friends being mindful of the bitter-sweetness of the adoption process so that when our small arrives, their immediate world is one which honours the duality of space from before as well as the now and the looking ahead.

A wait in which grandparents are picking up books and learning from adult transracial adoptees what it means to be adopted and asking questions around this in order to better love their next grandchild.

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A wait in which future cousins and children in our community are asking questions or figuring things out about the future arrival.

A wait in which friends have been excited for us and asking questions.

A wait which until this week felt helpful in transitioning.  Helpful in preparing us as a couple to be pressing into the space of us.  Until this week when it was a lot of just us and now we are increasingly becoming aware of the space that we have created and are waiting for the small one to be the next one of us.

A wait in which I pray our small person comes home sooner rather than later so that the gap, grief and loss between saying farewell to a birth family and hello to the adoptive family isn’t longer than it absolutely needs to be.

A wait in which my heart is beginning to labour more.  Another adopted mom said to me:

We were always excited for our children to come home, but then one day the excitement turned to a yearning.

When she first said this to me, the excitement resonated.

Today the yearning is.

We wait.

Adoption – before the child arrives – stuff.

I am not an expert in this.  I am in this.  This being our journey towards hearing that we are approved as adoptive parents and waiting to meet our small person. Along the way we have been asked by some people to voice what is helpful in terms of support and then an even more amazing question has been posed to me:

“and please tell me what isn’t helpful – we don’t know how to navigate this, so make a list, write a blog please.”

According to my Facebook feed there are a lot of do and don’t lists out there. Around adoption. Around marriage. Around singleness. Around *insert the most recent one YOU read here*.  Some of them are helpful and some of them have frustrated lots of my friends. Here are my suggestions, rather than directives, discovered in collaboration with other moms.

Yip. I did what any modern day mother to be does and sourced some input from adoptive moms on Facebook (as well as in person). I hope this honours what the moms shared with me.

DISCLAIMER: “One size never fits all!” so different people will have different needs.  I am writing this, not just for me, but with other’s input – who are not me.  Out of relationship, in your space, with me, or someone like me, this needs to be figured out!

I guess that would be my starting point:  What is your relationship to me and what will it be to my child?   Out of this relationship space, with any new mom& dad, I would suggest that the following things are helpful:

  • QUESTIONS & CURIOUSITY: ASK! Think about what you are asking though – one mom asked that people think about how they are asking as well as why they are asking.  If it’s clumsy curiosity that can be navigated VS wanting to tell a potential adoptive parent how or why they should or shouldn’t do this.  Part of why the adoption screening process is intense is to allow for things to be thought through and for parents to be prepared.
  • JOIN ADOPTION SUPPORT groups: If you are on Facebook you can access these. It was noted that it can get tiresome having to answer questions around the details. Joining a support group on social media helps you process with us, as well as being a resource for you in terms of details and dynamics. It also shows us how much you are interested in and are wanting to support the journey!
  • BE EXCITED with us – like you would for any prospective parent. Pregnant tummies and boobs don’t grow, but the process is intense in different ways as shifts, preparation, screenings and decisions are being made.

It’s helpful when people are excited with rather than simply judging the process or the potential outcome. Hearts are growing and making space for another human- some days these are more fragile than others, and so while not hormonally driven, we still need to work out how to honour them.  Our process might seem intense to you, but it’s about making sure that our future children get matched as well as possible with their future parents.  It’s about having healthy parents – much like your scans and screenings and nutrition, in hope and faith, help grow a healthy tummy baby – our prep process helps grow healthy families.

(P.s. Not all babies raised by their birth moms turn out uncomplicated, so adopted children may or may not either! “Children have glitches sometimes” to quote a child I work with: part of a good adoption prep process explores and prepares parents for these possibilities).

  • Being EXCITED SPECIFICALLY FOR THE CHILD who is coming: Regardless of the reason why people have chosen to grow their family through adoption, whether it started by choice or infertility, a family is about to grow.

It’s hard for people who have struggled through an infertility journey to have to listen to well-intended comments that they will now fall pregnant.  There might be lots of anecdotal stories to this effect, but this can offer intense frustration rather than hope for people who are excited about one child and people are already talking about another.

In chatting to someone about adoption, and how we can fall pregnant but are choosing this, the nearest they had which they could relate to was that once they had given up on a 2nd child and got a puppy, pregnancy followed soon after. so not really like us but this was well intended and meant to be a shared understanding. Instead it was a bit perplexing. The longing for a child yes – we both related to that but our choice in this wasn’t heard nor was the sad irony of comparing an adopted child to a puppy which wasn’t worth pressing into at the time – however, my social filters were 😉

  • BABY SHOWERS: This might seem tricky as the due date isn’t quite as obvious as it is for a birth mom, but actually this is one rite of passage for most parents these days.  It’s a way of acknowledging a shift (both in budget for most of us and identity for all of us!) on a journey to becoming parents. I was at a baby shower for a friend whose own story to growing her family had lots of pain and heartache in it initially – the baby shower however was one of the most joyous community oriented, celebratory events I have ever witnessed! Never mind the abundant gifts, the abundant support for this couple is what was overwhelmingly clear.  Practical preparations (guest lists and so on) for the shower had started as soon as these friends were officially approved for adoption. The final dates and logistics were confirmed once they got the call.  Other friends had their showers once their small person arrived. There are ways to make these things work.
  • ACKNOWLEDGING STARTING POINTS: Our children’s starting point won’t be with us and while this is important to acknowledge, it is also important that we recognise that in this, adoptive parents miss out on the early days spent getting to know small people in the same way as a birth mom who has kept her baby does. This doesn’t mean that adoptive moms aren’t real moms –  See below for clarification!

Adjustment, planning to be available in terms of meals and babysitting, as well as recognising that our kids need to attach to us AFTER they have attached to others matters.  This attachment process might make us seem nit-picky or super aware of being the person who baths and feeds and does the majority of the cuddling – this is all an important part of our initial story.  Starting points also include our child’s starting (birth story) – different families have different views on how much is shared around this.

Different families may do this differently – this is another relationship space which needs to be figured out!

  • THE BIRTH MOM/ TUMMY MOM/ REAL MOM thing: The government paperwork refers to adopted children as ‘being yours as if born unto you’.    That makes adopted moms A REAL mom.  The birth mom still needs to be honoured too – regardless of her story.  It helps our children deal with their two stories:  pre-adoption and post-adoption to know that there is space in our worlds for us and their birth mom.
  • If you are a person who PRAYS, PRAY for us. Pray for us in the process. Pray for us in the waiting.  Pray for our child – wherever they are.  Pray for their birth mother and carers who will be saying goodbye at different stages in their story, before we get to meet them.  Pray for our families and communities to as they prepare to welcome a new person.

Finally to paraphrase one mom 🙂

‘Stop asking when the child is coming – when we know,

we PROMISE you will know too!’

The waiting season is a hard one for many reasons  with no idea of when the due date will be.  In this time some of us are able to carry on with work and life things as they are until we get the long awaited call.  For some of us, plans need to be put in place in preparation for the call.  I know I am one of them as my work involves processes with children and I don’t get to just stop these – so while I have work timelines I don’t have much else just yet!  This isn’t craziness – it’s preparing for the next season.

We can’t wait for the official thumbs up call.

We can’t wait for the call to say there is a referral.

Thank you for waiting with us.

First prize for our family

Recently my guy and I decided that the time was now for us to start the process towards becoming a family via adoption. In fact after during our December holiday we agreed that by March we wanted to initiate the process. Our December holiday included conversations with friends who have adopted, who work in the space of adoption, who have birth babies and adopted ones but claim them ALL as their children. In fact, it’s been interesting chatting to friends who chose to adopt first around their fear that they may not love the birth baby should they fall pregnant as much as they do their first child.

Before we even said yes to maybe I like you enough to exclusively figure out what life MIGHT look like with you as my SO (significant one) we had conversations that included the A-plan.

The Adoption plan.

FF 3 years, a cross country move back to the homeland (me) and figuring out what it means to be a CapeTonian person (him), a marriage, miscarriage, job changes, moving homes and lots of dreaming about what do we want our family to look like and the plan A of including adoption is and was always there.

It’s been sad, frustrating, interesting and sometimes bizarre listening to people’s responses when we say this. Responses that have included:
Are you giving up on birth babies? (According to the doctor for those of you who have asked, wanted to ask or the thought had crossed your minds, there is absolutely NO reason why we shouldn’t fall pregnant if we choose to. In fact I checked this again last month during a consultation with him).
ADOPTION for us is is NOT PLAN B if plan A failed. It was always part of plan A. Regardless of how our children arrive, they are our plan A for having kids.

It’s not the same you know: Yes, we do know. We do know that there are no guarantees of genetics or medical history or knowing how stressed the mom was or the level of prenatal care and antenatal care that our future small person received. We know that we don’t have the experience of bonding as a family during a pregnancy of kicks, nausea and bathroom runs. I also work in a space where children have been loved, had parents make informed decisions about how to raise a child and yet are dealing with Autism Spectrum, ADHD, learning challenges, anxiety and other things like managing my feelings (to name the safe ones).
None of the parents whose children are said to be atypical dreamt of these things either so maybe my fears around not knowing how our children will turn out are as grounded in the unknown as they are in my known working world.
I also work in a space as well as have friends who will tell you that every pregnancy and bonding experience with their different children has been different – sometimes guilt inducingly so.

Horrific stories of failed adoptions: I have the (mis)fortune of being able to tell heartbreaking stories of failed parenting in families where mothers’ carried their babies to term despite addiction and violence and everything else and as support therapists are working on how do we love and embrace these families and children to wholeness. I know social workers who have to make calls on removing kids from families or families who weren’t adequately ready, supported or prepared for the challenges of adopting children with learning and attachment issues.
– AND the list goes on….

WHAT I DO KNOW IS THIS:

Neither Charlie nor I believe that becoming a parent is about being in the delivery room.

We know that our future child’s story has to begin with loss and temporary care and this makes us sad – for the moms’ whose decisions to not keep a child (regardless of the reason) as well as for the child whose story doesn’t get to start in a nursery that has been colour coded and prepared from before the due date of pregnancy.

We do know that we are in a community of family and friends who are waiting to meet our children-however they arrive & that we are in the privileged position of being in a community where adoption is normal. Where diversity is normal. Where blended friendship and family circles are normal.

We also know that there are amazing professionals who can walk alongside us when we hit hiccups.

We do know that we need to be thinking through what it means for our transracial family to thrive in a country still wrestling with identity which is linked to race.

We do know that there are a lot of unknowns and things that we still need to figure out but that we don’t have to have all those answers now.

My first experience of ‘motherhood’ was thanks to a little guy who climbed onto my lap and into my single woman heart as a weekend and holidays ‘family’ and I know that as much as I celebrated his adoption, my grief at saying goodbye to him forever when he was adopted was harder for me than losing my pregnancy was last year. I knew what comforted him, what he ate, how to manage tantrums when he was with me, what choices were helpful and which weren’t and we figured this all out as we got to know each other. I am not made to be a temporary foster mom – very clearly!

During a conversation about adoption the amazing guy I married said ‘being a dad is a choice – there are many men who father babies who don’t choose to be dads despite being physically present’.

We know we are choosing to do this.

We are choosing to love, live and grow our family with a small person whose presence in our lives is being welcomed and prepared for. As individuals, as a couple and within our broader community.

I sat in church this morning watching the families around me. I was saddened that people think, for us, that this is a plan B. There was a poignant moment as I watched a small person snuggle into their safe grown up’s neck and arms and just relax – and remembered what it was to have someone trust and KNOW that in that moment I was his. His fingers fiddling with my hair and head resting on my shoulder as we sang. THAT had nothing to do with where he came from and everything to do with where he belonged at that moment.

I can’t wait to see my guy hold a small person that way.
I can’t wait to get to know the quirks and wonders of the world through the eyes of a child.

I am petrified at how life will be changed. I can’t wait.