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.

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The Boldness of Blacks

A few weeks back a friend of mine wrote a blog, an exasperated blog, stating that she was tired of white people being seen as courageous for going into black communities. I flippantly stated that actually the blog should have been about the courage of black people going into formerly mostly white suburban communities.

• Into communities in Cape Town where we are regularly seeing headlines about white on black violent racism.

• Into communities where people earn their livelihoods – such as they are. Livelihoods being a term I use loosely as it means being paid something that most people think you should be ‘grateful for’ & yet none of the people I know who employ others express “simple gratitude for at least earning something”; instead it’s mostly about the feeling of what we are entitled to in terms of how hard we work or the effort we believe we put in.

• Into communities where one man was sjambokked (whipped) while running in order not to be late for work but was assumed that he was a thief – because why would a black man be running through the suburbs (and obviously not in running gear)

• Into communities where at 9 ish in the morning a woman was beaten, en route to work, based on the assumption that she was a sex worker. Not only was there an indignation that she was black, there was an unspoken thing that it was okay to beat up sex workers too.

She challenged me to write something about this & I thought it might not be so helpful. Yet this morning, on opening up facebook, there is yet ANOTHER headline posted by a friend who wants to live in Cape Town, yet isn’t sure he wants to have to deal with the ‘racial backwardness’ of this enchanting city, of a YOUNG white woman who swore at a YOUNG black woman and then ‘tazzered’ her – over a parking space in a Hipster area of pubs and restaurants – and then told her to go back to where she came from. Really?! This white woman lived across the mountain in a different community altogether – how did she know where this black woman came from? So, some people are reading this and thinking that it was about road rage – my question is if it had been white on white would the tazzer have come out? Would the K-word have been used, multiple times and would the sentiment of ‘go back to where you came from’ have been expressed?

Cape Town, I love you. I love saying that this is where I grew up. I love that my head clears and heart breathes out because of the forests and mountains and beaches and water. I love how each day, I am grateful for the natural lifestyle that you facilitate. This has been a part of my identity as a Cape Townian.

I am also deeply saddened and angry by you. I was concerned about moving back here from Jo’burg (the city Cape Townians often claim to not understand how people actually live there). One part of what makes living in Jo’burg easy is this:

– I can go for lunch with any of my friends: black, white, coloured, indian and NO ONE stares – out of curiosity, labelling or for any other reason. It’s just lunch. Before you deny this, in December a Xhosa friend and I went for lunch in Hout Bay. We were the table of curiosity for a few people. She graciously claimed that perhaps they thought that our conversation was interesting – however, the staring had begun before the conversation got interesting.

– In Jo’burg there is an underlying energy and drive and awareness of crime etc – but there isn’t the same level of resentment that simmers in Cape Town. It feels- and yes this is a naive statement as I am sure that it’s not true everywhere – that this is the possibility of listening, befriending and doing life with others without the questions, glances and mistrust that Cape Town we seem to have.
Cape Town, our identity is a paradox. It’s of utter beauty and amazing things happening in different pockets and circles – for we are not all bad – but it also has the ugliest of things too as we really don’t seem to live like all people matter and have worth. There are people actively striving, in faith based and development circles, to see the beauty outplay the ugliness. Until we admit, until we own that the ugliness is a part of us it won’t go. Like an alcoholic who denies his problem, but the impact of it is felt often, Cape Town we have been denying our racism but the impact of it is felt often.

It’s time to own it. Just own it and then maybe we can find ways of being the mother city. The city of healing, of hope and of restoration.

Justice vs Selfishness

Is SOCIAL JUSTICE in some ways THE STRUGGLE AGAINST SELFISHNESS?

I recently had the privilege of attending a conference with various leaders seeking change in the area of poverty, inequality & unemployment. At this conference were leaders who had been involved in the struggle against apartheid as well as young leaders whose voices are loud in the current struggles that our country faces as a whole – by whole I mean people of all groups and (racial) backgrounds.
There were many reflections on things that worked, ideals that were and weren’t achieved and stories told of the political struggle that ensued to bring SA into a democracy. Rev Frank Chikane said the following which has sat with me and I have no concrete answers to this – other than we need to find this path through restitution and peace: ‘In the build up to 1994 the country was taken across a bridge in such a way that bought the country to a new place without destroying it; however the economic system wasn’t taken across the bridge’.

I sat listening to people speaking about their experience of growing up poor, of the struggle to escape an economic system that is responsible for much of the structural violence and neglect many people still suffer under and realised that this was the bigger narrative against which the smaller, personal narrative needs to unfold. As a South African who is white how do I find my space in the midst of this when I see what are emotional, angry and ‘you can’t possibly understand the other’ type responses on social media and news comments?

How do i listen to what needs to be said, but still ask or challenge or engage people to find an alternate way to that of bitterness driven responses? This morning I again saw a person of colour being allowed to respond to an emotional statement (which is allowed too) and yet when a ‘white’ person affirmed the initial response and asked the questions which I too wanted to ask was immediately shot down. It made me think that while we talk a big talk about creating a land of equal opportunity that in the midst of that we need to find ways of seeing each other – and that means looking beyond our own assumptions and stereotypes –regardless of who they are about.

Sivuyile Kotela said ‘that we need to find a way of talking about poverty and it’s link to race without being racist; that the church has a responsibility to talk about poverty differently to those who do so for political reasons and that as much as don’t want to talk about race often, in the context of poverty it’s a needed discussion’. This might not be radical enough for some of my more left wing friends. It might infuriate some of my more right wing friends that the race word has once more been used.

So in this context how does this broader narrative and story that is currently unfolding as a nation impact my personal narrative around justice? I have had FOMO watching friends engage in dialogues around this until I felt convicted that actually, justice needs to be about the way we live our lives – and yes the dialogues matter, but what matters too is actioning the things that we see and hear.

How do I acknowledge and what do I do re: my white privilege? No – that doesn’t mean I have a trust fund, it simply means that inherently if I listen to some of my best friends (who happen to have grown up differently based on their skin) tell stories of their childhood, do I acknowledge & respond to the wrongs or simply nod and move on?

Justice in my day to day life is about how I:
– Engage my community
– Engage my neighbours
– Engage those employed by me: whether at work or at home. Do I respect and value the person & her work, helping in my home enough to pay her a generous and living wage or do I worry that this will impact my disposable income too adversely?
– What do I do with disposable income and time?
– What do my friendship circles look like? Do I intentionally befriend people whose stories differ to my own so that there are bridges being built or do I surround myself with people who are like me and allow to not have to think/ talk or be the other?
– Is my faith & it’s actions private or is there a social aspect to it in terms of how I live it out?

I don’t have answers for all of the above – but when I start to ponder them the selfishness of aspects of my world are bought to light and it brings me back to consider where I need to shift again.

Babies, Blighted Ovums & Hope

For the past 2 months my body has been growing, changing, responding to hormones and for the past month, we have known that, according to initial testing all of these things were due to being pregnant: For the first time at forty. Yesterday morning we woke up to go and discover whether it was one or two – not thinking that it was simply going to be the idea of a little person – rather than a little person. The egg had fertilised and implanted, but didn’t develop beyond that – and despite everything that science can tell us, we don’t know why this baby didn’t grow. The gestational sac did – was perfectly sized for 8 weeks. The baby didn’t: I am saying baby because, for us, the moment the egg and sperm fused, that was a developing human being.

Strangely, the week this conception happened, I had a dream that I was going to have a phantom pregnancy (this wasn’t the same thing but the outcome feels the same); I also stopped feeling emotionally pregnant about 10 days ago, but put that down to exhaustion, to nausea and general hormonal irritability. Somehow my body and soul started a conversation that the rest of me is now catching up with.

This morning I woke up with the sensation that the whole pregnancy experience belonged to someone else – yes, I know shock and denial do funny things to one’s mind – except then the sadness kicks in and the tears start again and I am reminded that this is my story. It’s our story.

I am deeply grateful that we chose to share this story with our community, our family and friends from its early days of praying, hoping and dreaming. It meant that people got to share in our excitement, allow for me to struggle through the morning sickness, give me space to be tired and more mindful of germs. It allowed for people to share with us their “pay it forward generosity”. It allowed for a different type of joy within our marriage and our families.

And now… It has also allowed for us to be loved and held and supported in what ranks up there for me with having to say goodbye to a little boy who I so wanted to be mine, but also couldn’t make mine, and watch his initial failed adoption with another family knowing that there was no stepping back in to make him mine; it ranks up there with not knowing whether my mom was going to come back from theatre after a triple heart bypass…. And yet it also doesn’t – for the simple reason that this time around I have learnt how powerful being vulnerable is in this space.

This vulnerability means that we have had a SHARED outpouring and acknowledgement of the loss of dreams and of hopes. In response to our public acknowledgement we have received many private stories, as well as public acknowledgements of shared experiences, shared sadness – and stories, which science seems to support, of hope and little people growing into their full bodies. Beyond the emotion and the science I have been so aware of the prayer covering our family too – for me, Eugene Petersen’s paraphrase in The Message sums it up:

“If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath” (Psalm 34: 18)

Today, in the midst of tears, the feeling of being gutted, there is an awareness of deep slow breaths too. Of choosing to see hope and gratitude in the midst of heartache and knowing that in the midst of grief there is still hope.

SAME same but DIFFERENT

Things that are the same same but different are a big part of why I have been forced to slow down and stop sometimes.

This past week I have had lots of time to sit and think and reflect on what is good, what is hard, what is making this soooo very hard.

I know that I am not (mood) depressed – but two of my friends said to me there is a lot of underlying anxiety/ stress. They are wise, and honest and gentle and worth listening to often!

I reflected on what they meant by this and realised that actually there was.

There have been so many changes in the last 18 months, as well as the last 10 years. Many of these amazing changes, worth celebrating, like master’s degrees and mom’s healthy heart, and adventures in Africa and becoming self-employed. Maybe the biggest has been shifting from a 30 something single to a very recently married and very recently 40-something.

We are still in the midst of the unknowns and the pace at which I have been living has made this harder, but actually yes, there is a lot of underlying anxiety at the moment.

The gift this week has been recognising that I have not struggled with accepting more responsibility and the role of being married and a wife, but I have struggled with letting go of what it meant to only be single.

I simply added wife and married onto the existing things.

See I am the same person with the same dreams, passions and convictions but I am having to learn that my life
has changed and that means that the expression of this by default actually needs to change. It means finding clarity and focus and intent differently. It has meant looking at what is working and isn’t working energy wise.

It’s also meant that I have had the opportunity to look at what hasn’t been dealt with personally, or professionally that is fuelling the anxiety.

What are the unknowns and what are the unspoken, unfinished things that need attention?

What do I need to make peace with as possibly never reaching a finish line and what can I process and perhaps find peace in the processing either alone or another?

How can I not be grateful for this gift?

It’s about rest. It’s about peace. It’s about slowing down and it’s about healing. A journey I get to go on with God, myself and with community.

I like that a lot.