23rd June, 2014, the day which I left for work being a father of one and returned home a father of two. This was my standard reply whenever I was asked how it feels like to adopt a child.
That was one year ago and three days ago, on June 23, Alexander turned 1. I’m proud and overjoyed to call him my son in every sense of the word.
While his birthday, like any child’s, is a time to celebrate the joy of welcoming the newest member to the family and to acknowledge the blessings, love and help from friends and family, for us, it is also a culmination of a series of struggles and challenges we faced through the entire adoption process. While some of these challenges are within our control, most, unfortunately, were not.
1. Facing your own Giants
We first had to overcome our personal bias and prejudices as prospective adoptive parents. Initially, when the possibility of adoption was raised, we were not sure if we were able to love a child who is not biologically ours as our own. We were worried if family, friends and neighbours would gossip and despise the child. There were also valid concerns of health, biological parents’ background, genes etc. Practically, there were hefty costs to be incurred. Then, spiritually, there were also the question of faith – Does God approve of adoption? Are we being faithless if we adopt? Is it God’s will that we remain childless? So many questions which require us to face our giants of insecurity, doubt and helplessness squarely in the face.
We spent many nights having long, open conversations with each other and eventually came to the conclusion together that with our backgrounds as educators and our shared experiences of coping with child-losses, we would be able to love any child that God brings into our home as our own. Through the process, we addressed the prejudices by being brutally honest to ourselves. We were also non-judgmental, choosing to listen and respect our spouse’s opinions.
As part of these conversations, we also spoke to our family members to get their blessings. We were taken by surprise that they were all very ready and supportive. By divine appointment, we also came to know two senior pastors the church we were attending who had also adopted. We were very much enlightened by their life stories and our own devotions to know that adoption is actually well within God’s plan of salvation (Ephesians 1:5). In fact, there were many prominent personalities in the Bible who, through adoption, were able to go on to achieve great things for God (e.g. Ruth, Moses, Esther).
Looking back, even though these were important questions to address pre-adoption, we now hardly even remember that our son was adopted. Strangely, once we held him in our arms, he is ours. Our extended family embraced him fully too. Love transcends boundaries, even science and faith.
2. Money Money Money (Part 1) – The Business of Adoption
The actual legal and admin costs of adoption are actually quite nominal. For privately arranged adoptions (meaning you adopt the baby directly from biological parents whom you know), these costs can be well under $10k (with legal costs about $4K and hospitalisation costs, depending on which hospital and antenatal packages the biological Mum has chosen, all thrown in). Typically being Asians, adoptive parents would also give a ‘Red Packet’ to the biological parents as a gesture of appreciation.
However, once an adoption agent steps into the picture, the costs inflate. Granted, the agent handles all the administrative and legal process for adoptive parents by being the ‘middle-man’, giving the both parties the ‘anonymity’ of a closed adoption and that ‘peace of mind’. I must admit too that without these agents, we might never be able to locate a baby waiting for adoption. Still, the prices they command are staggering.
Four years ago, when we started inquiring about adopting a sibling for Dana, the price quoted by registered private adoption agencies was about SGD 25k for a Singaporean baby. In 2014, we were charged close to SGD40K. This fees cover all legal and pre and post-delivery hospitalisation costs. It is an open secret that the price of the child is largely dependent on market forces, supply & demand, gender, race and nationality (Singapore babies cost more than foreign ones) etc.
Price of babies, sadly, are like commodities. It’s ironic that in Singapore, getting an abortion is far cheaper (and faster) than adoption.
During our interview with the welfare officer from the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), we voiced our discomfort about how adoption of children is treated like a trade and asked him what the ministry is doing to manage it. The officer told us that while the MSF is aware of the ‘modus operandī’ and they are ‘monitoring’ the prices and practices of the various adoption agencies, due to some Hague Adoption Convention thingy, there is not much that can be done. They are ‘monitoring’ Mothers who are giving birth and putting babies up for adoption in Singapore. For now, contracts between adoptive parents and the biological parents are treated as such – business contracts, with the authorized agents acting as middle-men.
So, as it seems, sadly, that apart from monitoring, there is not much the MSF can do at present to regulate the ‘business’ of adoption apart from conducting stringent checks that adopted children go to good homes.
3. Money Money Money (Part 2) – The Opportunists
Because of the high cost involved, we spent about four years trying to network with others so that we can adopt directly without using an agent (which is allowed). During that time, we were approached by couples privately – some out of need but most are those who wanted to take advantage of prospective adoptive parents to make a quick buck. We remember some of those.
There was a young Singaporean couple (boy was Chinese, wife was Indian) in their early 20s who decided to give up their two month old baby girl. They were genuine and wanted to start their lives afresh in a new country. They handed us their daughter for one day so that we could bring her for health checks at the hospital (they were very trusting!). That night, when they came to pick the baby, they had changed their minds and decided to keep the baby. We respected their decision and thought it was better for the baby to grow up with the biological family but the last we heard, they had gone their separate ways and undergoing divorce.
Then there was the Mother and Daughter duo from Sabah. The daughter contacted Angie via email and said they have a newborn child to give up for adoption due to their financial struggles. The couple had 3 older primary-school going kids and couldn’t make ends meet. They had wanted us to meet them at the Sabah airport with the payment for the baby in cash, which was in the region of 30k Malaysian Ringgit. We tried to explain that it would be impossible for me to bring such a big amount of cash across customs and offered to wire to their bank account, which may take a few days. We offered to pay a deposit in advance so they can bring the baby for a health check up. They agreed. So, we wired them SGD500 in good faith to show our sincerity. However, after the check up, the biological Mother (and grandmother) still insisted that they will not meet us or release the baby until the full amount was in their bank. At that point, we decided that the risk was too high especially since it involves overseas travel and a large transaction where we virtually have no form of protection. So, sadly, we had to turn it down.
The last one was clearly a scam: Angie was approached by a heavily pregnant Singaporean lady in her mid-20s offering to put her unborn child up for adoption. Since it was a privately arranged adoption, we were able to negotiate the price down to SGD20k. She had furnished us scanned copies of the baby’s ultrasound scans and everything seemed fine except that she was reluctant to involve a lawyer (which is a necessary part of the legal process) and also reluctant for us to meet her husband. I sensed something fishy. We then suggested meeting her Mother (or at least one family member) to confirm that they were in the know that she was giving the unborn child up for adoption.
Every time the appointment to meet her husband and family draws near, she would invariably cancel it. She then demanded that we pay the entire amount up front as the family was in a financial crisis but she was adamant not to to involve our lawyer to make the transaction legit. Finally, with a heavy heart, I persuaded Angie to let this chance go. Though her charges were cheaper than an agent’s, it is still a large amount and the circumstances too shady. The negotiations, which took a few months, ended with her accusing us of not trusting in her.
Months later, we read on the news that two couples were suing a local lady for promising them her unborn child and then after having gotten their monies and giving birth, she rescinded on the agreements and declared she was unable to pay them back due to financial difficulties. We knew it was the same lady who nearly scammed us.
All these missed opportunities were painful for us, especially for Angie who had to endure the emotional roller-coaster rides of having our hopes and dreams of having another child dashed time and again. But herein lies the reality – that there are people putting their children up for sale for financial gains. Whether legit or otherwise, the system seems to allow them to keep giving birth and keep selling their children, even locally. In the process, they take advantage of vulnerable couples like us who long to have kids via adoption.
Initially, being idealistic, we were hesitant to engage the services of adoption agents. Costs aside, we were not comfortable with how the whole adoption ‘business’ was carried out, particularly with Malaysian and Indonesian babies. Babies from these countries can be brought into Singapore for ‘viewing’ by their nannies as long as the child has a valid passport. One agent we contacted even said we can view a few at one go in his flat. Alternatively, some agents provide a photo-catalogue of these babies for adoptive couples to pick from. Given our repeated failed attempts to adopt privately, we finally sought the help of an agent at our friends’ recommendation, whom we feel treats babies far more respectfully than others.
4. Home Affairs – Setting Up, Getting Help
Alexander’s arrival to our home happened overnight, literally. We had asked the agent to help us source for us and for months (even years), we have not heard anything. Then, one phone call on a Monday afternoon and that all changed. While we were prepared to have a baby join our hearts but the home was not quite set up yet. So though we were overjoyed, the romantic notion of having a new baby soon gave way to practical panic.
Since it was six years since we last had a baby, there was not a single diaper, no sterilizer, no pacifier, no bottles, no milk powder…yes, nothing! Fortunately, the agent gave us some diapers, a small can of milk powder and a milk bottle to give us a head start and to last the night.
Here, we want to once again thank the few friends who ‘sprang into action’ like a well-oiled SCDF team, offering us essentials we needed for Alexander. Within 24 hours, our home was set virtually back in time to once whence a baby was home (even the car was not ‘spared’ and was equipped with a baby seat within a few days!). We cannot thank these friends enough. You ladies know who you are and we will always remember your kind deeds and prayers.
5. The Necessary Evils – The Admin and Legal Processes
Following Alexander’s arrival, we began the long drawn administrative and legal process in addition to the demands of caring for a newborn.
For adoptive parents, the challenges were compounded by the fact that we couldn’t enjoy the much-needed maternity and paternity leave right away from the moment we welcomed the baby home, despite the fact that ours was a newborn who needed the same level of care as any newborns. Employers needed to ensure that the Adoption Order is granted in principle first before granting adoption leave. Truth to be told, as a civil servant, I could not even apply for paternity leave until the entire adoption process was completed and formalized. In the first few months of Alexander’s arrival, we struggled with work as well as with the caring of our newborn in addition to caring for our lively six year old. Fortunately, after getting the in-principle adoption approval from the court, Angie’s private sector employer was able to grant her partial adoption leave in-lieu of the final court order. I was finally eligible to apply for mine after the entire process was completed and by then Alexander was already ten months old.
Adoption leave for adoptive Mothers was far shorter than that for biological Mothers – four weeks of adoption leave compared to four months paid maternity leave. While we understand that the biological Mothers need to recuperate, we had hoped that adoptive Mothers can also be given more time to bond with their adopted babies.
To make matters worse, the MSF welfare officer who interviewed us (there were a series of interviews adoptive parents had to undergo) sat on our documents (yes, adoptive parents have to submit a whole range of Home Study Report documentation to prove to the state that you are worthy to be parents). When Alexander turned six months old, we wrote in to ask for an update and MSF notified us that our documents had not been submitted to the Family Court! We were appalled. For adoptive parents, the quick completion of the adoption process is very important, not only does it legalise the adoption, it also meant that we could purchase health and hospitalisation insurance policies for our baby! So, in those few long months, every blood test, every immunisation, every pediatrician visit, we had to pay cash in full. We could not get any subsidies whatsoever from any hospitals or polyclinics as he was not yet legally our child.
We raised our displeasure to MSF and the matter was expedited promptly with an apology from the management. Finally, at ten months, Alexander received his new birth certificate, shares our last name and the adoption process was finally over. He is now legally ours! We heaved a sigh of relief. What joy and what a journey!
After-thoughts on Adoption:
How does it feel to adopt a child? Any adjustment issues? How about genetics?
To tell the truth, we can’t even remember that we adopted. When he’s your child, he’s your child. We sometimes were reminded about the arduous adoption process which we went through. Other than that, there’s only love. If I knew that adoption feels so natural, I would have done so long ago and spared Angie the pain of IVF treatments and anguish of multiple child-losses.
Apart from the usual adjustments of having a newborn in the house, there are no other adjustment issues whatsoever. Everything is natural and perfect. Perhaps but one thing: the insensitive relative or nosey ‘friend’ who may poke and ask about ‘the price’ or ‘the background’ of the baby (i.e. Where is your baby from? How much? etc…) Ya, we all know some of these folks, don’t we? The good news is there is a separate group of people whom you will want to mix with – fellow adoptive families who have gone down the same path and can identify with the struggles and victories. They form an important support group not just for yourselves but for your kids. Touch Community Services run a group called Touch Adoptive Families Network.
Genetics? Apart from health background (which can be checked via the agent or the biological parents), others like habits, behaviours and values which the child will grow to have, are largely dependent on his upbringing and has nothing to do with his genetic background. So, don’t worry, go on and be the best parents you can be. Will it be easy? Nope. Worth it? Absolutely.
It is our hope that this whole ‘adoption’ industry will be regulated so that babies and children given up for adoption will be treated less like ‘commodities’ with different price tags. It would also be a breakthrough if the administrative red tape can be simplified so that more loving, prospective adoptive parents who were once deterred by the high costs and long, intrusive process of adoption can welcome a child of their own into their hearts and homes. For now, we’re just thankful to have Alexander as our son and we take this sacred responsibility seriously, knowing full-well that it is God’s charge to us.
Disclaimer: Every adoptive family’s journey is unique to their own. I am sharing our personal experiences of adopting our son. Some families may have a smoother ride. Just so happens that our journey to parenthood was way more bumpy but prayerfully, we aspire to use it for a higher purpose.
A Fathers’ Day video which contained some truths of adoption which touched my heart, from a pair of adoptive siblings in America.