[OPINION] Children come through us and to us
Growing up it was common knowledge that our cousin and my sister shared a birthday. Our young parents lived with our grandparents, in their family home. As a child I wondered why nobody thought it a big deal that two babies were born by two sisters-in-law, on the same day. There was no worn-out story about the rush to the maternity wards or between the two new moms. Nothing. Surely it had the making of a funny short film or pandemonium? For me it was a fascinating and intriguing story. My curiosity stayed with me, but it never felt safe to ask. It was just there and ignored almost. With hindsight it should have been obvious.
One night when I was about 12, my cousin slept over. We chatted and giggled until late that night, and then we lay quietly dosing off to sleep. In the darkness he asked if I knew he was adopted. My reply: “Of course I know, why do you ask?” I felt him relax next to me, he must have been 8. What struck me then was that he looked nothing like us. His revelation did, however, explain the non-story around the two births in the house.
Sadly, he had found out during a quarrel between his parents that he was adopted. My heart broke for him. Not an 8-year-old or anybody who understands the same language can unhear words and tones. The sincerest apologies, an overwhelming love can be offered and accepted, but facts and the experience won’t change.
I didn’t have reason to think about adoption again for some time. After being widowed and remarrying with two young sons I had to delve into many possibilities. What I realised in that moment was what a big life choice it was to take on someone else’s children. I was the someone else. These were my children. That my husband and I had talked, fought, agreed, disagreed, cried and shared so much around the boys in the process of our courtship was necessary and very uncomfortable. They were not made to feel unloved or uncared for. On the contrary, it was what was in their best interests which was always a priority.
Everybody is a perfect parent until they actually have children. I was too. By the time we chose to marry and become a family, I knew my children were chosen. They did not come with me as a package deal. They were chosen. There is a powerful saying that we find true: “They did not come through you but they came to you.”
As a parent I believe in choosing children. Choosing to adopt a child to love and nurture as your own must be one of the biggest commitments one can make. My children were never formally adopted by my husband, but we are a family. We never use the terms stepdad or stepbrothers because it is not appropriate for us and what we have created as a family. They have a mum and a dad who chose them.
I have heard completely different views about how to deal with adopting a child. Do you tell your child that he/she is chosen as soon as they can understand? I would like to think this would be the route I would follow, with care and consciousness. I know from my own experience that even if you don’t share biology, you can share a bond and a life that you design together. Do you keep a record trail should your child want to retrace their heritage? Is there something here that is fair or unfair?
I believe many parents who adopt children had the wisdom to do so after consideration and forever will do what they think is in the best interests of their child. If you build a happy, secure and trust-filled bond during childhood, your adult child should feel free to ask you if they want to explore, or not?
Someone always knows something. Some people choose not to tell their children ever. In whose interest is this? I often think about Zephany Nurse. Her conflicts might be deep and unresolved. Naturally, with support she can still be her best. I am curious whether questions such as what if, how, why and so on pop up in different situations. As a child of a biological family, I had my own but different questions. So maybe questions are just natural.
As parents I feel we should raise children for the world and not for ourselves. Having a relationship built on love and integrity will equip a child born to or chosen by a family, to show up in the world as equal. There is more honour than shame in being chosen. My cousin felt worried about being rejected, it was never an option. We are cousins through choice.
Lisa Joshua Sonn is a social activist. Follow her on Twitter: @annalisasonn