The following article appeared in the South African edition of People magazine on March 25, 2005. People magazine has a readership of 46.6 million people and has the largest audience of any American magazine.
Adopting a new life
For seven years, Isaac and his wife Zeenith tried to have a baby but each attempt failed, leaving them heart-broken, depressed and disappointed. Desperately wanting a child, they turned to a social worker knowing only too well that it would be a tedious and lengthy process before their dream came true. This is the story of a man’s experience with South Africa’s adoption process and his joy of being a first-time dad.
It’s amazing how our sexist society automatically considers the woman infertile when efforts to have a baby fail. In our case, however, it is me, the husband, who was ‘shooting blanks.’ Our longing for a child was so great that in January 2003 we approached the Johannesburg Child Welfare Society, with the intention of adopting a baby.
At our initial interview with Nadia (not her real name), a social worker, we were warned that adoption was a difficult process and that it could take up to five years before we were given a child. We were told we would have to undergo several screenings that would take a least a year to complete, even before we were placed on the waiting list!
When we started doing the screenings, we were very surprised to see just how intense they really were. It was like our entire lives – from the moment we were both born – were scrutinized with a fine-tooth comb.
We underwent screenings to determine the strength and propensity of the resilience of our marriage and the family background checks where we were comprehensively questioned about integral matters, such as our childhood years, parents, and siblings. Even the most trivial and insignificant issues came up, such as why gran’s cakes always flopped or why grandpa had so many parking tickets in the ‘50s! Medical checks had to be undertaken, including X-rays and blood tests for HIV and Cholesterol. They also did a gamma test to confirm that we were not raging alcoholics. Employment checks with proof of earnings – from balance sheets to insurance policies for life, medical, and retirement – were done, as well as reference checks and a number of home visits. After a year of having to ramble on indefinitely about our lives to a total stranger, we were finally put on the waiting list. At this point, we were at our lowest, effectively giving up on the idea that we would ever get a baby. It was a very difficult, sad, and an emotionally draining time for both my wife and me.
Then one day in August 2004, Nadia phoned me and requested another meeting with me and my wife. “I’m not promising anything,” I recall her saying sternly. My wife and I had to once again tell our life stories, this time around not to one, but two strangers. A few days later, Nadia phoned. “I have some news for you,” she said in her usual nonchalant manner. “we’ve got a baby and we need to place him. Are you interested?” A rhetorical question, I thought to myself – we certainly didn’t apply to adopt a baby for the kicks of it! She said we could see him that same night.
For hours before we left home, my wife and I debated the issue. She said ‘yes’, and I said ‘no’. although I knew that I wanted a child, I was scared. I hadn’t psyched myself enough to believe that it would happen so soon. I kept asking myself whether we were financially, emotionally, and mentally ready for a child, and if we would be good parents.
That evening we met Nadia at the orphanage to our baby for the first time. When I first saw his face, all my fears, apprehensions, and concerns disappeared. In a single instant, I realized that my status had just been upgraded to dad! That was indeed a moment that I will cherish forever, a moment that had captivated me so aggressively that I lost all sense of objectivity. For the first time in my life, I was thinking with my heart and not my head. All I could say was: “When can we have him?’ the next day, my wife went to work and requested maternity leave. ‘Granted!’ was the immediate reply entrenched in the myriad of excitement and energy that had been generated in her office.
Although we visited and sat with him for hours for two days, the real fun was when we collected him. When we got home about an hour later, we had a party for him. As is in the Muslim tradition, my uncle shaved his head and I read the azaan (call for prayer) into my new baby’s ears.
We have given him the name Mohamed Reza. Mohamed, in honour of our great Prophet and leader and Reza is a Persian name meaning ‘one who graciously accepts what God puts before him and never procrastinates’.
I reminisce often about those wonderful days and I can’t imagine my life without my beautiful son. As a colleague said to my wife: “You didn’t carry him in your womb, but you certainly did in your soul!”
As for me, I am finally coming to terms with this great new chapter in my life, realizing that this is no longer a dream, but a great and wonderful reality.