Two sets of loving parents and one very loved child share their adoption stories – stories of blessings, life, love and hope.
Children are a blessing and having children of your own is a wonderful thing. But for those who find themselves unable to conceive, it doesn’t mean that you’ll never be able to enjoy the fruits of parenthood. There are babies and children who need more than just a house, a shelter.
Caryn and Yoke Fong, with their respective spouses, decided to open their hearts and homes. Di Yann entered the lives of her adoptive parents as a baby. In hearing their stories, we learn how adoption changed their lives. We also hear from an adoption caseworker on the frustrations and rewards her job brings her on a daily basis.
To Be a Parent
Caryn Chan, 38, analyst
Each time the treatment failed, Caryn and Aaron would ask themselves whether it was worth going for another one. It had been a trying three years of fertility treatments that she had even switched to a part-time job for.
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“My husband was the one who first suggested the idea of adoption. We discussed it and it didn’t take us long to realise that adoption made sense. As much as we wanted children, we wanted to be parents,” says Caryn. “To us, it did not matter if we were parents to our own kids, or to adopted kids. Hence with that understanding about ourselves, we started our journey to form an adoptive family.”
The initial process felt quite daunting as they did not know anyone who had gone through the adoption process. They started by going for talks (pre-adoption briefings) at Fei Yue Community Services and TOUCH Adoption Services. There, they met other adoptive parents and children, something which they found really helpful to their own preparation.
“It took a few months to complete the Home Study Report. That was tedious but it was the easy part. The difficult part was waiting for news of any babies potentially put up for adoption. Emotionally, we had our hearts set for adoption but yet we didn’t know when that journey would start,” explains Caryn.
The couple busied themselves with work. Finally after six months, they received the news that a baby had been put up for adoption.
In The Beginning
“Every adoptive parent had told us that we will know whether the baby is for us when we meet him or her. We met Amy for the first time when she was a few days old and true enough, she couldn’t have been more perfect to us,” Caryn says with a smile as she recounted their first meeting. “It felt so natural as we held her in our arms that we would be her forever mummy and daddy.”
At the same time, as Caryn and Aaron scrambled to get their home ready to bring baby Amy home, they also worried about their abilities to be good parents and if their families would take to her looking so different from them. “It was quite a roller-coaster ride as we worked through the emotions and steadied ourselves to start a life-long commitment to caring for Amy. Thankfully, our acceptance of Amy was equally matched by our families, who welcomed her with open arms.”
There were also many anxious moments as Amy was difficult to settle in the first month. She was colicky and could not digest her milk well. They made frequent trips to the pediatrician to make sure she was well.
As the new parents continued bonding with her and spent more time observing her, Amy began to settle down and by the second month had become a more smiley and enjoyable baby. “We did all kinds of things to make her smile or laugh – from clapping her hands to setting up the most elaborate peekaboos. We probably looked really ridiculous crawling around the bed and popping our heads up, but her laughter was utterly worth it,” recalls Caryn, chuckling.
Caryn and little Amy visited Sea World in Gold Coast, Australia, when Amy was about 2.5 years old. She was trying to touch the sting rays and starfish in the interactive pool.
Amy is now almost four years old. “She has brought so much joy to the family. Of course, the parenting journey has its ups and downs and there are sacrifices involved. But with Amy, our lives became meaningful,” Caryn reflects. “We are grateful to her for giving us a chance to be parents and cherish being part of her growing-up years. We look forward to discovering more of her personality, her likes and dislikes, and guiding her as she grows up.”
Caryn and Aaron started talking to Amy about her adoption journey even before she could speak. Caryn shares that it helped them to practise the disclosure process. “We read story books on adoption to her and mention her own adoption story whenever the opportunity arises.”
Every now and then, the family gets questions or ‘looks’ from strangers on why Amy looks so tanned as compared to her parents. “They often answer the question themselves,” Caryn observes in amusement. “‘Oh, she must do a lot of swimming,’ they would say. We smile in agreement or if there is a chance to explain, we do not mind telling people we are her adoptive parents.”
Caryn adds, “Looking back, honestly, we are very blessed that so far Amy hit all her developmental milestones. There has never been a moment we thought we made the wrong decision. It is still an ongoing journey and we learn along the way. But we believe that being open with her will lay a stronger foundation for our future relationship with her.”
It was Now or Never
Chiew Yoke Fong, 61, semi-retired pathologist
It seemed like the right time for Yoke Fong and her husband. They were financially stable and were at the stage in their lives when they would have time to focus on caring for children. They considered adopting an infant initially, but after much soul-searching, decided that a slightly older child would be a better fit.
Yoke Fong explains, “Being older parents was the decisive factor. In fact, it was our counsellor from TOUCH Adoption Services who gave us very good advice and persuaded us to adopt older children, something we are grateful for. They also helped to quickly process our papers.”
“Beggars cannot be choosers, we felt, so we did not put down specific preferences such as gender and age. On our own, my husband and I fasted and prayed for a long time,” recounts Yoke Fong.
A long wait for the prospective child ensued, and then began the weekly visits with a little girl who was soon to become theirs. On the first visit, they were naturally excited and apprehensive at the same time.
“We were eager to make a good first impression. They introduced a tall, thin girl to us,” Yoke Fong said, then added, “It was quite difficult at first because she became more and more withdrawn with each week. She also had nightmares due to the stress caused by the visits. Thankfully, the counsellors were very encouraging and kept the adoption process going.”
“We learnt to be creative in drawing her towards us and finding out her likes and dislikes,” she continued. In the meantime, they attended seminars and read books on adoption. In particular, Yoke Fong felt that meeting with other adoptive families was very helpful. Rallying support from family, relatives and friends helped ease that initial period as well.
In The Beginning
Finally, it was time to bring the child home. “There was a lot of crying that first week, but she soon settled in – and into our bedroom too. Over the first year, she needed daily hugs and assurance that this will be her forever home and family. She had been fostered twice in her tender five-and-a-half years, so that was totally understandable,” says Yoke Fong.
The experience was such a rewarding one for Yoke Fong and her husband that they decided to adopt a second child, another girl who was close to three years old. “This one was a bit more dramatic because while our first was intrigued by the new environment, the second one felt miserable missing her foster home. She would demand to watch ‘Barney’ or play with her toys past midnight,” Yoke Fong says with a chuckle.
“She also slept in the master bedroom with us, so there were four of us sleeping in the same room for months! I fed the children at dinner for many years myself. Although it was tiring, the time was needed for bonding. Surprisingly, our second child was very attached to my mother-in-law who was in her 90s, probably because her foster mother was also an elderly woman.
“We also used play to engage them – for a long while, we spent every day reading, playing ball games, board games…like snakes and ladders, Pictionary, puzzles and so on. Thankfully, Singapore is a great place to raise children, with lots of playgrounds, theme parks, museums and opportunities for activities like cycling, swimming and play dates.
The girls are 10 and seven this year, and Yoke Fong says proudly, “They are doing well – physically, emotionally and spiritually, socially and academically too. They enjoy sports, music and arts outside of regular school and are flourishing in their lives in every aspect. Both are outgoing and have many friends.”
She adds that they often receive comments that the children are very blessed to be adopted by them. “But it is equally true that we are even more blessed to have them as our daughters. They have given us the opportunity to experience the joy of being parents – a lifelong process of learning and application. For us, parenting started from the time we filled in the application form for adoption and it will not cease till the day we die.”
“Early on we questioned our decision to adopt many times, when the children did not reciprocate our feelings,” Yoke Fong admits frankly. “The older girl tended to be distant and doubting initially, while the younger pushed every button by misbehaving. My husband and I had to work as a team, constantly discussing how we should handle these issues. We also kept reminding ourselves of the nobler ambition of why we adopted in the first place.”
While the older girl knew from the start that she was adopted, the younger one only found out two years later who her birth family was, even though she had met them several times. “She gave me a pleasant surprise recently when she said, ‘I love you very much even though you are not my tummy mummy,’” relates Yoke Fong, contentedly.
Blessed to Be a Blessing
Goh Di Yann, 14, student
Di Yann’s parents had been working and living in Indonesia before she came along. As fate would have had it, they visited an orphanage there and fell in love with a boy, whom they decided to adopt.
Sometime later, they discovered that they were unable to conceive on their own. “So they decided to adopt another child – me!” chirps Di Yann, now a teenager.
In The Beginning
Although she had been adopted at a tender age of five weeks, her parents never hid the fact from her. “I have always known I was adopted. It makes me feel blessed. If I hadn’t been adopted, I would not have this life – a nice family, a lovely home and a safe country to live in,” Di Yann explains. She has lived in Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam, and is currently living in Australia.
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When Di Yann was two years old, the family was blessed with a third child. Her younger brother was her parents’ biological son and like any other older sibling, adopted or not, Di Yann had to get used to no longer being the baby of the family. “Although I wasn’t getting mummy’s full attention like before, it provided me with the chance to grow closer to daddy.”
Di Yann and her parents, and two brothers − a very happy family.
By her own reckoning, Di Yann is a well-adjusted youth. “I’m healthy and happy. I’m only 14 but I’ve had the opportunity to live in different countries and I always have lots of friends wherever I go. I like school and hope to be successful one day. I have a great interest in makeup and maybe I might become a makeup artist in the future.”
She adds, “My parents are great. I have a strong relationship with my dad, and although he works hard, he takes the time to watch movies with me, and we just do random stuff together. My mum has been a stay-at-home mum for the most part, always busy with housework, but now that us kids are older, she has more time to herself and is training to be a play therapist. I love shopping, cooking and exercising with her. My brothers and I also get along well.”
Di Yann hasn’t met her natural parents, but she has seen pictures of her biological mother. “Sometimes, I wonder where they are,” she says. “The one thing that makes me feel sad about being adopted is seeing other families and how the family members resemble one another. I don’t look like my parents or my brothers. But it’s ok, I’m fine with it.”
Knowing that she was adopted has obviously given Di Yann a maturity that belies her tender age. “I am quite open about about my adoption because I want people to know about it. They always say it’s cool and that makes me feel accepted by them,” she says candidly.
Di Yann offers up this wise observation: “I have lived in cultures where adoption is not as accepted. Sometimes it’s the adults who cannot accept how open we kids are about adoption. I just ignore them.”
The Ups & Downs of an Adoption Caseworker
We ask Ms Teo Seok Bee, Senior Manager of TOUCH Adoption Services, what some of the frustrations faced by both prospective parents and adoption caseworkers are. This is what she has to say.
“One aspect of the job we find very difficult is sharing the emotional turmoil of the parties involved. When birth families change their minds and things don’t work out for the adoptive parents, we feel their disappointment and loss. When the birth mother makes the very difficult decision to give up her rights and responsibilities over the child, we share their pain, loss and guilt. We usually need a break between cases to regulate our own emotions.
“I recall a case where the birth grandmother changed her mind when the adoptive parents were about to take the baby home. She even refused to engage in any talks with anyone, only to change her mind again in the evening. By then, the adoptive parents had decided they could not take another blow and called it off. In the end, we gave the birth family another two weeks to cool off, placing the child into foster care. We later found another adoptive family for the child. Months later, we facilitated a reunion between the birth family and child, and the birth family was reassured that they had made the right decision. It ended well that time, but this was not without a very emotionally charged journey for the adoption caseworker.”
On the Flip Side
The job is not without its rewards, however. Ms Teo shares, “With a successful adoption, we share the joys of the adoptive parents as they welcome a new member to their family, very often after years of trying in vain to conceive. We are happy for the child to be given another chance of having a loving and permanent family. It is especially rewarding to see the child assimilated into their new family and thriving over the years.”
She continues, “During the launch of our book Our Very Own 2 in January this year, many adoptive parents came to us with their children in tow and told them things like ‘She was the first to carry you in hospital,’ or ‘She gave us a call and we went to the hospital to meet you.’ It is such a privilege to be part of the defining moments of the lives of many of these children.”