What you need to know:
- The Martins always knew they would adopt a child one day.
- The couple's miracle would took two years to happen.
The adoption process is long and tedious, but fulfilling in the end. Adoption is something that couples contemplate alone, sometimes, without involving the members of their extended family.
Esther Martin, an adoptive parent, is yet to tell her extended family about their four-year-old baby, Shaniela Candy. Perhaps, they will get to learn about the adoption from this interview.
Before this adoption, Mrs Martin’s firstborn son had succumbed to complications related to cerebral palsy. Shani, who passed away three years ago, suffered asphyxia at birth, which led to cerebral palsy. In his life as a special needs boy, he was utterly dependent and was on anticonvulsants and therapy.
Sadly, he passed away, aged 10, leaving his parents and his little brother, Sadfa Carson, devastated. A year later, in 2018, Shaniela Candy joined the family.
“We were filled with joy when we finally brought her home. We had been praying and waiting for about two years. I equate the ultimate feeling to that of a couple finally getting a positive pregnancy test after trying for a child for long. We had been in and out of court for the tedious legal process, but she was ours now, and we were glad,” says Esther.
Even before Shaniela joined the Martins, her name had already been coined by Esther and her husband.
“When I was expectant with my second born, Sadfa, my husband and I decided that if we adopted a girl, we would call her Shaniela from Shani’s name. Shani means “wonderful” or “mighty power.” It is from a Swahili hymnal,’’ says the mother of three.
Shaniela was a miracle child, born in March 2017. After her birth, she was thrown and left in a bush in Thika, from where she was rescued by a Good Samaritan and taken to the police station, and later to the hospital.
She was estimated to have been about two weeks old, after which she was placed at Macheo Children’s Home while the police tried to trace her parents and relatives. They failed.
According to Muteru Njama from Change Adoption Agency, once an abandoned baby is found, she or he is taken to the police station. The police record the incident then refers to the children’s officer to take the baby.
The children’s officer is expected to look for accommodation for the child in a children’s home, where the child stays for about three months.
When this period expires, the children’s officer takes the child’s case to court and asks that the children’s court commits the child. This means that the children’s home now has authority over the child.
As this goes on, the police officers try to search for the parents of the abandoned baby. The search includes finding out whether someone has lost a child, or finding someone who has been reported to have had a child but no longer has one.
The purpose of this, if the parent is found, is to establish why they abandoned the child and the modes of interventions that can be taken to help.
“If the parents are obstinate and refuse to take the baby back, the officers sign a consent form that declares the baby free for adoption. However, in the case of an abandoned child, the assumption is that if you have lost a baby, your search will be relentless. And so if six months pass without a claim, it is assumed that the parent truly does not want the baby,’’ says Muteru.
From here, the police officer reports to the children’s officer that the baby has not been claimed in a final letter. That gives the home the go-ahead to contact an adoption agency, which then declares the childfree for adoption following the Children’s Act Section 156. The child can then be placed with the adoptive parents approved by the adoption society.
Once the parents are matched to the baby, they go home with it. The adoptive parents stay with the baby for the first three months while being monitored and supervised by a guardian from the children’s home.
After this period expires, the home evaluates whether the parent and the baby have successfully bonded. If they have, they proceed to court to finalise the process of adoption.
Esther, accompanied by her husband, Martin Kamau, submitted their application at Kenya Children’s home, an adoption agency, in 2016. Once approved, the agency matched her to her baby, taking into account specifications such as age and gender.
The photo of the couple was also taken to ensure that the baby who was matched with them resembled them as much as possible.
Two years after applying in 2016, the couple finally received a call that a match had been found at an orphanage in Thika. Esther boarded a bus to go and meet her daughter for the first time. She had just turned a year old.
Two years later, Shaniela now lives with her parents and her now nine-year-old brother, Sadfa Carlos in Kamulu, Ruai.
“I received the call on a Friday and went straight to the orphanage to meet her. I packed my bag and the following week on Monday morning, returned and boarded for a week. During this time, I stayed with her to maximise our bonding time and also to learn about their daily routine. I left with her the same week on Friday, and she has been mine ever since," Esther says.
"I had prayed for this baby way before she was born. Even while dating my husband, we knew we would adopt a child. We loved her immediately when she was presented to us. She was our answered prayer,’’ she remarks happily.
Adopting a child came from the experiences the Martins had while working at an orphanage.
“My husband and I met at an orphanage while working in different departments. We saw what children in an orphanage were going through and how much they needed love.”
When the court processes began, she hired a lawyer, who walked with her through the legal process up to the very end when they received the baby’s birth certificate from the registrar of births.
“We appeared in court twice, and the court-appointed some guardian ad litem, who is essentially mandated by the court to report on whether the applicants are suitable to raise the child. In the third court meeting, on which the judge delivered the ruling, my lawyer represented us,” says Esther.
Once home, Esther set out to follow the feeding and sleeping program that her daughter was used to at the orphanage.
As Shaniela settled in and interacted with other children, she noticed with curiosity and wonder, babies on their mothers’ laps, suckling.
“What are those children doing?” she asked her mother, pointing to the other children who were suckling.
One day, while at home and with the baby at ease, the mother asked the daughter if she would like to suckle.
“She said yes, and I pulled her closer, helping her to latch,’ Esther says, smiling.
She adds, “She didn’t know how to suckle and bit my nipple at the first few trials, stopping and looking at me with worry in her eyes when I winced in pain. She finally mastered it and liked it so much that she would cry for it. She even bragged to her brother Sadfa about how mum’s milk tasted good.”
From the first moment, they created a bond that has deepened and gotten steadfast over time.
“I didn’t take medication to induce lactation, because she was already big and was on solid food. I just wanted to bond with her, and it worked tremendously well. At work, I applied for maternity leave so that we could bond and get to know each other better. When the leave ended, she cried for me when I left for work even though she was already accustomed to our home manager,” adds Esther.
With her dad, however, the bonding experience was different.
“Bonding with my daughter was easy. I felt like I had known her for a long time. She is very special to me, and it is a fantastic experience to be her father,” says Martin.
“My husband loves children, and it didn’t take long before they became great buddies. He took her out for lunch dates, played with her every time he was free at home, bought her gifts and travelled with her,” says Esther.
When it came to introducing Shaniela to the extended family, they were nervous. They didn’t know how they would react.
As a result, they only involved Esther’s elder sister, who would be the baby’s godmother, Esther’s brothers, and Martins’ mother. They all supported the family’s move.
The Martins know that eventually, they will have to inform their daughter about her background.
Esther, for example, is sure that Sadfa might drop hints, albeit unintentionally, that she isn’t his blood sister.
“When she grows up, I will let her know that she has two mothers: one that carried her in her womb, and I, who will carry her in my heart forever,” Esther adds.
Concept of adoption
“We have taken her to visit the orphanage we adopted her from, and pointed out that the children there may be taken and cared for by parents who did not give birth to them. We want her to understand the concept of adoption first, and we will feed her with tidbits of information until she is mature enough to understand what it truly means,” adds Esther.
“We have had our fair share of obstacles along the way, but it is in every parameter everyday challenges faced by all parents. I discipline her as I do my son, and I love her in equal measure. People have time and again asked me why I adopted, yet I can give birth. In my defence, I ask them to explain to me why I should give birth, yet there are children out there in need of loving families,” Esther said with resolve.
She has since joined an online support group for adoptive parents to learn and gain more exposure to adoptive parenting.