What you need to know:
- Mary describes her mother as a woman with a heart of gold. However, when it came to dealing with stigma, it was their relatives who made it hard for her to forget that she was adopted.
- “People always treated my brother and I differently. Some relatives showed it so clearly that we never blended in."
Despite the nobility of the concept, adoption remains a taboo subject in many homes and also in public. Fridah Mlemwa speaks to three women who tell us their experience of the process from both sides of the fence – as adoptees and as foster parents.
Mary Katana* was adopted around the age of four by a single mother. Her foster mother also adopted a boy two years younger than Mary from the same children’s, now Mary’s brother.
Mary, now 26, had always known she was adopted – and even in spite of this, her mother tried to hide it from her. “From a tender age, I couldn't tell my mother that I knew because it would clearly break her heart. Other children in school always asked me why I looked different and I would tell them I looked like my dad – who I was told to say was dead. Mind you, I remembered my past very clearly,” she says.
Mary describes her mother as a woman with a heart of gold. However, when it came to dealing with stigma, it was their relatives who made it hard for her to forget that she was adopted.
“People always treated my brother and I differently. Some relatives showed it so clearly that we never blended in. One day my cousins came and told me "Mum anasema nyinyi ni machokoraa, ni ukweli?"
After this, Mary became withdrawn and an extreme introvert. She also decided to tell her younger brother that he was adopted before confronting her mother with the truth.
“One day I told my brother. He didn’t know. Mum now had to tell us everything about where she found us. She told us that she made a promise to God to take care of us and she does, with everything she's got,” says Mary.
Mary’s experience with her relatives echoes that of many children who find themselves inducted into otherwise warm and loving homes… but with extended relatives who may not understand the reasons for the adoption.
The adoption process itself in Kenya is often mired in controversy, with the process being open to abuse by child traffickers, and a moratorium being declared on intercountry adoption in Kenya in 2014. However, for those for whom it goes smoothly, such as Grace Wanunda, it is a joyful experience.
Growing up in a not so well off family and struggling through life to be successful, Grace felt the desire to help the less fortunate in the society – especially young children. However, when she made the decision to adopt a child in 2014, she was worried about how her mother would react since she was also doing it as a single woman.
“I was not worried about how anyone else would react except my mother. Before informing her, I prayed over it, and I told God that if my mum said no, it wasn’t meant for me. But if she said yes, then that was my calling. And so Grace took her decision to her mother. “When I expressed my desires, she asked me ‘What have you been waiting for?! Go ahead and do it!”
Grace’s family, friends and colleagues have been very supportive of her through the whole process. She started the adoption process of a five-month-old baby girl in 2014 and finally had full custody of her in 2015.
QUITE A PROCESS
“Adopting a child can be quite a process, and takes long especially for girls who are in higher demand,” says Grace.
“The child is given to the foster family for three months before they are approved to start the legal process in court for adoption.”
Grace adopted her second child this year, a ten-month-old boy to join her daughter who is now four years old. She says that the second time was easier since she didn’t bother consulting with family, and also since there is less demand for boys, which makes the process faster.
“The best thing that can happen to anybody is motherhood. It doesn’t matter how the child came to be yours. It is just so fulfilling.
When my baby girl, Angel Faraja came home, she was malnourished. She weighed just 5kg at five months old. But now her transformation is breathtaking. Her innocence and love is just divine. She is a miracle baby who has brought joy not only to me as a mother, but today we are here as a family because of her journey,” says Grace.
Grace started sharing her adoption journey on Facebook and received requests to start a private forum for parents who would like to do the same.
Their desire was to discuss adoption in a judgement-free forum.
CULTURE OF SILENCE
Grace also formed the group to counter the culture of silence that has developed around the process.
“I formed the Facebook group last year because when I was going through the adoption process, I found it very difficult to get information. No one was willing to share their story and I didn’t know where to start,” explains Grace, adding, “I was weighed down with emotions and anxiety.
I needed somebody to share my fears with and give me support. I knew people who had adopted before me but were not willing to share their stories.
I promised God that if he helped me through with my first adoption I would reach out to help others. I started sharing on a Facebook page. Then people asked me to create a private group where we could just talk about adoption without everyone judging us. I agreed.”
Meanwhile, Betty Githinji has had positive experiences both growing up as an adoptee, and adopting her own children.
“Adoption was always going to be my first choice,” she says. “I was adopted by my parents as a baby and in my early 20s, I knew my heart's desire would be adoption. I don’t recall ever having a very deep desire to bear biological children, it was never a priority.”
Given that she was, herself, adopted, she did not experience any resistance from family members when she decided to adopt a six-month-old girl in 2011. Betty was 39 at the time. “I haven't faced discrimination as an adopted child and now as an adoptive mother.
I believe the face of adoption has changed in the last few years, with many more local adoptions in the country and many of us parents openly talking about it. It has offered the society a positive idea of adoption.” Indeed, with 300 adoptions taking place in Kenya each year, it is clear that this is a treasured way for people to become parents.
“As co-administrator of a Facebook page for foster parents, I have seen many individuals share their interest in adoption and many start the adoption process,” Betty says. “The platform has also been a useful resource for individuals to engage, ask questions and share valuable experiences on the adoption journey.”
Betty is happy with her healthy baby girl who is now seven years old. “Anisa is a boisterous seven-year-old – a beautiful child gifted with compassion. My hope is that she too will continue in the adoption journey,” speaks Betty fondly of her daughter.
One of the biggest conundrums adoptive parents face is when – or even whether – to tell their child that they are adopted. Fredrick Kimemia, chairman of the Adoptive Parents Association of Kenya, said in an interview with the Sunday Nation: “Seventy-five per cent of adopted children in Kenya do not know that they are adopted. That’s a huge problem.”
He says efforts are ongoing within the organisation to help parents learnt how to handle this delicate subject with ease.
One of his suggested measures is for foster parents to keep daily journals on the children’s activities, and give it to them when they are ready for the information. “Every day you get information, you put it in there.
Every time you get a picture, you put it in the book. The reason we encourage adoptive parents to do this is that when it comes to a time the child needs to get information, you have it,” he said.
Betty found out that she was adopted at the age of 12, through a casual remark by a close family friend’s child when playing. “One of my play mates who was a close family friend mentioned it. At that time adoption was still not very common in the country and not generally spoken about. I don’t remember having a problem with it,” she explains.
Grace Wanunda says she will inform the children of their adoption when they get to the age of five years, when they can understand. But she will tell them in bits, updating them as they grow so as to ensure they comprehend it well.
“My desire is not to own my children but to leave my daughter and son a better people as compared to if they would have grown up in a home. My desire is to see them grow up happy and confident. If need be, I can even help her trace their families.”
Mary Katana is still trying to trace her biological family. She is doing this in an effort to understand where she comes from, especially now that she is the mother of a baby boy. However, people have told her that she is being ungrateful to her foster mother.
“Things are not easy emotionally, especially when you want to trace your real identity and everyone is against it. I need closure.” She has visited the children's home she came from twice but has not been able to find any information.