/ 21 December 2007

It’s raining girls

We met in the heady days of 1994. The ANC had finally come to power and we were filled with a sense of possibility. We were members of the ANC’s Yeoville branch and met in the branch choir.

Somewhere between the strains of Thula Sizwe and Java Jive we fell in love. Once our relationship took off, we found many shared passions. Everything in South Africa was changing and we were part of that great transformative project. In our working lives we felt the daily thrill of the world changing under our feet.

Life in Yeoville and Bez Valley proved inspiring. We were living in racially mixed areas, hanging out in Troyeville and feeling the pulse of what was then the new South Africa. Being a same-sex couple felt like an extension of that liberation.

By the year 2000 we felt ready to commit ourselves to each other and held our wedding ceremony on a Kensington koppie, about six years before the law caught up with same-sex marriage.

We were both keen to be parents and started exploring ways to have children. At first artificial insemination seemed the obvious route. But somewhere down the line it started feeling like the wrong idea.

Why create a new life when so many babies, already born, were waiting to be adopted? There were also other reasons to adopt. If we went the insemination route only one of us could be the biological mother. This would introduce a strange inequality into the family. And what about the father? Would he be known to the child? If so, what role would he play? If not, how would the child feel about this in years to come?

And so we moved towards the idea of adopting a child. By that time same-sex adoptions were reasonably common. Same-sex couples were not yet allowed to adopt together (on the weird pretext that this was because they were not married). But there was a case making its way through the courts that would ultimately challenge this.

In August 2001 we contacted the Johannesburg Child Welfare Society, which turned out to be an extraordinary organisation. The social worker screened us meticulously. ‘One day,” she explained, ‘we will pick up a baby and put her in your arms. Before we decide to do that, we need to know who you are and what makes you tick.”

We were interviewed extensively, individually and as a couple. We took medical tests, psychological tests and even had our relationship assessed. We went on a training course that dealt with the challenges of adoption and focused on the dynamics of transracial adoption.

After six months of screening, we were approved. ‘Don’t call us”, the social worker said, ‘we will call you when we have a baby for you.” The months passed and we tried to get on with our lives. Then, in May 2002, the phone rang. ‘You know why I’m calling, don’t you,” said the social worker. ‘We have a baby girl for you. Come and meet her tomorrow.”

And so, shaking with anxiety and anticipation, we arrived at the Princess Alice Adoption Home in Johannesburg. After telling us a little about the child’s background the social worker left the room. A few minutes later she returned and put a baby in our arms.

Noluvo was a beautiful four-month-old girl sucking hard on her index finger. She looked at us with big eyes, not knowing that she had found her life-long family. Two days later, after many hours of near hysteria, we brought Lulu home.

At first it all felt strange. Our lives had been turned upside down. But soon we fell deeply in love with our baby. Her tiny feet, her great big eyes, her toothless smile. Within days we were family. No less, no more. As much a family as any group of people sharing a biological bond.

Earlier this year we were ready to adopt a second child. After another round of screening we were approved. In September the phone rang and we heard little Thembela’s name for the first time. A few days later she came home with us.

So now we are a family of four, complete with bicycles and strollers, family holidays and Zulu lessons. Life with our daughters is an extraordinary adventure.

Or course, none of this is simple. Our girls are adopted and, from the child’s point of view, any adoption involves pain and loss. Our girls are the daughters of a same-sex couple and that can never be easy. Our girls are black children of white parents with all the issues that must raise. But, most importantly, they are our girls. They have two parents who are devoted to them. They have grandparents who adore them; uncles, aunts and cousins; and a community committed to their future. Like any other children, they belong.

We have many people to thank for this life we are living. The social workers who labour endlessly for little material reward. They constantly reminded us that their mandate is to protect the interests of the child.

More fundamentally, our family is a product of South Africa’s democracy. Our Constitution and the Constitutional Court have made it possible for us to be a family. They have recognised that where love and commitment exist there is no place for prejudice.

And then there is the ANC, the only political party in South Africa to show a full commitment to equal rights for gays. Democracy has borne unexpected fruits. May it endure.