Poor mothers sometimes left their babies in the fields hoping they would be picked up and cared for. The police gathered the babies and took them to hospitals and orphanages. It was called the “Baby Walk.” The police walked around fields of the ghetto where the baby’s birthmothers lived every night. Laredo and Jabulani’s mother knew this. The first night she laid out Jabulani, and hid close by until he was found. The next night she left Laredo. The twins were only two months old.
Several months earlier, my husband and I were mourning our latest miscarriage. This one was especially difficult because the pregnancy had been confirmed, and we had done so much to get pregnant. We already had three children, so it was incredible that conceiving number four would be so hard. Most people didn’t understand our anxiety. “You have three kids. Why do you want more?” We learned from our fertility assessment that my hormonal system was so out of whack that I was lucky to have conceived the children we had. On top of that, my family history made carrying the children to full term unlikely. That is why our three older children are spaced four years apart even though no family management was practiced.
Members of the skeptics club included our parents and a good portion of our siblings. We kept the fertility treatments to ourselves and only told family about the miscarriages. We jumped through the hoops and into the fertility fire. We had an assessment, took pills, and mapped days. We scheduled “private time” during the prime fertility week. We experienced our first miscarriage early. It was very early on, and I hadn’t had the home test yet confirmed. We moved to the next level of injections. I don’t know who had a harder time with this, my husband or me. Yes, I took it in the “cheek,” but Dan had to give the shots. I experienced dramatic side effects, but Dan had to deal with them. Here we suffered two more miscarriages. The first was another early termination, and the second happened a few weeks down the road. Both were emotional and disappointing. It was really becoming unbearable. The injections were painful and costly. The pressure on Dan to “perform” on demand was starting to cause tension. We came to a crossroads. We had borrowed against the house to pursue these procedures, and the honey pot was getting low. The fertility specialist recommended we go to the next level of treatment: in vitro. We looked at our options. We had enough money to try the procedure only once. The procedure had a high failure rate, especially on the first attempt. We could just give up the idea of another child. We could adopt.
The twins were taken to the hospital until a place could be found for them. In the hospital, Laredo got a terrible fever. As the doctors cared for him, they noticed differences between Laredo and Jabulani. Laredo wasn’t moving or smiling like Jabulani, or like any baby. After some tests, they found that Laredo’s brain was damaged. Laredo had Cerebral Palsy. Laredo soon recovered from his illness, but the brain damage would never go away.
My husband and I began looking into adoption. We didn’t want to go through the anxiety and discomfort of in vitro, only to come up empty handed. We began studying the process and costs on the internet. We started looking for an agency. We were surprised to be rejected as candidates by the agency affiliated with our church. They didn’t do adoptions for families with more than two children. We found direction and support through a different agency. The orientation meeting was overwhelming. There was so much to do, so many requirements to fulfill.
As adoption has evolved, the prospective, adoptive parents no longer choose a child– the birthmother chooses parents for the baby. Another component we were not really expecting was the level of involvement birth parents choose to have with the child. Open adoptions are meant to keep the birth parents actively engaged with the child throughout the child’s life. There were also closed adoptions where the birthmother wishes to stay out of the picture, but these are rarer. We went through all the screenings and background checks. We had our home study done, and created a family portfolio for birthmothers to read. All of this took about four months. Finally, we were put on a list to be presented to birthmothers. We understood it could be a long wait, but we hadn’t heard anything for six more months. The waiting was insufferable.
Laredo and Jabulani were placed in a children’s home outside of Johannesburg. Here they were renamed David and John. It was a nice home– a real house with a kitchen, living room, bedrooms, and a big backyard. There were children of all ages cared for by very loving house parents. David’s condition meant he needed special care. He couldn’t crawl or sit, so he was carried in the traditional Afrikaans way, on his caregiver’s back. He was held by a tightly tied cloth, so all you could see was his head.
I am a very impatient person. I hate sitting on my hands waiting for others. The first placement agency we retained didn’t come up with anything, so I went hunting. I spent hours researching agencies and looking for an organization that would be more proactive. I read about babies from China, Russia, and Guatemala. We didn’t care where the baby came from, but these programs meant three more years of waiting and even more paperwork! I kept looking. I finally hit on an unusual, simple website for a children’s home from South Africa. I loved the name, “Acres of Love.” It seemed to pull me right in. My excitement grew as I read. Many of the children were orphans or abandoned. Many had no family to speak of. The best thing was that the process promised to take only one year. I showed my husband the website, and we decided to contact the agency. The children’s home itself was owned by Americans from California, and the contact agent worked out of Montana. We had heard the scary stories of pseudo-agencies that took your money and ran. We made sure this organization was accredited and bonded, but we still had trepidations. Our fears were eased some when less than three months later, the agency told us about twin boys. The agency thought it would be hard to keep the brothers together; not many people want to adopt two babies at one time, especially if one of them is handicapped. When Dan and I saw the pictures, we were in love. We really wanted John and David.
My husband and I were invited to South Africa to meet David and John. My mother came along. I saw David first. He was in a baby walker wrapped in towels to hold him up. He looked up with his big, dark eyes, and a wide smile came over his shiny face. I bent down and David grabbed my nose. “Can I hold him?” I asked eagerly. I scooped David up and cuddled him to my chest. He smelled of homemade lotion made of petroleum jelly and herbs. “We have to keep their skin from drying out,” explained the caregiver. “It gets very dry during the winter.” It was May, so I had forgotten. It is winter in South Africa during June, July, and August. John went immediately to my mother. He liked her from the beginning. In fact, John wouldn’t be held by anyone else. My husband, my mom, and I got to play with the boys for a while. While on our tour, we saw a very newborn baby sleeping on a shelf. Adopting the twins would make space for this newcomer. She was found in a field like David and John. It was very hard to say goodbye on the first day, but things needed to be done, and the boys couldn’t come home with us until we finished the South African court work. We were very busy. We had meetings with caregivers, adoption directors, doctors, lawyers, and judges.
Since the boys would be moving to the United States, we had to meet with special officials to get permission to allow the twins to come to America. There were a lot of forms and papers to fill out. At the time, the South African bureaucracy still did their records long-hand. It took most of one day to get copies of their birth certificates. It took four tries to get David’s passport picture just right. When their dossiers were completed, we were ready to go to the judge. The courtroom was hot and sticky, even though there was a chill outside. The judge, a middle-aged white woman, was direct and business-like. She entered the chamber, said a quick good morning, and began to write. She would ask a question and then write. Question, write. After what seemed to be an endless list of standard procedural questions, the judge put her pencil down, folded her hands in front of her, and smiled at us. She was very cordial, and we talked easily. She explained the history of adoption in South Africa. Most children were awarded to Europeans, Dutch, and Germans. There was still an impression that Americans came for black babies to bring them back to be slaves. Because of this, we were cautioned to limit our public appearances as some of the locals may think we were stealing the children.
We encountered nothing but smiles and well wishes from both black and white South Africans. Our conversation with the judge was very deliberate on the judge’s part. The judge was really trying to ascertain if we were really like the people that were described in the papers she was given. She seemed more than satisfied and congratulated us on our new additions. Only one more hurdle to jump– the American embassy. The workers in the embassy were an overworked, highly-stressed crew. Two African embassies had recently suffered terrorist attacks, and the place stung with anxiety. The wait to go through the process was agonizing. We left the twins with Mom at the hotel, but when we finally met the diplomat, he said he needed to see the boys, so we picked them up and began to wait again. The agent was a cross between an over-zealous FBI agent and the office peon. He justified his existence by letting you know, in no uncertain terms, that your dream could die between his fingers.
We were shaken to our bones with fear when he asked for more proof that the boys were twins. All we could do was present him with the birth certificates and pray. He accepted the familial status of the boys, but not our paperwork. We returned to the hotel and made the required revisions. After another long day of scrutiny at the embassy, we finally got the permission to bring the boys to the U.S. We got on a plane for the long trip. Twenty hours on a plane! I held David the whole time. My mother held John. We wouldn’t put the boys down, even as we slept. Each baby was carried in a sling so they wouldn’t be dropped. Finally, after several months of work and waiting, we carried David and John down the hallway toward the airport exit. At the door with balloons, signs, and presents were John and David’s new family. As cameras flashed, John and David met Ben, Matt, and Rachel, their new brothers and sister. They saw their Grandpa and Grandma, Dad’s parents, for the first time. Aunt Jaci and Aunt Linda were there. Everyone talked and laughed and kissed and hugged.
The boys’ birthmother named them Laredo and Jabulani. Laredo means “Happiness” and Jabulani means “Celebration.” That is how we added even more happiness and celebration to our family.