Adoptive Parent of Two
For Grace Wanunda, the decision to adopt was nothing short of divine intervention. Adopting a child was the last thing on her mind and rightly so since she was single and was looking forward to having her own biological children some day. However, she had unknowingly been preparing for it for a while.
“I have always had a soft spot for people who were from humble backgrounds since I come from one as well,” she says as the interview kicks off. “I would often find myself helping out with needy children in church or in homes.”
In 2014, she distinctly remembers a period of about five months where she would get recurring dreams about helping children. She took it as a God-sent sign to be more active in the lives of the children and therefore started paying school fees for one of the children. The dreams, however, did not cease. “It made me feel like what I was doing was not enough,” she narrates.
Around the same period, she came across media maven Caroline Mutoko’s adoption story in a local magazine. “I saw the copy while in a salon and I got so emotional that I confided in my hair stylist about the dreams. She told me that I should think of adopting as well,” she reveals.
Her hair stylist further encouraged her pointing out that adopting while she was still single would be easier compared to if she were married as it could potentially cause problems. “She even offered to introduce me to one of her clients who worked with an adoption agency but I refused,” says Grace.
By a stroke of fate, the lady she was to be introduced to came into the salon and they got acquainted. Instead of following up on the conversation when they left, Grace got into her car and went home.
“I did not like the labels that were placed on people who adopted and of course I knew I would get married and have my own children. I had no qualms about helping a child, but it had to be from a distance,” she says, explaining her reluctance.
The thought, however, did not leave her mind and as she prayed over it, she challenged God that if her mother was on board with the idea, she would do it.
“I knew that my mother would not just welcome a complete stranger as her grandchild so when I told her, emphasising on the negatives, I knew she would refuse, which was what I secretly wanted,” she quips. “All she asked me was ‘what are you waiting for?’” she adds laughing.
Even after getting the sign that she needed, it still took her two months to finally get in touch with the adoption agency.
“When I started the process, I was so clueless which made the process seem harder. I also felt that it took too long and it was such an emotional journey because it took eight months for me to be matched with my child,” she says of her experience with the adoption process.
The first moments after she brought her five-month old daughter home, she felt the apprehension of every first-time parent. However, that soon gave way to an overwhelming sense of joy as her daughter, Angel, grew up.
“I am glad I had friends and family who supported me fully and readily welcomed the new addition to the family. I know there are other people who face stigma about adoption,” she says.
Owing to her experience, Grace started a Facebook page – Adoption is Beautiful, Kenya – to share her experiences and grow a support system comprising of other parents who had adopted or were planning to adopt, as well as adoptees.
In 2018, before her daughter turned four, she applied to adopt another child – her son Timothy. This time round, armed with knowledge, the process was smoother albeit still a bit long, something she is keen to address through a legal adoption agency that is in the works. Ideally, for her, the process should not be longer than six months.
As her children grow up, Grace is a happy lady. “Seeing the transformation that they have gone through is very fulfilling. What we have couldn’t have been achieved by just lending a hand from afar,” she explains, adding that she is not opposed to getting more children, either biologically or through adoption. She is, however, keen to emphasise that anyone who comes into her life must be accepting of her children.
She also urges people to be more receptive and encouraging to adoptive parents and adoptees even as she reveals that she has started introducing her daughter to the concept of adoption as she gradually lays ground for more serious discussion.
“I would encourage people to adopt; adoption does not make anyone a lesser parent or a lesser child. Adoption is beautiful, doable and godly,” she says in conclusion.
Growing up in Nyandarua County, Simon Njoroge, 33, knew he was different from other children right from the time he started nursery school. He was a victim of schoolyard jokes as schoolmates frequently referred to him as ‘mtoto wa kununuliwa’ (a bought child). Curious, he engaged his mother on why he was being made fun of. She in turn replied that it was nothing more than mere childish talk.
Soon enough, however, her answer would fail the test of time and prove insufficient. Around the age of eight, Simon friend’s mother who was expectant delivered a baby girl. Two months later, Simon’s mother, a single mum, came home with a baby.
“When my brother came home, I was able to join the dots as to why people referred to me as a ‘bought’ baby. My mother wasn’t expectant yet we had a brother. I realised that must’ve been how I came home,” says Simon.
Simon was never compelled to ask his mother about how his brother came about and life continued as usual. However, 12 years later, Simon’s mother passed on. It was while going through her belongings that Simon found his adoption certificate. It was then the implications of being adopted dawned on him.
“When my mum passed on, it hit me very hard that the people I knew and considered to be my family were by virtue of her. She was the connecting factor between us and I wondered if my safety net would continue after that,” he recalls.
The safety net that Simon enjoyed was indeed shaken. A property dispute emerged between him and his uncle and while they were able to retain their mother’s property, a section of family members didn’t take it kindly that the issue was contested in the first place.
Another useful piece of information also emerged from his adoption certificate. Simon found out he was born in Thika District Hospital, now Thika Level 5 Hospital. However, there were no names indicating who his birth parents were and where they came from.
“Imagine a world where you have no clue about who your biological mother is, her name, tribe or where she comes from. I always had a feeling that there was something I needed to know that I didn’t. I also wondered what led to my adoption in the first place,” explains Simon.
Facing an identity crisis, Simon poured himself into research. It is also at the same time that he first went public with his story. Simon has made peace with the fact that all he will ever know about his life prior to his adoption is where he was born. In fact, for him, the victory is that he’s been able to carve out his own identity despite the dead end.
“The upside of my life is my mum. A lot of the things I believe in are what she taught me and I observed from her. She was a strong-willed, no-nonsense woman. One who easily fit into the shoes of a father, fought for what she believed and at a time when women empowerment had not caught on,” he says.
According to Simon, fear is one of the biggest challenges facing the adoption process in Kenya, “Some guardians withhold information from their adopted children because of unaddressed fears. If they had a platform for those fears to be allayed and were given skills and empowered to handle the pressure that comes with discussing it, they might navigate it better. I see people who move towns when they adopt while others pretend to be pregnant so that people think they gave birth.”
Another challenge he cites is stigma. “When you go out to the wider community as an adopted individual, people look at you differently. From the family, community and policy level, there’s a lot of exclusion. I have had a difficult time explaining myself to policy makers because they see me as an object of the policy paper they made in a boardroom not realising their decision has a direct impact on my life and I have some expertise on the matter by virtue of being adopted,” he shares.
Simon, who is a father of two young girls, says his children have already started asking him about their grandparents. He encourages parents and children in the adoption system to speak out boldly and proudly.
“Hiding sends the wrong notion that there’s something wrong with adoption. People should be courageous enough to talk about it so that if people have an issue with adoption, they can be addressed,” he concludes.
Frequently Asked Questions on Adoption
Leah Kiguatha is an advocate of the High Court and has been practicing child law, family law and real estate law for 15 years. We got to sit down with her at Mwaura and Kiguatha Advocates offices in Upper Hill where she answers some of the frequently asked questions on adoption.
What is adoption?
This is the process of completely cutting off the link between the child and biological parents and transferring the parental rights and duties to the adoptive parents. For this to happen, the child has either been abandoned or has been given up for adoption by the biological parent(s).
What misconception abounds about adoption?
The notion that when you adopt, you don’t know where this child comes from, their ancestry or even how they will turn out. I’m of the belief that even when you have your own child, you do not know what they shall become as well and this should not hinder one from adopting.
How does a child get into the adoption system?
The child is given up for adoption, for example, if the mother is in distress and feels that she would be unable to bring up the child. She would then have to approach an adoption society even before delivery for counselling and to discuss the possibilities of giving up the child for adoption.
The law has provided room of up to six weeks after birth in case the mother changes her mind and during this period the child will not be placed in an adoptive home. The other ways children get into the system is if they are abandoned and investigations on their parentage fails to bear fruit and no one comes forth to claim them. Sometime, a child is already in a family by virtue of being an orphaned niece, nephew or cousin, and there is a need to ensure that they are secured through formal adoption.
What are some of the qualifications for one to be an adoptive parent?
The adopter has to be over 25 years of age. They have to be 21 years older than the child they are adopting. If you are a couple, you have to be legally married. In cases where one is single, if she is a lady, she will have to adopt a girl and if it is a man, he will have to adopt a boy. It’s only in special circumstances that either the single man or lady is allowed to adopt a different gender from their own.
You cannot adopt if you are over the age of 65; if you would want to, there has to be special circumstance for that as well.
What are these special circumstances?
If you are a single woman and you want to adopt a boy, you would have to have a biological or adopted child whom you are already raising successfully and probably now you want a sibling for them or probably the child has special needs for example physical disability, that you have knowledge on and can take care of. Another scenario would be that the child could be a nephew that you are bringing up and you need to secure them in the family.
How does one go through adopting a child?
The first step would be to go to a registered adoption society who will then investigate and assess you to see whether you are fit to adopt. Then it will match you with a child who has been declared free for adoption.
Are foreigners allowed to adopt?
In 2014, the Cabinet announced a moratorium on foreign adoption. So in the last four years, no foreigner has been allowed to adopt a child.
What’s the difference between a children’s home and the foster care system?
A children’s home is an institution like a boarding school and the children stay there and don’t go home for holidays. Foster care, on the other hand, is placement in a family; one has to go to a local children’s officer to approve you and then authorise a children’s home to place a child with you.
It is important to know that for the foster care, you are not cutting the links with the biological parents. The foster care system just takes care of the welfare of the child but you are not legally responsible for their financial needs. With foster care one has to renew their registration every year for them to be accepted to take care of the child.
Last words on adoption?
The beauty of adoption is that it gives that child a chance. It gives them security and a sense of belonging once they are adopted. This is the best thing that could happen to a child in need of a family. There is no downside that comes with adopting; for me I see it as a “happy law.” The end result, where the child gets to be secured with the adoptive parent(s), is fulfilling.