20 years of heartache, then, at last, a baby

Nadeera and Sanjeeva with their daughter Mirilia.
Nadeera and Sanjeeva with their daughter Mirilia. Photo: Supplied

When I was six years old my mother got pregnant with my little brother. I have been obsessed with babies ever since.

Growing up, my interests veered into different subjects but whenever I was near a baby I would be vying to cuddle it and never in too much of a hurry to give it back to its mother. 

There was never a doubt in my mind that I wanted to be a mum. So once I got married in Colombo and migrated to New Zealand to set up a home with my husband, we got down to the serious business of making a baby.

Nadeera, Mirilia and Sanjeeva will celebrate being a family for three years in December.
Nadeera, Mirilia and Sanjeeva will celebrate being a family for three years in December. Photo: Supplied

When nothing happened in the first six months we weren't too worried. The new country, our new house, new friends and my new career were keeping me busy.

But once we celebrated our first wedding anniversary and some of our new friends announced their pregnancies, and my first niece was born in Sri Lanka, the yearning began. We thought we should go see our GP and find out whether we were doing something wrong.

After a few tests and a laparoscopy I was diagnosed with rampaging endometriosis and severe polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). The chances of us getting pregnant by ourselves were pretty slim and we started on the path of the assisted reproduction.

We tried the most low-tech procedures first and gradually had more surgeries, culminating in the most advanced IVF procedure available at the time in New Zealand, in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) with intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), coupled with the Colorado protocol.

Seven years, one chemical pregnancy, one miscarriage and lots of stress, tears and heartache later, we were tired.

We had long ago exhausted the public funding provided by the government, as well as a considerable amount of our own money. My body had taken the toll of being under fertility drugs and manufactured cycles for almost a decade and we were emotionally and financially drained.


We made the decision to stop any further medical interventions in our quest for a baby.

New hope

Learning that I hadn't given up the dream of being a mum, our fertility counsellor recommended that we look into fostering and adoption. Obviously being Sri Lankan, our first choice was to look for an orphan from Sri Lanka to be our baby.

We had to be approved by the New Zealand government department responsible for facilitating adoptions, so we were assigned a social worker who interviewed us to assess our eligibility to be adoptive parents.

To our amazement, we found out that to get the approval to be adoptive parents was as hard, if not harder, than getting pregnant itself, at least for us.

They wanted our incomes, expenses and financial liabilities, and we had to provide them with plans on how we planned on raising the baby. Would they have a religious education? Would we be happy with contact from the birth family (as only open adoptions are allowed in New Zealand)? They did home visits to see the potential baby's room, documented our philosophy on parenting, and wanted to know how we would pay the mortgage on one income when we had the baby, just to name a few.

And then there were the three full-day courses on adoption-related matters that were mandatory before we were given approval as prospective adoptive parents. The social worker wrote a home study report which was the all important document you need whether you are adopting locally or internationally.

Our social worker wrote to the Sri Lankan government on our behalf requesting for us to be considered for an orphan. A reply acknowledged our request but also advised us that there was a dearth of adoptable children in Sri Lanka and there may be a wait of many years, with the possibility of a child never being available for us for international adoption.

But we had seen the orphanages in Sri Lanka. We knew there were many children waiting for homes.

Our well-meaning friends and family back home offered to procure a child for us through various ways, mostly illegal or semi-legal, none of which we were willing to try. Our government-appointed social worker here had warned us of the risks and repercussions of canvassing for a child and our own ethics would not allow us to go about it any way but legally.

Five years waiting for a child to parent from Sri Lanka resulted in a total of one letter of acknowledgement of our request and nothing but dashed hopes and disappointment.

Not giving up

We had almost given up of ever becoming parents and were contemplating a childless future when our social worker suggested that we try to adopt domestically.

We went onto the local list but quickly realised that it was unlikely a white European birth mother, who were the majority that were placing children for adoption in New Zealand at the time, would pick a South Asian couple to be adoptive parents to her child.

There had been just one Indian/Asian baby that had ever become available for adoption in the local pool, and Maori and Pacific Islander's unwanted babies were almost always placed with whanau (family).

So our chances were pretty slim but we gave it a good shot anyway, hanging on to hope for just over a year.

My husband had given up by then and was trying to get me to focus on other things such as travel, career, and volunteer work, but I was still not quite ready to give up my dream of parenting a child.

So when our social worker suggested that we withdraw from the local list and look at adopting internationally, specifically from China, I was interested. But my husband wasn't; he saw that as another dead end road that would just lead to more disappointment.

However, once again we sat down with our social worker and did our paper chase for China. Our documents were sent to the China Centre for Adoption Affairs. We were told to expect a referral for a baby girl in eight month's time.

We were over the moon, as this was the first time we'd been given a timeline. We shared our good fortune with family and friends and got into the business of setting up a nursery and buying things for our daughter.

The eight months turned into a year without a referral. Then that turned into six years, with reasons such as the SARS scare and the Beijing Olympics temporarily stopping overseas referrals.

Then the western press started reporting on China's problem with the abandonment of girl babies due to the one child policy and its growing gender imbalance. This angered the Chinese government, resulting in them drastically reducing the number of children available for international adoption, claiming that child abandonment did not happen in China any more.

Meanwhile, the western press using under cover reporters were reporting on overcrowded orphanages with appalling conditions: babies sleeping eight to a cot meant for one baby, infanticide, and abandoned babies dying by the road side in the harsh winter months.

This was a harrowing time for us. We'd had set our hearts on a baby from China, and this news broke our heart.

The lucky ones

Almost seven years into the wait, we received a phone call from our social worker saying that she had received a referral of a baby girl for us from China.

My husband and I were in opposite ends of the city at the time, and we raced to the social worker's office, excited to see the face of our daughter for the first time.

It was the best day of our lives.

She was then 16 months old and lived in an orphanage in Guangzhou, in Southern China. After shedding many happy tears we signed on the dotted line agreeing to be her adoptive parents.

Three months later, we travelled to China to bring her home.

Our beautiful daughter is now four and a half years old, and we will celebrate being a family for three years in December.

She has adjusted amazingly and caught up in all the development milestones. She is bilingual, understanding and speaking English and Sinhalese, and is a well-adjusted, beautiful, happy and loving child who knows that she is wanted and loved. She also knwos that she had a 'tummy mummy' who loved her but wasn't lucky enough to keep her.

Every year on her birthday we light a candle for her tummy mummy and think about her.

When people comment on how lucky our daughter is we always say we are the lucky ones, as she has enriched our lives in more ways than we imagined. All the heartache of our failed IVF attempts, miscarriages and the harrowing wait is just a distant memory now.