Real life

Louise was dev­as­tated that she couldn’t have chil­dren of her own, but hav­ing wit­nessed the hor­rors of or­phan­ages in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, she knew ex­actly where she would find a daugh­ter...

Friday - - Contents - Louise Tim­mins, 38, lives with Paul and Marika in Lin­colnshire, UK

“Why my Dh120,000 baby is the best money I ever spent.”

Trail­ing my fin­gers along the rack of pink romper suits in the Marks and Spencer baby­wear depart­ment, I felt a lump form in my throat. I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold it to­gether. As I clutched one of the lit­tle out­fits, tears welled up and I be­gan to cry un­con­trol­lably.

All I wanted, more than any­thing in the world, was a baby. And here I was, buy­ing another gift for another friend who’d an­nounced another preg­nancy. It just didn’t seem fair.

For me, my life lacked pur­pose with­out a child and I had so much to give – but it just wasn’t hap­pen­ing.

My hus­band, Paul, and I had met at univer­sity when we were 18. I’d al­ready been di­ag­nosed with Poly­cys­tic Ovary Syn­drome (PCOS), but back then the fact that I might not be able to have a baby hadn’t re­ally been a con­cern – as far as I could see, PCOS meant I didn’t have reg­u­lar pe­ri­ods like my friends, but that was about the ex­tent of it. I didn’t fathom the im­pli­ca­tions of the di­ag­no­sis. It was only when Paul and I mar­ried when we were 23 that I be­gan to think about how hard it might be for us to start a fam­ily.

“If we can’t have chil­dren, it doesn’t mat­ter,’’ Paul used to say. He could have quite hap­pily made life work with­out chil­dren, but for me, it just had to hap­pen.

When we were 25, we started try­ing. Af­ter a year, I was put on a fer­til­ity drug called Clomifene. I could never have pre­pared my­self for just how dif­fi­cult it would be to have my hor­mones tam­pered with in such an in­tru­sive way. The drug made me in­cred­i­bly un­happy. I suf­fered from mood swings and took ev­ery­thing out on Paul.

He took my moods in his stride, but it wasn’t easy. It put our mar­riage un­der huge pres­sure. Ev­ery month I’d hope I was preg­nant but time and again my hopes were raised then dashed.

It was emo­tion­ally ex­haust­ing and con­sumed my ev­ery wak­ing mo­ment. Ev­ery time the fer­til­ity clinic called and said the test was neg­a­tive, I felt like a fail­ure.

Most women trial Clomifene for six months. For two long years, we per­se­vered.

Mean­while, friends kept an­nounc­ing preg­nan­cies, in­clud­ing my best friend who one day called to say she was 10 weeks preg­nant. I tried to con­grat­u­late her, but as I hung up the phone, I buried my head in Paul’s arms, cry­ing away the pain. It wasn’t that I was jeal­ous

of my preg­nant friends, but their preg­nan­cies only served to high­light for me just what I was miss­ing.

I felt bro­ken. Ev­ery­one else was ca­pa­ble of get­ting preg­nant, why not me?

It made me an­gry that I had to take all the drugs, mess with my hor­mones and my moods... I was de­pressed, life was no fun any­more.

Af­ter two years on the fer­til­ity drug, Paul called time on it. “It’s not work­ing,” he told me gen­tly.

Paul saved me from my­self. I prob­a­bly would have kept go­ing for­ever, ig­nor­ing the ter­ri­ble side ef­fects. But I still wanted a baby more than any­thing.

We took a year off and I needed it. It was a year for us – no longer on the ham­ster wheel of fer­til­ity drugs and heart-break­ing calls from the fer­til­ity clinic.

Then we felt ready to start dis­cussing adop­tion. I’d spent many years trav­el­ling around de­vel­op­ing coun­tries and in my job as part­ner­ship ad­viser for a char­ity or­gan­i­sa­tion, The Lep­rosy Mis­sion, I knew how much chil­dren in poorer coun­tries needed a chance. I re­alised it didn’t mat­ter if my child was bi­o­log­i­cally mine or not – I would love an adopted child just as much.

I’d been to Nepal and loved it and we agreed that we wanted to adopt a girl from there.

For some fam­i­lies liv­ing in poverty in the Nepali cul­ture, less value was placed on girls than boys. They were seen as an ex­pense and were of­ten aban­doned. I read horror sto­ries about baby girls be­ing dumped in fields. Or­phan­ages were over­crowded and of­ten, older kids were put out on the streets to make room for ba­bies.

So in 2004, we be­gan the long and ex­pen­sive process of find­ing our baby.

We needed close to £20,000 (around Dh120,000) – £5,000 each to be paid to the UK and Nepali gov­ern­ments, £1,000 for the baby’s visa, £3,000 to be paid to the or­phan­age as part of its fees and then the cost of tick­ets, stay in Nepal, and clothes and stuff for the baby. I will be eter­nally grate­ful to all the friends, fam­ily and com­plete strangers who helped us. We an­nounced in our church that we were des­per­ate for funds and within eight weeks, our com­mu­nity had raised £10,000. The rest of the money we pooled in from our sav­ings.

For a year, a so­cial worker vis­ited us and en­sured we were ready for what would be an in­va­sive process. We were asked all about our fam­ily his­tory and the strength of our mar­riage. Af­ter the dif­fi­cult few years we’d had, Paul and I could have tack­led any­thing; we were stronger than ever.

In our ig­no­rance, we thought it would prob­a­bly take about a year. Af­ter six months, the depart­ment of ed­u­ca­tion signed off on our adop­tion re­quest and we went out to buy a cot and baby clothes. Then Nepal an­nounced it was clos­ing in­ter­na­tional adop­tions. It was ex­pected to re­open eight months later, so we du­ti­fully waited.

Two years of empty prom­ises later, we didn’t know what to do. We were in limbo – we’d in­vested so much time and emo­tion in ap­ply­ing to adopt from Nepal, we felt it would be a step back­wards to can­cel our plans and pick a dif­fer­ent coun­try. We didn’t dare take time off work – Paul was a chief in­spec­tor at Lin­colnshire po­lice and I still worked at The Lep­rosy Mis­sion – or spend any money on the house or make any plans be­cause we never knew if they were about to call.

In 2007, we were told Nepal was re­open­ing in­ter­na­tional adop­tions and a year later, it did. I had friends in Nepal through work and they did so much to help – con­tin­u­ously bad­ger­ing the gov­ern­ment on our be­half and as­sur­ing us our case was be­ing seen to. Al­though it was dif­fi­cult be­ing at the mercy of a for­eign gov­ern­ment, I was hap­pier then than ever.

I was less jeal­ous of my friends and I didn’t break down into tears ev­ery day – in my heart I knew that our time would come.

And then one day in De­cem­ber 2010, we were sent an email from my friend in Nepal who had been help­ing with our case. At­tached was a pho­to­graph of a beau­ti­ful lit­tle baby girl called Marika. She was eight months old. “This will be your daugh­ter!” the email read.

I burst into tears of hap­pi­ness – fi­nally I was go­ing to be a mum. I was so ex­cited I couldn’t do any work for the rest of the day, in­stead dart­ing from desk to desk in my of­fice show­ing any­one and ev­ery­one the pic­ture.

I wanted to know ev­ery­thing I could about Marika. All the or­phan­age could tell us was that her mum had taken her to a hos­pi­tal when she was just one day old and left her there. I saw that as ev­i­dence Marika’s mum did care about her; she took her to a hos­pi­tal so she’d know she was safe. I felt we owed it to Marika’s birth mother to give her all the love we could. Now we just had to wait… Months dragged by, and fi­nally

in July 2011 we were sud­denly told we had two weeks to come and meet Marika or the adop­tion would be can­celled.

Pan­de­mo­nium en­sued – we raced about buy­ing car seats and things for the nurs­ery, booked time off work and tried to guess what size baby clothes to buy.

And then, on July 6, 2011, we trav­elled to Lal­it­pur, Nepal.

Twelve years af­ter we’d first started try­ing for a baby, we were about to meet our daugh­ter. We were ex­cited but ter­ri­fied.

Were we crazy? What if she didn’t warm to us? What if we don’t bond? We had so many ques­tions, so much an­tic­i­pa­tion. Marika was 16 months old then and as the carer car­ried her out, she clung to her, ter­ri­fied by the very sight of us. Not only was our skin a dif­fer­ent colour, we spoke a dif­fer­ent lan­guage and Paul, at al­most 1.9m, was far taller than the few men Marika had ever seen.

Marika was placed on my chest and even­tu­ally, she fell asleep. It was the great­est feel­ing in the world – Paul cried as he watched us.

On the sec­ond day, I sat with Marika as she ten­ta­tively rolled a ball to­wards Paul. He rolled it back. She smiled. Goose­bumps raced up my arms – we were a fam­ily.

Peo­ple had warned me, “Don’t worry if you don’t love her straight away.” But I loved Marika so much. From the mo­ment I saw her, there was no hes­i­ta­tion, no fear. She was tiny, mal­nour­ished, suf­fer­ing from worms and par­a­sites, be­ing fed on baby rice and tea­spoons of wa­ter. All I wanted to do was pro­tect her.

We spent the next few weeks to­gether at a guest house within a hos­pi­tal, so Marika could ad­just to us be­fore we took her home. She was wary and we needed her com­plete trust. On our sixth day, a vol­un­teer at the hos­pi­tal, who knew the lengths we’d gone to for this lit­tle baby girl, smiled as she watched Paul blow rasp­ber­ries on Marika’s tummy, mak­ing Marika gig­gle. “It took you six years to adopt Marika,” she said, “but it only took Marika six days to adopt you.”

We stayed in Nepal for a month and in Au­gust flew home. Wait­ing I hardly re­mem­ber what life was like be­fore she came along.

Moth­er­hood is tir­ing and hard work and won­der­ful and all the things I hoped it would be. Paul is be­sot­ted by our daugh­ter – he takes her swim­ming and when I watch them leave the house hand in hand, I feel so ful­filled.

Marika was in a sorry state when we found her. But I watch her now, a healthy, bub­bly three-year-old who never stops chat­ter­ing, loves her friends, her bal­let, her toys, and I can’t be­lieve it is the same lit­tle girl.

We know it’s im­por­tant to keep Marika’s her­itage alive – we have a big map of Nepal in her room and

Moth­er­hood is tir­ing and hard work and all the won­der­ful things I hoped it would be

for us were sacks-full of baby clothes from my friends whose daugh­ters had long since grown out of them. They’d saved ev­ery­thing for me. As I sorted through the bags, I saw the very romper suits that I’d bought my friends’ ba­bies all those years ago.

My friends had never given up hope. It took me back to my melt­down in Marks and Spencer, all the pain and des­per­a­tion. I wished that I had known then that one day, my own lit­tle girl would be wear­ing those clothes. It’s hard for me to think back to that sad­ness now. Marika has healed all that pain – our Nepali friends visit of­ten. She’s too young for ques­tions now, but we al­ways will be open about where she came from. One day, I’ll take Marika back to Nepal. I want her to be proud of her roots.

Paul and I are pre­par­ing to adopt another child – a boy – to com­plete our fam­ily. Peo­ple say when you adopt, the baby doesn’t grow in your womb, it grows in your heart. My jour­ney to moth­er­hood took me to the brink and back, but Marika is worth ev­ery tear and ev­ery penny.

Twelve years af­ter first try­ing to have a baby, Louise be­came a mum

Marika eas­ily set­tled into her new home in Lin­colnshire

While first a lit­tle scared of Paul, Marika and he bonded within a week

REAL LIFE

Louise and Paul plan to adopt a lit­tle boy to com­plete

their fam­ily

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