83 Babies of the heart: The perfect fit
I’ve met many adoptive families and I am constantly amazed by how well they ‘fit’. It’s a fit that transcends race. It cuts to the heart and manifests in many ways, writes Karen Read
WHEN YOU HEAR Anton and Melita Poplett’s story, you get the sense that they were predestined to adopt. And when you meet Cayla, their charming four-year-old, she is 100 percent theirs; gregarious and sharp like her dad, and curious and kind like her mom.
To this day, the Cape Town couple, who’ve been married seven years, don’t know of any biological reason for their apparent inability to conceive after about two years of trying. But they know Cayla was always meant to be theirs.
Melita says that, in retrospect, enduring months of fertility treatment was far more emotionally taxing than the adoption process. Anton gets emotional: “I recall the feeling of helplessness during Melita’s last treatment, which was invasive, and from that point on, I took adoption more seriously because I didn’t want to see my wife go through that again.”
Having met women who had tried IVF and were suffering the aftereffects more than a decade later, the couple agreed they wouldn’t go that route.
They had discussed adoption during a course they did in preparation for marriage, and were on the same page, Anton says.
“Cayla was my third adopted ‘child’,” he jokes, pointing to Mikey, their Golden Retriever, and Bergie, their beloved pavement special. “I rescued Bergie from a drunk in a bottle store. It was a long and tricky negotiation,” he says.
Melita jumps in: “In all Cayla’s baby photos, Bergie’s there – photo bombing.” Jokes aside, she says that if you have pets before you have children, you must be mindful of the fact that it was their home first. She says Mikey and Bergie took to Cayla well as both dogs have easy personalities.
THE PROCESS The process of adopting Cayla took about one year, and when they got the call in early December 2013, they were more than ready.
Melita was even lactating. Having tried in vain to get her lactating friends to donate surplus breastmilk to her and having unsuccessfully tried to source some from the non-profit Milk Matters (which supplies donated breastmilk to premature babies), Melita decided to literally take matters into her own hands. “Milk Matters gives only to babies who weigh less than one kilo, and they never have a surplus. But they suggested I consult a lactation specialist. That’s how I discovered the Newman-goldfarb protocol, which is a method enabling adoptive moms to breastfeed. Basically, you take the contraceptive pill to trick your body into believing it’s pregnant. You do that for three months to allow the ducts to grow. And then when you get ‘the call’ from your social worker, you start taking a drug that mimics progesterone, which triggers lactation.” You usually have at least a few weeks, from the time of receiving the call from your social worker to tell you that they have a baby for you, to your actual placement date.
Melita remembers locking herself in the conference room at work to express. “The first week, all I got was drops, but eventually the milk began to flow. Although Cayla never took to being breastfed by me, she got my breastmilk for seven months.” Expressing was time-consuming and a labour of love, she says, in the same way that breastfeeding is for a biological mom. For Melita, it was more about the nourishment than the bonding. And there is clearly a beautiful bond between mom and daughter. KANGAROO PARENTS Melita is modest and heaps praise on Cayla’s kangaroo parents: “I know Cayla was deeply loved even before she came to us, because she is living what she has learnt.”
Like most adoptive parents, the Popletts are in awe of their child’s kangaroo parents. “Cayla’s kangaroo parents had been doing it for 13 years, and they were well into their 50s. Cayla was their 103rd child and she came with a scrapbook, made by them. It is the most awesome book of love.
“I’ll never forget having a conversation with the kangaroo dad while he was changing a nappy. The whole time he maintained eye contact with me,” Anton marvelled.
I go over to my adopted son, who is playing rather quietly with Cayla near us. I smother him in kisses and tell him how much I love him. And Cayla quips: “My daddy loves me very much; my daddy will say that to me.”
Indeed, Cayla knows love. She gets it in a multitude of ways.
Anton says the best advice he could give to a new father is, do all that you can to look after your wife so that she can look after baby. There’s no use you both being awake (and sleep-deprived) at the same time. YB
The perfect fit… Melita and Anton Poplett, with their daughter Cayla