This book is based on true events. However, the names of all persons connected to our adoption are fictitious. Any resemblance to real people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
The opening instalment from the first chapter, Too White To Adopt.
June 5, 2008
The queue in the customs hall at Heathrow was long, full of weary and bad-tempered travellers, but I didn’t care. I was just happy to be home. We stood behind the yellow line, waiting our turn to be called to the desk.
Rick went ahead and put our three passports triumphantly on
The agent, her skin pallid, her brows wrinkled, peered at us over her spectacles with suspicion. I wondered if it was because our passports were each of a different nationality; his British, mine Italian, and Gaia’s Mexican. She looked down and then looked up again, this time with a stony visage.
“Where have you been?”
“Mexico,” I said happily.
“For how long?”
“Why were you there for five months? What were you doing?”
“We were adopting our daughter. This is her,” Rick said.
“Adopting, were you?”
I sensed she was angling for something.
“Yes, we went especially to adopt a child.”
“Is she yours then?”
What a strange question, I thought.
“Of course she is ours,” Rick said proudly. “See? There’s our surnames on her passport”
She shot him a glare, then fixed us with a look that said: Here is another couple trying to cheat me.
“Did you visit the Embassy before travelling?”
“Of course we did.” Rick’s reply was clipped. The poor guy had been suffering food poisoning for weeks and barely had the energy to stand, let alone put up with an inquisition.
“We have all our documents here in case you wish to see them,”
I said helpfully. She ignored me and looked hard at Rick.
“Mr Bowden, I will have to detain this baby and yourselves.”
I gripped Rick’s hand. He looked at me as if to say, “I’ll talk.”
“What are you talking about? This is nonsense.”
The agent wrote something on a piece of paper.
Gaia, who was unsurprisingly exhausted after thirty-six hours of bus and plane travel, began to scream. I ground my teeth and tried not to cry.
“Didn’t you hear? I am detaining your daughter.” She handed
Rick the piece of paper. “Follow me,” she said.
We followed her to a tiny cubicle, where two Mexican girls had already taken up involuntary residence in one corner. They both looked scared. One of them was sobbing. We looked at the paper where she had written Gaia’s name. It read:
Gaia Polini, I am detaining you. I am also confiscating your passport.
“How can you arrest a baby?” I asked. She shot me a look of pure poison, then turned to Rick.
“Listen to me. There are a lot of things you are supposed to have done before you brought that baby into this country. You are supposed to have interviews with social workers, and something called a Home Study…”
I jumped up.
“But we did all that. I can tell you the name of our social worker, and even the name of the person we met today at the embassy before leaving!”
“I am not talking to you. You are not even British.”
This woman was pure bile. I wanted to scream at her, to shake her, to say, “Don’t you understand what we have gone through to bring this child here?”
She ignored the question and then began to address Rick as if he was intellectually challenged.
“Now, Richard. Let me tell you why I have put you in this little room. We are here to protect the welfare of the children, and you clearly haven’t followed the legal steps to get you here. There are
many people like you who try and bring babies illegally into the country.”
God, did she think we were child traffickers? I had to put her right.
“But… but…” I said.
Rick shot me a look that said, Please keep your mouth shut.
Gaia, meanwhile, was yelling at the top of her lungs, despite my best efforts to rock her to sleep. Her nappy was wet, and she was hungry, but I was too scared to say or do anything, I had run out of boiled water to mix with the formula milk, so I couldn’t even comfort her with her bottle.
“Now, what documents, if any, do you have with you?” she asked Rick.
“We have them all,” I said to Rick.
I started pulling them out of the trolley suitcase.
“Home Study…” I was spelling them out one by one to him as I was getting them out, knowing she would hear and realise she was wrong.
“References, CRB checks, finance checks, birth certificates, marriage certificate, psychology report, doctor’s report, certificate of eligibility, Gaia’s birth certificate, adoption order from the court of Colima, ticket of meeting with the British embassy.”
As I finished emptying the bag, a look of surprise appeared on her face. Then she turned to me and said: “I need your passport too.
I am confiscating that also.”
There’s a name for people like us who can have children but choose to adopt instead. We are called preferential adopters. How we got to that point is a result of my family background and political beliefs, Rick’s own beliefs about society, the desire to share our lives with a little one, and a hell of a lot of debate.
Rick and I had been married for two years, but we’d been together for six. We were happy and childless by choice. We were
the stereotypical high-flying couple with dream jobs that took us around the world, often in different directions. We commuted regularly to exotic cities, and for both of us the lifestyle was addictive… for a time. But the novelty had worn off. We began to feel like it just wasn’t quite enough. We had so much to give that it didn’t feel right to keep it all to ourselves. We had gone back and forth with the thought of starting a family. Yet something about having a baby just didn’t seem ‘real’.
Our conversations fluctuated wildly between for and against. We’d talk about how exciting our life was compared to that of our friends with children, but how uninspiring, exhausting, and empty it could be. Relationships need to move forward, and frankly there are only so many weekend breaks you can have before you think: I’ve done this all before. There has to be more. That ‘more’ was a family.
Falling in love had happened relatively late for us, and we knew better than to take it for granted. We both felt we had been able to put the ‘soul’ in our soulmate relationship. We didn’t just like each other; we each thought the other would make a great parent.
When I hit thirty-five, I realised that I didn’t want young teenagers when I was heading towards sixty. For Rick, this appeared to be the signal he was waiting for. We began to discuss the possibility of children in earnest. For most people, that discussion would usually revolve around the woman taking folic acid, keeping track of exactly when her period came, and ensuring they had sex on the ‘right’ days.
“We are trying for a baby,” they would then announce to their friends.
Our methodology was more unorthodox. For a start, I had strong social and political beliefs, borne of the teachings of an intellectual trade union leader father and a savvy mother. My parents gave me a biological brother, but also an adopted
one. Growing up with Francesco taught me that not everyone in the world was as lucky as we were. I am sure there are many middle-class children in the Western World who would not consider having to share the sofa bed in the lounge with a little brother as ‘lucky’.
We lived in a tiny flat, and we had hardly any toys. But we had a family, and we had love, which my parents felt we could share with another, less fortunate person. They taught us that love is something you give away. The more you give, the more it grows, and this is how we help create a better world. They also taught us that a home is not a gigantic house or a bedroom to yourself, but a roof over your head, a nourishing meal, and plenty of cuddles. My views on social justice and opportunity were established well before I became a news journalist and saw the world in all its beautiful humanity and ugly despair.
Rick had also come from a very socially aware family. He grew up in a council flat in Scotland, with parents whose flower power ethics stayed with them throughout adulthood and influenced their teaching careers. He shared my views on home, family, and love. We were in perfect agreement: love makes the world a better place.
One lazy, rainy November weekend, after making love, I lay on my back while Rick lazily stroked my stomach.
“You’d look stunning as a pregnant woman,” he said.
“What?” I smiled.
“You heard me.”
“Really… I wasn’t necessarily thinking that’s how we would start our family.”
“What do you mean?”
“There are already so many children in the world with no love in their lives. You know I’ve always felt we would do more good by opening our hearts to a child who’s already here, whose life would be miserable otherwise.”
“So no baby with my eyes and your hair?”
“Is it so important to you to have a little mini-me? You men and your egos!”
“Fra,” he said. “You can’t simplify it like that. Humans have a biological and emotional need to procreate. You can’t just say that has to be put aside in order to help suffering children. You’re opening up a big Pandora’s box on the whole business of existence if you do that.”
But the more we talked about it, the more he became open to thinking beyond having a child in his own image. He was more curious about adoption than afraid of it. Initially our deliberations were abstract, but over a period of months they became more serious and specific.
“I am in two minds about it, really,” he said one night over dinner in our favourite local restaurant.
“I know you are. But don’t you agree that there are so many children in need in this world that we don’t need to necessarily procreate? Plus we have limited resources, and there are too many people on our suffering planet, right?”
Silence, while he pretended to read the menu. I turned to the waiter, who’d been waiting.
“What do you think? Do you have children?”
The poor guy had nowhere to go.
“Er, no, I don’t, but… I think adoption is a good thing to do if you feel that strongly. Can I take your order?”
I wasn’t listening. I was on my soapbox.
“It’s upsetting how in today’s supposed ‘developed world’ we just want, want, want. We want children, we want a boy or a girl, we want two or three or just one, we want them white, black or a nice mixture of the two. We want them to look like us. I guess I am no better as what I am really saying is that I want to adopt! Oh, it’s so complicated.”
Rick tried to change the subject.
“Fra, they’ve got your favourite risotto on again. Look, wild mushroom. Come on. We’d better order.”
“I just know…in my heart that it’s… right… at least for me…for us…”
“Francesca is having mushroom risotto. I’ll have the halibut, thanks.”
He’d had enough for now. But I knew he was thinking about it.
More tomorrow …….