Adopting from abroad: I asked myself was I doing the right thing taking her from her culture

I asked myself was I doing the right thing taking her from her culture and birth place?

Sandra Doody and her daughter Sarah, at home in Stillorgan, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Sandra Doody and her daughter Sarah, at home in Stillorgan, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

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Sandra Doody is the adoptive mother of 14-year-old Sarah. “The adoption process took five years from when I first decided I wanted to adopt until the time I got Sarah. Initially, I didn’t think single people could adopt, but that changed. I knew I always wanted children, but giving birth to a baby wasn’t a big issue for me. I believe you make a family – whether it’s with a biological child, an adopted child or a step-child.

“I adopted Sarah from China in October, 2004, when she was 16 months old. She hadn’t been in an orphanage, but was with a foster family. She cried inconsolably for the first two weeks. I asked myself was I doing the right thing taking her from her culture and birth place?

“I had started to learn Mandarin before I adopted Sarah, but it turned out she didn’t understand what I was saying as she had been learning a different dialect. However, she had a great way of communicating by mimicking everything I did. I had 26 weeks leave from the company I worked for at the time.

“Sarah was very upset when she started school so we did some research to find out about her foster family in China which made her a lot happier. I also got all Sarah’s medical and developmental reports and photos of her as a young baby.

“Sometimes, I’ve had experiences in public places where people don’t connect Sarah to me because we are ethnically different. Sarah has also been teased sometimes about not having a father – but she’s learned to say that yes, she does have a father who is in China.

“Over time, I found that Sarah was getting upset when she was in childcare and school partly due to the impact of my excessive workload, but also due to teachers having little awareness of adoption and the potential impact on a child’s development. She also used to cry a lot when she woke up after sleeping. I decided to retrain as a primary teacher and now work with children who have attachment issues.

“In the beginning, I felt the birth mother’s sense of loss of how she had given up this wonderful child. I never say that Sarah is adopted because I believe adoption shouldn’t define her. Sometimes, I say that she came into the family through adoption. I’ve taught her not to feel she has to answer questions people ask her. She can simply say ‘that’s private or that’s personal’.

“I’m also up-front about talking about racism and racist attitudes so that she’ll be open to talking to me about anything that might confront her. Sarah had classes in Mandarin when she was younger, but she gave them up for gymnastics. Now, she’s hockey mad. She also speaks Irish at a high level.

“We went to China together a few years ago which was a watershed moment for Sarah. Up until then, she had always identified as being Chinese, but while in China, she realised how different she was and considers herself Irish now. We met Sarah’s foster parents which reassured us that she had been well cared for. Because our family unit is perceived to be different, I believe this has made me more inclusive and empathic as a person.

“Friends and family have been very supportive, but sometimes, I feel that I should be able to deal with things myself. As an adoptive parent, you want to be the perfect parent. There is a huge sense of responsibility.”

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