Shelley and Dave Mason, both in their mid-30s, had spent nine long years involved in fertility treatments – assisted fertilisation, numerous operations and other therapies, before considering adoption. “I couldn’t handle IVF,” explains Shelley. “We were fostering for a few years, and the fertility ups and downs were destroying us. We decided there are a lot of kids in the world who need a home, so we would adopt.”
They had to wait a couple of years until the Expression of Interest opened in Queensland, “so we could get on the list for the waiting list just to apply,” says Shelley.
“Once that opened, in 2006, within a week we were undergoing education with the department and we had Sam within 12 months – one of the quickest adoptions in Queensland.” Shelley is referring to her son, Samuel, who she and Dave travelled to Taiwan to meet and bring back with them four years ago. Sam didn’t have a great start in life.
“Sam was a very sick child,” Shelley recounts. “He was three months premature, weighing just 1900gm when he was born. He was sick with ear infections and high temperatures. Initially, he was diagnosed autistic, but after four or five hours of play therapy every day play, he is a different child. He has conquered a lot of the challenges and today he is responsive and affectionate. He has done a complete 360. They think it must have been a trauma disorder.”
Shelley and Dave have created a loving, supportive environment that has helped change Sam from an infant with attachment issues to a happy little fellow who loves hanging out with his daddy.
“We made play a priority,” says Shelley, who in fact, started up her online business, Lime Tree Kids, following her own research in to “sensory toys and funky things to promote fun and attachment with Sam”.
“In seven months, we now carry more than 600 different products – gifts, toys anything you need for children from one to six years. I was inspired by Sam. My husband is a web developer and we had been thinking about starting up a business for me. When Sam arrived, I looked all over the world for the right kinds of interesting toys for him. Then it made sense for me to start selling the products.”
The hard work and perseverence over the four years since have “all been worth it,” says Shelley.
“Sam is a beautiful little boy. He is speaking, though delayed. We understand him! He has just started pre-school and is already writing his name.”
Shelley acknowledges that while the best place for a child is with his or her biological parents in their native country, children in Taiwan are not readily adopted. “Particularly children with special needs. Sam has been given a whole lot of opportunities and assistance that he would otherwise not have been able to receive. It was meant to be.”
Back home, Shelley, Dave and Sam participate in play groups and family days with the Taiwan support group and other adoptive families. “There is a massive number of families now, with children from China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand and Ethiopia, which we catch up with regularly for multicultural days. There are about 90 families just in our Taiwan group.”
Soon, the Mason family will add a fourth. Waiting in the same orphanage in Taipei is a daughter for Shelley and Dave. “Sienna is six months old. We are flying out today and will finally meet her on Monday.”
From the few photos they receive every four weeks, Shelley and Dave can tell she is “really cute, very healthy and happy”.
“She is in a much better state than Sam. Sienna is bursting with good health. We are so excited, but also nervous. It’s a big deal for her, and for us. It’s effectively bringing home somebody else’s child and suddenly making them your own. It can be a shock for everybody.”
Fortunately, the department works closely with prospective families to ensure issues relating to health, psychological effects, attachment and settling in are all observed and addressed. And the regulations are so strict both here and in the native country of the children, only ideal candidates make it through.
As Shelley explains: “You have to fit the Queensland criteria and then the country of adoption’s criteria. There are a few countries which specify which religion families should be. For Taiwan it was suited to parents with a practicing Christian lifestyle and beliefs. Then there’s your BMI index, which has to be below a certain level, income, age has to be below 40, married for two or more years, in Queensland you can’t be a single person or in same sex relationship. Some countries have stipulations on the number of kids in your family.
“There’s a two child limit in Taiwan. And for most of them, you have to commit to providing the child cultural exposure of their native country.”
Cost too is another factor. “The cost can be prohibitive, between $20,000 and $40,000. You have fees for psychological assessment, the cost of couriering documents, translation services, administration, post-adoption psychologist visits, doctors, medical appointments – all those things are expensive. Then you have to pay a fee to the country, to the orphanage to support the child.
“I don’t know many families who have more than two children, because it is a massive expense. The cost rules out adoption for many families, which is sad.”
But on the eve of meeting her baby girl for the first time, Shelley has only one thing on her mind, bonding with Sienna.
“She has never had that skin-to-skin contact, so it will be very odd for her and us. It’s strange. For about the first two months, it’s very weird, then the bonding starts. We have been on a massive journey with Sam, so we are ready for it this time.” The family will be in Taiwan for eight days, taking along Shelley’s best friend, Christina for another pair of helping hands. “On Monday, we have an appointment with the orphanage director. We will go to the orphanage and meet Sienna, find out about all her routines, then we leave with her. We will spend a few days with Sienna in the hotel to get her used to us. She’s never been outside the orphanage. But we are hoping she will relate to Sam and that will ease her in.
"We are taking a comforter, a couple of toys and a few other things, and we will be bringing back some of her toys and her sheets so she has that familiarity. Everything will be new for her – our smell, a group of people in her face all the time, the sounds, travelling on a plane. It’s overwhelming for us, imagine for a baby!”
If adoption is in your plans, Shelley recommends chatting to the advocacy group International Adoption Families of Queensland www.iafq.org.au
The Queensland Department of Communities has its Adoption Services site for the nuts and bolts. More at www.communities.qld.gov.au/childsafety/adoption/intercountry-adoption