Published: May 2019
By: Chanel Serfontein
Emma was our child
Family has played a major role in the creation and history of WS Pianos and has always been a focal point in terms of how owners Werner and Naomi live their lives. Therefore, it came as no surprise that the couple was eager to get married and start their own family, and continue the lineage that is the driving force behind their business. However, the road was not as smooth as they had dreamed. It was only after seemingly insurmountable challenges that they were finally able to realise their dream, and even now it is not all sunshine and roses. This is their story.
Werner and I had our dream wedding in 2007. It was a celebration of us and our love, and the beginning of our journey to having the family we so yearned for. In a dream-like state, blissfully wedded, and with a booming business, we felt optimistic and, to be frank, indestructible.
But things changed.
We started trying for a baby in 2007, but time after time we were disappointed. It broke our hearts every time the test came back negative but we kept trying until 2016, when we eventually came to accept our lot in life and started considering alternative options to make our dream of being parents come true. The first choice that came to mind was adoption. We did a lot of thinking, and the more we considered it, the clearer it became that this was the right thing for us. We did not want to go through the process of fertility treatments, and felt that there are more than enough children in South Africa that deserve a loving home. In 2017 there were 2.8 million orphans in South Africa – that meant 2.8 million innocent, defenceless children without a safe home and loving parents. We started to get excited at the prospect of not only making our dream come true, but also at the opportunity to give a child a loving home. A further deciding factor was my own experience: I was adopted and had the most incredible parents, who gave me a happy childhood and more love than I could handle, and if I could provide even a fraction of that happiness for another soul, I would be over the moon.
And so it was decided – we were going to adopt.
The process was long and difficult. Deciding to bring someone into your home for the rest of your life is not an easy decision to make, and we had an added challenge – we desperately wanted twins. We slogged through the plethora of paperwork and checklists that needed to be completed and the criteria that needed to be met, all the time dreaming of the day we could take our children home. We visited several orphanages and our hearts broke knowing that of the thousands of children we got to meet, only a handful would be successfully adopted. However, we had a responsibility to make sure that we felt a deep connection with the children we chose to be responsible for. It was daunting to realise that this would be a lifelong, life-changing decision to make, and one that would affect not only us, but the vulnerable orphans we adopted as well. We contacted countless houses of safety to find out if they had children who were not yet matched with parents, and visited them all. It was emotionally taxing on us, and all the while we carried the heartache of not being able to have a child of our own. But we persevered. We knew that somewhere out there two little children were waiting to meet us, their future parents.
Then, a miracle happened. We met the twins, Ella and Emma.
From the moment we laid eyes on them, we were enchanted. They were absolutely beautiful, with soulful brown eyes that looked straight into our hearts and stole them. We knew, then and there, that they were our family. We did what we needed to do (adoption is no easy undertaking, even just in terms of paperwork and admin) and, blissfully happy, took them home as our foster children (a temporary arrangement before the final adoption). We were parents, and we could not have been more thrilled and fulfilled!
Unfortunately, our unencumbered happiness did not last long. As much as we adored the girls, and as much joy as they gave us, we started to see worrying signs in Emma. One of the most concerning – and upsetting – signs was that she would not make eye contact. A visit to the doctor confirmed our fears that something was wrong. However, we were wholly unprepared for the gravity of the diagnosis: Emma was autistic.
It felt as though our world had come crashing down. Our beautiful baby girl, a blessing we had only just welcomed into our life, had an incurable condition that would completely change the way we lived. As the doctor explained to us what this meant, we sat in numb silence. How did this happen? After all the years of trying, after all the trials and tribulations, we had been dealt yet another blow. We were told the facts: autism is a neurological disorder which affects a person’s ability to communicate and socialise, among a host of other challenging symptoms. It is incurable. One in 150 people are affected by it. As we listened to the doctor trying (in vain) to explain the impact this diagnosis would have on all of our lives, my mind wandered back to my sweet little girl. How could God allow this? She was a baby, defenceless and innocent. I felt as though my heart had been shattered, and my heart bled for my little girl. The doctor explained to us that there was very little we could do for Emma. She was high on the autism spectrum. At this, Werner and I looked at each other – we did not even know what this meant. He went on to tell us that she would not be functional and would walk very little, and would not even speak. As these words resounded in my ears, I thought that I could take no more. But then we were told that we should not even bother trying to potty train her before the age of 16, or at the very earliest 10. “Where do we find nappies for a teenager?” we thought in our shock. We, as new parents, were utterly unprepared for this devastating barrage of information.
The drive home was the longest of our lives. Werner and I sat in shock, not saying a word, trying not to cry. Emma was having what we now knew was a sensory meltdown in the backseat. We had no idea what to do about it; the doctor’s words seemed useless and insignificant in the face of the actual thing. We started to question if we were doing the right thing. Maybe my being unable to fall pregnant was a sign. What if we were never destined to be parents? What if it was not part of God’s plan? We didn’t think we were up for this seemingly impossible challenge and started to think that we shouldn’t go through with the adoption.
We arrived home with heavy hearts, and Emma still screaming uncontrollably in the back seat. For a while we just sat there, lost in our grief. What would we do? What was autism, even? How would we handle this? Were we strong enough? Perhaps being parents was just not in our cards. We were weighing up our options, thinking that at least we still had each other, and maybe my brother and sister would have children that we could spend time with. With these thoughts swirling around in my head, I got out of the car and opened the back door to take Emma out – and she looked right at me. Her eyes met mine for the first time. The eye contact sent a jolt through my body; this had never happened before. It felt to me, in that moment, that she was asking me: “if you don’t want me, who will? Please love me”. I unbuckled her and picked her up, and a second miracle happened: she put her tiny arms around my neck and held on tight. My legs went numb for the millionth time that day, but this was different. Completely overwhelmed, I crumpled to the floor in tears and held her, her tiny arms still clutching my neck. Werner came around the car and saw us, helpless mother and helpless child, crying together on the pavement. He sat down behind me and wrapped Emma and I between his legs and arms, his body shielding us, his lips kissing me softly on the side of my face. And in that moment, in the safety of my husband’s arms, I knew that I could do this. I knew that we could do this. Emma was our child, and we were prepared to do whatever it took.