Our Journey To Destiny: A Story Of International Adoption

Chiara Battistelli and her husband are Italian. They live in Belgium and they adopted their son, Destiny, from South Africa. Chiara agreed to share her story with theParentVoice, in her own words as if she was sitting across from us and having a conversation about how her family came to be. Over to Chiara:


My partner and I were already around 36 years of age when we gave ourselves the green light to have kids! He always wanted kids. As for me, I thought I had so much time for this and that we should have had all our life figured out before being ready as parents!

So when we decided [that we wanted to have kids], I had my first real call in life. I learned that we don’t really decide anything about it [life] and that nature has the real power! 

I learned…

It was too late!

[perfectpullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]I learned that we don’t really decide anything about it [life] and that nature has the real power! [/perfectpullquote]

We went through the problem of reduced fertility with the diagnosis that only a miracle could let us have children naturally. We started the long and painful process of hormonal treatments in preparation for IVF.

I was someone who always said, “If I can’t get pregnant, I will adopt.” There is no way I was going to put myself through hormonal treatments and all those inhuman techniques. If nature decided I couldn’t get pregnant, I would adopt. However, when I was faced with this problem, I kind of changed my mind and wanted to give birth to “our” child.

 This process and the personal path would need another article on its own!

In the end, we decided that the best option for us was to adopt. 

[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Infertility or “different fertility” as I prefer to call it, thus brought us our “Destiny”. This is the birth name of my son. [/perfectpullquote]

He was born in Johannesburg one day in August 2013. Who knows where I was that day and what I was doing but I often wonder… (don’t ask me why!).

Our Journey to Destiny

The entire adoption process took us almost 4 years but when we saw him the first time he was exactly 18 months old.  

[bctt tweet=”Family (parental love) is not a mere biological thing.” username=”ParentVoiceMag”]

We have always been very open to adoption. We were always convinced that family (parental love) is not a mere biological thing. So it was quite a natural step for us: after a couple of years spent on tests, diagnosis, treatments and various attempts of IVF, we said “basta”!

[bctt tweet=”After two years of tests, diagnosis, treatments, and various attempts of IVF, we said basta!” username=”ParentVoiceMag”]

Chiara Battistelli

In Bruxelles where we live, the process starts with preparatory courses in a dedicated structure, which we attended for a month every Saturday and which is prior to all other checks (psychological, “assistant social”, income declaration, medical checks, apartment checks and many other annoying bureaucratic tasks) to get the final and decisive sentence of “Capable Parents For International Adoption” given from the Juvenile Court. I don’t really know why, we both always thought about adopting from abroad, not domestically. 

It is only at that point that you can start preparing your “adoption project”, searching for the adoption agency, looking at the different countries’ criteria; deciding the country, and so on.

[perfectpullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]We took into consideration practical things such as waiting list, expected timeframe, our own age, the expected child’s age range, and the political stability of the country of adoption.[/perfectpullquote]

Not having preferences in terms of skin color or other genetic characteristics, the factors we took into consideration were practical, such as waiting list, expected timeframe, our own age, the expected child’s age range, and the political stability of the country of adoption. That’s how we came to shortlist South Africa (which by coincidence was my dream country ever since I was a child. I always wanted to visit it and I was always fascinated by its history and of course, the life of Nelson Mandela).

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Chiara Battistelli

Nevertheless, apart from a couple of children’s books on South Africa and Nelson Mandela, and some CDs of lullabies that we bought over there, we have not yet integrated much of our son’s birth-country culture into our lives. Timo Destiny (this is now his name as we decided to add an Italian name to his birth name, and Timoteo which we liked, was too long!) is Italian, living in Belgium, going to kindergarten in French.

[bctt tweet=”Our South Africa-born son is also Italian, lives in Belgium, and goes to kindergarten in French and English.” username=”ParentVoiceMag”]

And there is more: We temporarily moved to work in Malta this summer and so he has just started school in English!

[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Even though I don’t hide anything and keep referring to our son’s birth history and country, and the reason why he has a different skin color than ours, integrating another culture in our family set-up does not come naturally.[/perfectpullquote]

In our everyday life, Italian is the language and the culture [we follow]. Even though I don’t hide anything and keep referring to our son’s birth history and country, and the reason why he has a different skin color than ours, integrating another culture in our family set-up does not come naturally. My son does not seem to be much interested in this, either. I think this is something that might probably come on a later stage and I will be happy to discover with him, more about South Africa. There is, after all, so much already to process in his little strong brain and heart.

I did, however, write an edited tale in a little book with pictures, which explains his history (the title is “The Kind Warrior of the Golden City”, which is the Zulu meaning of Johannesburg). I started reading it to him at a certain point when I felt he wanted to hear it and I now read from time to time when he asks. I hope I managed to tell him his “difficult” story in a sweet way, without portraying his birth mother as a saint or as a witch – Someone who kept and loved him in her belly and gave birth to this beautiful child, but who was not able to raise him.

[bctt tweet=”I hope I didn’t portray his birth mother as a saint or as a witch.” username=”ParentVoiceMag”]

She is his first mother. I am the one, forever.

[bctt tweet=”She is his first mother. I am the one, forever.” username=”ParentVoiceMag”]

“Why am I brown? I want to be like you, white.”

I know many more questions will come and I don’t have [them] all figured out. Every time I think about finding the right words to explain what happened to him, I kind of become mute. 

One day he asked me, out of the blue: “Why am I brown? I want to be like you, white”. I answered that I also would have loved to be brown! But added that skin colors have nothing to do with love. That each human being is different in the skin, eye, hair color and so on but what really counts is our heart. That we, him and I, had so many other things in common: our eyes are the same, our hearts, our laugh.

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He was born from the womb of a woman who was also brown, in Africa, a country so beautiful and sunny that makes this beautiful color of the skin. He should be proud of his sunny country. And now we always make the joke that his father and I are “mozzarelloni” means so white compared to his beautiful brown! This is also how he was prepared for questions at school.

[bctt tweet=”One day he asked me, out of the blue: “Why am I brown? I want to be like you. White”.” username=”ParentVoiceMag”]

I probably exaggerated a bit in saying how his skin was more beautiful than others, but don’t we live in a world where resilience is vital, especially in these cases? Thing is, now he pulls our leg as we are “so mozzarelloni” compared to him! The 4 years old!


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Connecting with other Families

We were not put in contact with other families who adopted in South Africa, or anywhere else during our pre-adoption program. We were left quite alone once there.

Since our adoption, the agency in Belgium only organized one big gathering with all families who adopted from South Africa  So no, we are not surrounded by other adoptive families, just as we were not, before adopting. We only have bi-monthly meetings with other adoptive families in our voluntarily formed group.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]It would be nice to have a safety net and the possibility of sharing histories, questions, let children see with their eyes that they are not different, that adoption is just a reality, not a different family.[/perfectpullquote]

From one point of view, it is reassuring to think that family is family and that we are just that, with no adjectives and no need of particular attention or special needs. From another point of view, it would be nice to have a safety net and the possibility of sharing histories, questions, let children see with their eyes that they are not different, that adoption is just a reality, not a different family.

Chiara Battistelli
Photo Credit: Nicole Gustafsson of Bear & Dragon Photography

Facing the Reality of Adoption

I had read a lot of books on the topic [of adoption] in preparation for this, but nothing prepares you for reality. Not even 4 years of waiting and reading! After the adoption project has reached the country, you are left alone on a waiting list for years. One day, in our case, only a couple of months before going to pick Destiny up, we got a call and received his dossier (his gender, age, medical history, and a couple of pictures). We met with the agency again, this time to “prepare”. [We had] less than two months to prepare luggage, all the things you need for a month in South Africa and for coming back [as a family of] 3, prepare the house to host an 18-month-old boy, inform our family, friends, employer, [and get our] papers, passports, and visa.

[perfectpullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]This is a baby who grew up alone, without a mum from day 1 or 10 or 20, who learned to eat, to walk, and to sleep on his own and to defend himself from the others and run for food, alone. [/perfectpullquote]

The first weeks were overwhelming (is it not with biological children too?). It was like kidnapping a baby who is forced to live with strangers, using a different language, different faces from the ones he was used to. We lived in a hotel room for four weeks. Everything must have been like going to another planet, even a car-chair or a stroller was a trauma for him.

Different food, different bed, different routine, two strangers with him, with no other kids around anymore and a world outside, which he never saw before. Love, for a baby coming from an orphanage, is a total stranger. This is a baby who grew up alone, without a mum from day 1 or 10 or 20, who learned to eat, to walk, and to sleep on his own and to defend himself from the others and run for food, alone. To survive without love. It was overwhelming for us, I can’t imagine how overwhelming it was for him.

[bctt tweet=”Love, for a baby coming from an orphanage, is a total stranger. ” username=”ParentVoiceMag”]

I still wonder how he could survive the first 18 months of his life and become the wonderful person he is [today]. I only know that I could not love anyone else more than I love him, even if I had grown him inside my body. From the moment I recognized him from a distance in that aisle of the orphanage, on the lap of one of the “mummies” and I crossed his big teary eyes full of life, I felt all my cells belonging to him. My strong sweet warrior.

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Lakshmi Iyer coordinated this article with assistance from Séverine Perronnet.

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