By Kelly-Jayne Fourie

Kelly-Jayne is employed in a rural hospital in the Free State. Her passion lies in assisting the impoverished community and improving their quality of life. She has a special interest in sensory integration and is passionate about children. It is this, coupled with her desire for motherhood, that resulted in the adoption of her daughter.

September 1st, 2021will forever be etched in my memory – a Spring Day never to be forgotten. Spring traditionally symbolises new life, new beginnings and a new season. How apt then, that on this Spring Day  I became an “instant mother” through adoption. Co-incidence? Perhaps so, but I firmly believe this life-altering day was divinely planned: a new season (motherhood) for me, a new beginning for my precious daughter, and a new life for us together.

Most mothers have nine months to prepare physically, mentally and emotionally for the mammoth task of parenthood; I had less than 48 hours. After a nine-month-long wait (another significant timeline) while necessary documents, evaluations and background checks were done, I was matched with a five-month-old infant. I had to make this life-altering decision on whether to adopt her based on one photograph and scanty medical and background information from the social worker. Baby was born at 31 weeks’ gestation, spent two months hospitalised and the next three months in a baby home. Enter panic mode! Would I be up to the task of caring for a premature infant with all the possible complications? Would I cope as a single parent? Would I love her as my own? The adoption panel thought so. They were convinced I was the perfect parent for this little girl and so, with much trepidation, I took a leap of faith and asked to meet her.

Meeting Baby was an overwhelming experience. Love at first sight! All doubts vanished and a feeling of peace descended. Baby was destined to be mine! The social workers hastily set a court date and less than two days later Amy came home. My prayers were answered, and my dream of motherhood finally fulfilled!

The first few weeks were all a blur of sleepless nights, Baby crying, doctors’ visits and struggles to bond. However, looking back now, exactly a year later, I am able to reflect on how my amazing profession as an occupational therapist (OT) helped me cope and prepared me for this journey.

Our first hurdle was Amy’s physical wellbeing. Her immunisations weren’t up to date, she had severe acute malnutrition, and bleeding, raw skin due to eczema.  Thus, adequate nutrition and medical care was top priority. I had planned on breastfeeding her by means of induced lactation. This plan never realised, since the stress of a new baby that would not latch, resulted in no milk production. She would scream, scratch at me and show extreme discomfort when in contact with my bare skin. I was grateful for donor breastmilk for Amy, but she was still failing to thrive or gain weight. The paediatrician diagnosed her with severe reflux. He prescribed medication and specialised formula feeding. Her immunisations were brought up to date and her eczema treated. Amy had reached a turning point! The screaming, unmanageable child suddenly began to blossom! Had I not been in the medical field, I wouldn’t have had the insight to seek medical help or understand the importance of good nutrition and physical health.

Amy had numerous developmental delays.  Although her corrected age was 3 months when she came home, she lacked head control, wasn’t able to smile, couldn’t stretch out her limbs, had limited eye tracking and couldn’t grasp toys. Instead Amy lay emotionless and favoured a curled up foetal position with stiff, flexed limbs and clenched fists. I experienced difficulty with her nappy changes and self-care tasks. Bathing and dressing / undressing this little one was a nightmare. The possibility of heightened muscle tone had me query cerebral palsy. However, I noted normal muscle tone while asleep. I realised her rigid posture was indeed a stress reaction.  Changes in environment, caregiver and sensory input were very overwhelming for such a tiny baby to assimilate! With much love, patience, gentleness, soothing touch, predictable routine and a calm approach, this gradually improved. It took weeks to gain her trust, but this hurdle was overcome, and handling Amy became a breeze! Because of my OT knowledge I was able to recognise the stress cues and alter my approach and handling of Amy accordingly.

As mentioned, Amy disliked physical contact and did not enjoy being held or cuddled. She appeared to be emotionally blunted. Having limited tactile input and loving touch for the first five months of her life, made her averse to these new sensations. Bonding was thus difficult, and skin-to-skin contact and baby-wearing proved very difficult. Amy only felt comfortable being held in a forward-facing position. My knowledge of ASI made me cognisant of her sensory likes and dislikes. I introduced baby-wearing (by means of a wrap or ergonomic carrier) in a forward-facing position, both of us fully clothed, for short amounts of time.

To minimise sensory input and provide proprioception during bathing, I would bath her tightly swaddled in a thin towel. I would only expose the area being washed and do this as quickly as possible to reduce discomfort. I used firm touch and deep pressure to apply much-needed moisturiser for her eczema. Amy started enjoying her massages and gradually allowed me to touch and cuddle her.  Amy now actively seeks loving touch and enjoys snuggling against my chest before drifting off to sleep at night. I fondly refer to her now as my “velcro baby” since she clings to me every waking moment I am home!

My next area of focus was Amy’s developmental milestones. I am grateful that my training as an OT equipped me adequately for this. I am able to improvise learning using daily tasks and everyday situations. Each room in the house provides a multitude of items that can be used for stimulation. From the couch’s scatter cushions used during tummy time, to the brightly coloured measuring spoons and Tupperware in the kitchen, to the pegs and wash baskets in the laundry, to the splashes of water in the bathroom and watching (and counting!) the birds coming to nest on the neighbour’s roof at night, my creativity as an OT has allowed me the skill to see learning opportunities in everything.

I stand in awe of how far Amy and I have travelled in our life’s journey together this past year. At the time of writing this, she is an exuberant and very bright 18-month-old. She has caught up on all her developmental milestones and has surpassed a typical 18-month old’s language and cognitive development. Amy refers to herself by name (and occasionally adds her surname), and proudly identifies and names her favourite colour (pink!). She has a vocabulary of close to 100 words and regularly uses two- to three-word sentences. Her latest development is counting! In bed last night, she repeated over and over again “3,4,5…3,4,5…3,4,5…” Maybe she was counting imaginary sheep?!  What an achievement for a premature baby with a rough start to life! With the right environment, adequate nutrition, love and support, anything can be achieved. Amy is an example of this! I sincerely hope that through giving the readers a glimpse inside my journey to motherhood, it sparks an interest in encouraging prospective adoptive parents. As OTs we are well equipped to support such families in this rewarding venture.


This blog was taken from SAISI Newsletter, December 2022 on Adoption. For more information, please follow this link; SAISI newsletter 2022-Dec-Vol.31.No.3