Emma’s adoption by Jessica and Mikael

Mother and child (© Ulrika Hallin)

Jessica's heart defect led cardiologists to advise her not to get pregnant; instead she chose to adopt.

Jessica was 10 years old when she got her first pacemaker. When she was born, doctors said she would probably have to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair. But Jessica was stubborn she exercised to keep herself fit, and in the end no wheelchair was needed. Despite the physical restrictions, when Jessica decided she wanted a baby, she was not going to give up.

In the middle of last summer, Jessica and her husband Mikael travelled to Colombia to meet baby Emma, who was then nearly three months old. “Meeting Emma was incredibly powerful,” says Jessica. “Strong emotions come into force when you go to pick up a child who you have only seen before in pictures. People sometimes wonder when the maternal feelings come, but in truth they are there the whole time and emerge during the adoption process.”

The adoption process was lengthy for Jessica and Mikael. They had to fight for several years before being approved as adoptive parents. They were assigned a case manager who had doubts about whether Jessica, with her congenital heart defect, would be a suitable mother. The case manager began to do some research, investigating situations in which parents with heart defects could conceivably be regarded as adoptive parents. “According to the case manager, my heart disorder meant that I was a special case, and she was very unsure about how to proceed,” says Jessica. About a year later, Jessica and Mikael were assigned a new case manager who worked to help make Jessica a mother. The first piece of advice they were given was to get married. So they did, and from then the process got underway in earnest. “You have to be stubborn and stand firm,” says Jessica. “The best piece of advice that I could give to anyone wanting to adopt would be just that: never give up.” She explains that she used to get very annoyed with the people around her during the adoption process: the doctors, the family court, and everyone who did not really think that it would work. “You have to be thick skinned.”

Clean bill of health

“The two case managers we had at the family court were brilliant,” says Jessica. “They really helped us. One of the things they said was that I had to have a clean bill of health.” So when she went in for a physical examination to prove that she was fairly fit, Jessica decided to pedal on the bike as fast as she possibly could. “You can stop now, that's enough,” yelled the nurse after Jessica had been cycling for 25 minutes, even though she only needed to do 15 minutes. “The doctor then wrote me a clean bill of health”, explains Jessica.

The next step was the six-hour hearing that was undertaken by the family court. Jessica sat on the lower level, Mikael on the upper. “They asked about everything: sex, religion, and our relationships with relatives, friends, and each another. The hearing was thoroughly exhaustive,” Jessica remembers.

As part of the vetting process, a few friends also had to write letters of reference.

But now, four years after they first contacted the family court, Emma Louisa-Fernanda Margareta Olsson is finally at home with Jessica and Mikael in Kungsängen, outside Stockholm. Louisa-Fernanda is the name that Emma’s Colombian mother gave her. A child who is adopted must retain at least one of its first names. Jessica also mentions Colombia to Emma often; she plays Colombian folk music on CD and pictures from Emma’s childhood home in Bogota adorn the walls of her room. “I have a theory that if Emma hears the word ‘Colombia’ a lot, then one day she will ask why we talk about it so often, and then we can explain that that is where she comes from. She might ask more questions about it later on, and then we can tell her that she is adopted and go from there,” says Jessica. The idea is that Emma should grow into being adopted. Jessica draws comparisons between this and her own heart defect. When she was little and had heard the words heart defect so many times, she began to ask questions. Her parents told her about it, bit by bit. “It is better to grow up knowing,” she explains.

People are different

Mikael and Jessica’s best friends, who live just a few blocks away, also have an adopted daughter. And Mikael’s friend has a wife from Zimbabwe, and children with dark skin. “It is great, because Emma sees that there are differences in the people around us, that there is nothing odd about it, and that it is okay for people to look different.”

The first time that Jessica took Emma to preschool she burst into tears because she was so happy. “Seeing your child go to preschool might be a given for most people, but not for me”, she explains.

Jessica will never forget the day when the adoption agency rang her with the news about Emma. “They asked ‘Are you sitting down?’ ‘Are you alone?’ I asked whether there were more papers that we had forgotten to complete. ‘No, it's not that. You are now a mother, Jessica.’ I just stood up and jumped for joy.” That was on 6 June. Just 2 weeks later they got to meet Emma.

Now Jessica and Mikael have started a new adoption process; they want Emma to have a sibling, another child from Colombia.

“Do not forget that you must never give up,” laughs Jessica, recalling her own advice.

Since this interview, Jessica and Mikael have adopted another daughter, Felicia, from China.

Author(s): Ulrika Hallin
Last updated: 2009-02-13