With the veil of secrecy surrounding adoption gradually lifting, a small but growing number of families are meeting the children they put up for adoption.
In the past two years, Touch Adoption Services has arranged for about 10 such reunions. The charity hardly received such requests before that, its senior manager Teo Seok Bee told The Straits Times.
The meetings were initiated either by the biological parents, who longed to see the child, or by the adoptive family, who wanted to assure the biological family that the child is well-loved and cared for after the adoption.
The children were matched with their adoptive families by Touch. Ms Teo said that all meetings that it has arranged so far involved children who were under seven years old .
The growing number of such meetings has been taking place as attitudes towards adoption underwent a sea change.
MORE OPEN ATTITUDES
Having a reunion is very radical, almost unheard of in Singapore. Ten years ago, people wouldn't even entertain this idea... I think there's greater openness when it comes to adoption now.
MS JENNIFER HENG, director of Dayspring New Life Centre, which helps pregnant women in need of support
Ms Teo said adoption used to be a hush-hush affair in the past and children may not even be told about their status. This was because many adoptive parents feared the children would leave and return to their biological parents if they knew they were adopted.
But more of today's adoptive parents are upfront with the child - often telling their child at a young age. This is because such parents are more educated, open and aware of the need to do so, Ms Teo said. "It's better to tell the child yourself, than for him to learn about it from someone else, which is very unsettling and affects the trust between the parent and child," she explained.
This openness with children about their adoption, and parents being less fearful of losing the child to the biological parents, has enabled more reunions to take place, she said.
But Touch prepares all those involved and determines their willingness and readiness to meet. Whether families continue to meet after the initial encounter is up to the individuals involved, she added. "From our experience, the biological parents are grateful just to see that the child is loved and is growing up well," she said. "The reunions we have facilitated so far have been very positive."
Take, for example, a poor married Singaporean couple in their 30s who gave their baby girl up for adoption to a British expatriate couple. The Singaporean couple already had one child and could not afford to raise another.
But they wanted to see the child before the adoptive parents left Singapore for good. They met the girl, who is about two years old, earlier this year to say their goodbyes.
Ms Jennifer Heng, director of Dayspring New Life Centre, which helps pregnant women in need of support, said there is usually no contact between the biological and adoptive families after an adoption. Many adoptive parents worry that once there is contact, the biological parents may, one day, ask for the child's return.
However, some adoptive families send photographs and updates to the biological parents, through the agency that facilitated the adoption, she said.
"Having a reunion is very radical, almost unheard of in Singapore. Ten years ago, people wouldn't even entertain this idea," Ms Heng said. "I think there's greater openness when it comes to adoption now."
Other non-profit agencies which match children placed for adoption with adoptive families say they have not had such reunion requests.
An adoptive mother who wants to be known only as Mrs Wong initiated a meeting between her three-year-old son and his biological grandmother earlier this month.
Mrs Wong, a 37-year-old civil servant, and her sales manager husband, 36, adopted Ernest through Touch Adoption Services when he was just a year old.
From letters passed through Touch, she learnt that Ernest's grandmother, who was his main caregiver, missed him terribly.
She declined to provide details of his biological parents, who are Singaporeans.
"His grandma did not ask to meet him, she just asked for photos," Mrs Wong said.
"But I felt that a meeting would really help her heal and assure her that he's in good hands."
They met at a playground and the elderly woman cried and told the boy she missed him. She also showered him with gifts, kisses and hugs. She told Mrs Wong she was so grateful for the chance to see him.
Mrs Wong asked Ernest to address the elderly woman as "mah mah" (Hokkien for grandmother) although she did not tell him explicitly that she is his biological grandmother as he is still young.
But she has just started to tell him about adoptions through storybooks. She is not sure if Ernest has any recollections of his biological grandmother or her identity.
She is open to further meetings with his biological grandmother and plans to tell him about his biological family when he is older.
"It's better he hears this from us than from other people. We believe if we love our child, he will not run away from us," she said.