Diary of an adoptive father
A little over 20 years ago, I wrote an article for my weekly column in this publication entitled “Diary of a Bridegroom.” In the said piece, I detailed the travails, the squabbles, the missteps, the misadventures, and the complications that I had to go through, as I planned and prepared for my wedding day together with my now wife, co-parent and life partner, Teemy Ledesma-Nepomuceno.
I was actually anticipating doing a bit of a series. I figured that maybe a couple of years after that, I’d be doing an article entitled, “Diary of a New Dad,” or something like that. I thought it would come as a natural course — you know, get married then, after a few years, the wifey would pop out a couple of Rod Juniors — and maybe a couple of mini-Teemys.
But alas, it didn’t happen. Years passed — and still no visit from the proverbial stork. To be perfectly honest, this caused a lot of anxiety and consternation for Teemy and I. Society — especially Philippine society — can sometimes be brutal to childless couples. We would get sardonic and borderline-mocking comments like, “O, still no kids? Maybe you’re not doing it right?” or “Why don’t you have kids? It’s the best feeling in the world!” The worst one is, “So, who has the problem between the two of you?” These insensitive comments were punches in the gut, man.
But once we reached the 10-year mark, Teemy and I started feeling comfortable with our status of being “married with no children.” In fact, we would often “correct” people when they would refer to us as “childless.” We would say, “No, we’re not childless. We’re child-free,” coupled with a taunting wink.
At that time, we would often get together with our married friends, who were ranting about the challenges that they were going through with their kids. Privately, Teemy and I would snicker and say to ourselves, “Boy, good thing we don’t have kids!” In a world where toxic social media, cancel culture, liberalism, relativism, random mass shootings, online hate, body-shaming (and all kinds of shaming), and fake news rules, we were becoming more and more grateful that we didn’t have kids. Sure, we did consider adoption. But we weren’t sure if we wanted to go through the complicated process.
Then, Feb. 29, 2016 happened. It was a leap year. And on that particular day, Teemy and I took a leap of faith. Teemy and I were busy in our respective jobs when all of a sudden, out of the blue, we got a text message from an anonymous person. She said she had a month-old baby boy in her custody but she could not take care of him. Teemy and I agreed to meet with this person in our house that evening. But when Teemy and I arrived home, the baby was already there with our maids. They said he was dropped off by someone and left. We tried to contact the person but we couldn’t reach her anymore. So, in the blink of an eye, Teemy and I became instant parents.
Everything after that day was like a whirlwind. Teemy and I had to learn to be parents on the fly. This was a totally unexpected development for us, uncharted territory. The morning of Feb. 29, 2016, Teemy and I were in a gym working out and talking about our next trip abroad. We had just gotten back from Scotland and were debating whether to go to Ireland or some Nordic country. Little did we know that in the next 12 hours, we would be debating about what crib to buy and how many baby bottle nipples we would get.
Unlike most parents who are in their 20s or 30s, Teemy and I were in our 40s. Biologically, we could be grandparents already. We didn’t have the same youthful zest as most parents.
We named our little boy Joaquin Nicolas — Joaquin being my second name, and Nicolas being the name of Teemy’s father. We gave him the name “Quico” —taking the middle letters of Joaquin and Nicolas and merging them together.
At the onset, Quico was “quicko” in making us realize that this journey would not be easy. The irregular sleeping hours, the constant visits to the doctor, the throw-ups, the constant diaper changes, the endless crying at night — we went through all of that. Yes, we know all parents go through that. But, unlike most parents who have nine months to prepare, we had zero time to get ready for this. And, unlike most parents who are in their 20s or 30s, Teemy and I were in our 40s. Biologically, we could be grandparents already. We didn’t have the same youthful zest as most parents.
Thankfully, with the grace of God, after so many ups and downs, we survived the first two years. And, in 2018, our pediatrician congratulated us and said, “O, Quico’s two years old already. Time to adopt another one!”
We replied to our doctor with a snort of derision and said, “Doc, naman, one child lang nga, we’re so stressed already.” He then said, “It will be good for Quico if he has a sibling.” He then said that his brother was a consultant for an orphanage and he could connect us. Teemy and I simply laughed and said, “No thanks, Doc. One is enough. Really!”
A few days later, I was surprised when Teemy said to me, “What do you think about what Doc said? Do you think we should get another one?” I replied, “Are you sure? A lot of the stress brought about by this parenting thing is on you, being the mother. You had to give up your job to be a full-time parent. And I know it’s been tough on you. I honestly don’t want to impose that on you.” But Teemy replied, “I want to do it for Quico.” And that did it for me.
So the next day, I went to Bright Halls Orphanage. I noticed that most of the children there were boys. I inquired if they had a girl. They then brought me to a room, and I saw this little girl in blue, lying down peacefully sleeping. I couldn’t see her face. I then left the orphanage to go to a meeting and sent Teemy pictures via Viber. I told her, “The kids in the orphanage are mostly boys. There was one girl but she was asleep. I didn’t want to disturb her.” Teemy then said, “Please go back. I want to see her.” I said, “What? I just left. I am off to a meeting.” She then pleaded, “Please go back after your meeting. I want to see her.”
So, being the obedient husband that I am, after my lunch meeting, I went back. I was told that the baby girl was already awake and that they would bring her down.
The moment she came down, I was floored. The moment I saw her, I instantly fell in love with her. She was the most beautiful little girl I’d ever seen. I sent Teemy some pictures and videos of her. And Teemy replied with “Oh, my” with a big heart emoji. It was love at first sight. She said, “I want to meet her!” So, I cancelled all my meetings that afternoon, picked up Teemy and brought her to the orphanage. Right off the bat, the connection was instantaneous. We found our Child No. 2. Her real name was Virginia. But we decided to call her by another name. We found our “Quiana.”
After that first meeting, we immediately expressed to the social worker in the orphanage that we were interested in fostering — and eventually adopting — Quiana. Of course, that was just the first step. The process of getting custody of Quiana wasn’t that simple. We had to go through a lot, i.e., filling up long forms, constant visits, multiple meetings, the matching process, interviews that felt like interrogations, etc. But, eventually, on Dec. 7, 2018, two days before her second birthday, we were able to take Quiana home.
And thus, there were four. The Nepo family was complete. The circus was officially open.
After getting custody of the children, Teemy and I decided right off the bat that we would not hide the fact that Quico and Quiana were adopted. Unlike a lot of adoptive parents who conceal this truth from their children, we were determined not to be so secretive about it. In fact, we decided to go the other way. We were determined to change the mindset of people. We wanted to promote the beauty of adoption.
As I work in the media industry, I used all my connections to make sure that we got the word out. And our basic message was summed up in two basic points: 1) Adoption is a good thing so there’s nothing to be ashamed of; and 2) Let’s work to make adoption easier. In the next couple of months, we were featured in numerous publications: Working Mom, Smart Parenting, Metro Style, CNN Philippines, TV5, etc.
Soon after, various groups that were committed to doing something concrete to make sure that the process of adoption would be less tedious, less cumbersome and less costly than the one that was in place started inviting us. So, together with some fellow adoptive advocates such as OWWA Administrator Atty. Hans Cacdac (a very good friend of mine since prep), Romi Brosas, Alvi and Rina Siongco, and many others, we lobbied for a law to make the adoption process easier.
Through the invaluable assistance of her chief of staff, Atty. Camille Llamanzares-Sevilla, we got to meet with Senator Grace Poe, herself an adoptive parent, and appealed to her and other senators like Risa Hontiveros that a law be passed to remove the adoption process from the courts and to make it an administrative process rather than a judicial one. We knew that such legislation would help everyone, as it would unclog the courts and would put adoption under the proper government office that had the expertise and staff that would handle these childcare cases. Thankfully, the senators believed in our cause.
On Jan. 6, 2022, it finally happened. President Rodrigo Duterte signed Republic Act 11642, the ”Domestic Administrative Adoption and Alternative Child Care Act,” which removes the judicial process for adoption, as this would now be handled administratively by the National Authority for Child Care (NACC), a new agency created to be attached to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (and ably headed by executive director Glenda Relova). This is a dream come true for many adoptive parents who are currently going through the adoption process. And this law will encourage many more people to consider adoption.
Today, Father’s Day, I reflect on the many blessings that have happened to me and my family ever since Teemy and I decided to take in Quico and Quiana. The biggest realization I’ve had is this: We are all adopted. Despite all our follies, imperfections, and failures, our Heavenly Father in heaven sent down His only Son so He could be one of us — and one with us. And, in the process, He made us all His children — and heirs to His kingdom.