Sarah Salmon tells us what it's like to be an Aussie adoptive mum in Asia.
Infertility can be a heartbreaking experience. Sarah Salmon knows it all too well. But when life gave her lemons, she made some lemonade. And then she invited everyone around to drink some, chat and have a party. Well, at least that’s how her writing feels. Sarah is the lovely lady behind the blog, Memoirs of an Aussie Adoptive Mother in Asia, where her adventures in creating a bigger family are handled with wit and wisdom for us all to enjoy. It’s a great mixture of sadness and smiles and we couldn’t wait to meet this amazing woman and mum to two gorgeous daughters!
Adopting children from Cambodia: Sarah Salmon’s adoption journey
Hi Sarah, we love your blog! Obviously you are an adoptive mum. What prompted you to want to start writing about it?
Thanks! I never intended to start a blog – I was more or less pushed into it. I was a total technophobe a few years ago and barely knew what social networking meant, so starting a blog was not at all on my radar. It came about because I was selected to attend a five-day workshop in Australia with Hachette Publishers after they read a draft of an infertility/adoption memoir I had written. The publishing industry experts at the workshop drilled into me that I MUST start building an online audience prior to publication of any future work, so I was very obedient and started writing a blog.
We’re glad you listened because your blog posts are littered with hilarious anecdotes. What’s your favourite?
Well, the most popular posts are probably ones that will come back to haunt me in the form of two angry daughters once they are old enough to read the stories I’ve shared about their crazy antics. My youngest daughter once threatened her teacher with a line she’d learned from Jiminy Cricket, “I’ll knock your block off” – I’m still amazed she wasn’t expelled from school over this incident, but she was only three at the time. Another time we drove past the hospital where she’d had a blood test and she shouted, “There’s Gleneagles. I 100% HATE that place. I’m going to burn it down!” You can see what I’m dealing with here. Mind you, I figure these stories will make good content for my speeches at my daughters’ 21st birthdays. They’ll also prove quite useful tools for blackmail – haha!
A mum’s ammunition! You definitely don’t leave any stone unturned. Actually, you mention having undergone Intrauterine Insemination treatment in India (IUI). Sounds daunting – mind telling us about it…
Have you got all day? It was a long, arduous, emotionally draining process in dingy clinics. Looking back now, I can’t believe I put myself through it: doctors without gloves; mouldy cubicles; stained sheets on procedure beds; medical instruments housed in a cut-off milk carton; authoritarian and chauvinistic doctors who didn’t like being questioned, let alone by a woman… Of course, there are more modern medical facilities in India these days, but at the time I was trying to conceive there were no shiny hospitals smelling of antiseptic, no medical wards that resembled Grey’s Anatomy.
Was it this experience that led you to adopt rather than going down the IVF path?
In a word, yes. It was a very easy decision. After my horrendous experience with IUI, which was supposedly a ‘non-invasive’ treatment, I couldn’t put myself through more medical hell. My gut instinct told me IVF wasn’t for me, whereas adoption was something my husband and I had discussed way before we started trying to conceive. Having lived in India for a few years by this stage, and having seen the desperation of street kids and children in orphanages, I felt a strong sense of duty to give at least one child a loving home. It was as simple as that.
And now you have two gorgeous Cambodian daughters. Can you tell us what the adoption process involved?
The adoption process was as emotionally draining as the IUI procedures to be honest, purely because of governmental red tape and bureaucracy. It turned out that we couldn’t adopt from India as Australian expats, despite my attempts to fight the system, so my husband and I looked for other countries in Asia that might be an option (we had lived in Asia for several years already by this stage, so it seemed like a natural fit). We ended up adopting two baby girls from Cambodia within a 14-month period, our youngest daughter’s adoption being approved just before Cambodia shut down all adoptions. There’s a dreadful history of child trafficking in Cambodia and other developing countries, hence the shutdown, so we were very vigilant in hiring a lawyer to do background checks on our daughters’ histories. Apart from that, there were mountains of adoption paperwork to traverse – police clearance letters, medical checks, financial documents, references etc. – but those mountains felt like insignificant little mounds once the adoptions were approved and we had our gorgeous baby girls.
As kids born in Cambodia, with Aussie parents and living in Singapore – which nationality do they identify as?
The girls definitely identify themselves as Cambodian Australians (although my youngest daughter used to get confused and insist she was born in India). The girls have never lived in Australia, but we intend to move back to Sydney one day and we often visit our family there, so they consider Australia as one of their homes. We also visit the girls’ birth families in Cambodia every year, so there’s still a real connection with their roots and they retain their Cambodian passports, along with their Aussie ones. My eldest daughter is learning Khmer and her younger sister will hopefully be inspired to do so at some stage if she ever learns to sit still. We might be waiting years for that.
While you might not be back in Sydney yet, your work is being published in the Sydney Morning Herald. You’ve also had your writing published in the recent book of short stories, Rojak. What else is in the pipeline?
The Sydney Morning Herald has another adoption-related feature article of mine up their sleeve, which they intend to publish soon. I have finished writing another short story for the next Singapore Writers’ Group anthology, which will hopefully be published later this year. And I’m madly querying literary agents at the moment trying to find a home for the memoir I have recently finished writing about living in India, infertility, and my journey to adoption. Fingers crossed we can find a publishing house that’ll take on the book.
Your journey with infertility and adoption has borne some other amazing things in your life. What is life like when you’re not busy writing (and collecting embarrassing anecdotes about your daughters)?
Writing stories has made my life busier, in a good way. I attend quite a few writers’ groups and literary events, and I have met a great bunch of fellow writers through the Singapore Writers’ Group. But I also have a day job working for Assetz Property Group. So between my paid job, my writing hobby, and playing mum (school runs, arguments about homework, acting as the Table Manners Policewoman at dinner time and as a Taxi Driver to swimming lessons and play dates), I don’t have a lot of free time. But I still manage to squeeze in Book Club most months, Movie Club with other friends, and a few social vinos here and there. Although I love a cold glass of white wine, most nights I can be found snuggled up in bed with a cup of tea and a good book like an old Granny. I’m past 40 and my socialising stamina is not what it used to be.
Wow, you’re busy. Let us know when you next want that cold glass of vino! We love your stories and we’d love to hear more.
This story was first published in May 2015. All images courtesy of Katie Martin-Sperry Photography. Katie specialises in family photography using natural light, and particularly enjoys drawing out the character of children in her shots.