Adopting a child is a huge decision for most parents, but for Lisa and Dash Keerthichandra it was almost a calling. So how did a couple who grew up in the UK, find themselves living in Sri Lanka with their recently adopted pair of beautiful twin daughters?
By Thushanthi Ponweera
Lisa Darton grew up in a small village in Kent, UK and was part of a large family, and so, found herself always surrounded by other children. This extended to her aunts and uncles who were almost as young as she was. “I think the seeds of adoption were sowed way back then, when my grandparents adopted three children despite having six of her own”. This wasn’t a common occurrence back in the Sixties, but what made this act of selflessness stand out even more was that the children were dark skinned. “It didn’t make a difference to her what people would think, and it obviously wasn’t something she needed to hide. She couldn’t even if she wanted to!”. Lisa says this is a stark contrast to what she has noticed in Asian culture, namely in Sri Lanka, where oftentimes the fact that the child is adopted is hidden from everyone, including the adoptee. “It was something that never occurred to me, but perhaps watching my grandmother care for all her children equally, normalized it for me. Adoption is a different path to motherhood, but it doesn’t have to change the experience”.
Motherhood was always on the cards for Lisa, and was something she looked forward to. But as the story unfolds, I find out that it wasn’t a straightforward path towards it. In fact, at one point it seemed like she may not even become one. “I got seriously ill in my thirties”, she says. “I loved to travel, and was holidaying in South America when I got sick.” Back in UK, the doctors struggled with a diagnosis for Lisa who kept getting sicker, was very soon bedridden, even unable to work. It was an illness that would take over the rest of her third decade of life, but in a twist of fate, was also what led her to meet her eventual husband. A friend thought I needed a break, and decided to visit Barcelona, where she met Dash, a Sri Lankan by birth but also a UK citizen like herself. “We hit it off instantly. I now see my union with Dash as fate. If not for him, Sri Lanka would never have been a destination for me, and we would never have met our girls”. It wasn’t long after that Lisa and Dash started entertaining the idea of moving to Sri Lanka. “City living was too harsh for me. The tropical weather and access to local medicine (she had tried Ayurvedic medicine with some success a few years earlier) made it very appealing”. This is how they found themselves in a village in Sri Lanka, and were married here as well. She was finally able to access the peace and healing she needed, and today, Lisa considers herself illness free.
This same determination would be what helped Lisa through the next challenge awaiting her. At 40 years old, she and Dash were ready for a baby. “We had tried before, but it always ended up in a miscarriage. We had both been through a lot of heartache, so this time we were also open to adopting”. The couple was trying to figure out if IVF was an ordeal they were willing to undergo, and Lisa found her answer in meditation. “I meditate often, and find this the best way to clear up the clutter in my mind. But this session was extra special, because it was the day I felt I received the message that I needed to adopt.” Following her heart, Lisa and Dash fully embraced the decision to adopt, and were guided towards the Mother Theresa Children’s Home in Moratuwa. “Taking the government route would mean a longer wait, an older child, and a harder time acclimatizing for both parties concerned. We were advised by Child Services that we would be able to adopt a baby as soon after their birth as possible, if we did it privately. We got a call shortly after registering with the Home, telling us we had not just one baby, but twins waiting for us!”.
The call came while the couple were hosting a dinner party, and Lisa could barely contain her excitement till the next day. “We saw them and fell in love. It was so amazing”. The nuns at the home were relieved, as the pair of tiny babies had been overlooked by a few other couples. “They had been born prematurely, at 874g and 1979g respectively at just 32 weeks, and had health issues, from failure to thrive and also complications in the lungs of one twin, which the couple didn’t find out till later. Despite being far from the vision of rosy newborns, Lisa says she couldn’t have imagined saying no. “When you become a mother, you accept your baby no matter what. Just because you adopt, that shouldn’t change. I believed they were meant for us, and I would do whatever it took to be able to be their mom”. The baby girls had not had the best entry into the world either, being mothered by an orphaned lady who had also been physically disabled and subject to a lot of cruelty in her life. “Pregnancy should be a time where the mother is treated with love and care, kept happy and healthy. But the twins’ biological mother had none of that”.
Lisa and Dash were eager to take the girls home, so that they could all start afresh, but it would be another eight months before they would be able to do so. “The system wasn’t entirely fair to us, and what should have been a smooth transition became quite traumatic, not only for us, but for the biological mother who had to live with and nurse her babies till they were taken away. So not only were we in limbo, but she was getting closer to them too, as they were active little toddlers with personality by then. It was heartbreaking”. Psychological support is something that Lisa wishes the young moms had access to. “Most of them have been shunned by their own parents, and then forced to give up the babies they carried and gave birth to. And if that wasn’t hard enough, they are unable to go back home for fear of judgement. It’s an extremely heartbreaking situation to be in”, she says sadly. It’s evident that Lisa feels strongly about this, and it is also a cause she hopes to advocate for in the future.
For now, she and Dash are busy building a business, and most of all, being enraptured by their daughters, who they named Lavina and Aria. “Did you know that it’s a human rights violation to separate multiples when giving them up for adoption? Yet it is done in Sri Lanka, and worse, it is hidden from the children. Much of our struggles were due to the fact that the authorities didn’t want us to have both girls, and wanted to give them to two separate families. I can’t imagine them being apart. They belong together”.
Originally appeared in the Pulse magazine, Mar/Apr 2020 issue.
Picture credit: Pulse