The names in this story have been changed to protect the identity of the persons involved.
I took on this case as a favour for a friend, a lawyer herself. She had represented this couple, Mr. and Mrs. Ang, in 2 of their previous adoption proceedings. It is a rare case as both the children, a boy and a girl, were from the same natural parents, Teck Ann and Wendy who are not married. This time, Teck Ann and Wendy again wanted to give up their youngest child, a 1½-year-old girl for adoption. They approached my friend to enquire if the Angs might also wish to adopt this child as well. The Angs were thrilled and agreed immediately.
My lawyer friend thought it might be better if another lawyer represent the Angs as she felt that she was getting too “closely-involved” with the case. I agreed to take it up.
We arranged to meet at my friend’s office at 7pm one Friday with all the adoption papers prepared for the signatures of Teck Ann and Wendy, the natural parents. This was also to be the night they would be handing the little girl over. Forever.
It was a night I would never forget.
That evening, I saw Teck Ann and Wendy come with the girl, a most adorable child. Chubby with a full head of rich curly hair she had huge, intelligent eyes and a ready smile. I was completely won over.
There was also an eleven-year-old boy, Meng, with them. I later found out from my friend that Meng was Wendy’s eldest son from a previous marriage and that Wendy had been through a bitter legal battle against her ex-husband before the Court awarded custody of the boy to her. “Ironic, isn’t it?” my friend said. “But perhaps that was why he was the only child who had not been given up”, she remarked wryly. My friend was very sweet to Meng and asked him how he was. He answered timidly that he was fine. He seemed like a really obedient child, ever at his parents’ every beck and call.
Wendy went through a list of things about the girl’s habits with us (she ate three times a day, and was given rice as they had no money to buy milk, the things she liked and didn’t, the doll that she slept with, etc.). Toys were brought to keep her occupied and her favourites were pointed out to us so that we knew which ones would pacify her.
All this time, Meng carried the little girl and exchanged baby talk with her. But soon it came time to say goodbye. Needless to say, it was a very emotional moment for Teck Ann, Wendy and Meng. We told them they had to leave the office and its vicinity (anonymity was crucial, and we had to make sure that they were not following us or could see where we were heading when we sent the child to her adoptive parents). After another half an hour, the family reluctantly left. The baby started screaming for them immediately. We tried to pacify her as none of us were comfortable with the prospect of having to bring a hysterical baby downstairs, especially me. I felt really guilty, as if I was to blame for the separation. We eventually gave up when it was clear that the baby was not going to stop. I remembered then why I gave up family law in the first place.
My friend drove up to the front of her office building and very quickly, we bundled up the wailing baby into her car. Shenton Way was deserted as it was already close to nine o’clock.
Suddenly, my friend exclaimed in dismay, “Oh no, look who’s hiding behind the tree, that one in front of that office building…” I looked ahead and saw the figures of Teck Ann, Wendy and Meng huddled together. From where I was sitting, they seemed to be crying. The boy was clutching his mother’s skirt, sobbing uncontrollably, eyes locked on us as we drove by. They stood there without moving for a long time, even after our car sped past. To this day, it is impossible to recall that moment without fighting back the tears.
The baby never stopped crying even after we reached the adoptive parents’ house. When Mrs. Ang saw the child, she was speechless. Tears welling in her eyes, she quickly brought the child up to her room. Mr. Ang told us that they had a really anxious night. Right up to the last moment, they feared that Teck Ann and Wendy would change their minds and the baby would never arrive.
Just then two laughing children came dashing out into the living room, one of them in his BMW toy car and the other in a tricycle. They looked at my friend expectantly and asked, “Where’s the baby? Where’s the baby?” Mr Ang explained that the baby was upstairs and no one was to disturb her for a while.
We settled down to coffee while the children showed off their toys to us. “Every time I look at these two children, I know what I have done was worth it.” my friend said to me as Mr Ang went to the kitchen to bring us refreshments.
I had to agree. It was clear that these children were loved and well taken care of. Home was a nice landed townhouse with a lush garden. Mrs. Ang had willingly given up a career to be a full-time mother. You cannot but think: it will be a wonderful environment for the children.
My friend sighed and continued: ” Do you know that Meng has never been to school? Teck Ann told me they had no money. I have told them about getting government aid but nothing has been done.”
I was shocked. The stark contrast between Meng’s life and his siblings’ was just too overwhelming. My heart simply went out to him.
How will he grow up? What kind of a person will he become? At this tender age and under such circumstances, he had already suffered the pain of losing a sibling three times. How will all this affect him eventually?
I felt really tired and emotionally drained. I looked at my watch; it was well past midnight. The children had disappeared and my friend and I decided to go upstairs to say our goodbyes.
Everyone was in the master bedroom. The 3 kids were on the queen-sized bed playing with each other with mummy looking on.
Mrs. Ang smiled softly when she saw us. “It’s a miracle,” she said, “the baby stopped crying immediately when she saw my boy. She started calling him Kor-kor (term for “brother”). I think she must have thought that he was the other boy.”
She looked down at the kids and added quietly, “I think everything’s going to be all right”.
I think so too.
The reason I share this with you is to show that certain situations are not so clearly black or white. It is the grey area surrounding such situations that affects us the most and reaches for our humanity. Hopefully, this experience will also illustrate the fact that there are many lawyers, not unlike my friend, who walk this moral tightrope with a heart. Despite their human weaknesses, they continue to strive towards what they honestly think is the best under very difficult circumstances. Which, people sometimes forget, they did not create in the first place.