For the love of motherhood: The dream account of adopting an orphan in Egypt

Dina Ezzat , Friday 5 Apr 2024

A single and independent woman shares an account of her journey for “adoption” and her concerns for the future of her “adopted” son.

adopting an orphan.. a journey


“It was a dream come true but the path remains far from easy”. These were the words of Dina Ghamri, a single mother of choice with an “adopted” child.

The journey started with this inherent love of motherhood that Ghamri has had since her late teens. “I always knew I wanted to be a mother,” she recalled.

However, motherhood and marriage were irreconcilable for her: she wanted to be a mother not through marriage or any biological association. Her heart was filled with love for abandoned or orphaned kids who needed the love and care she felt she could give.

She tried adoption for the first time at a very young age, not long after she graduated with a degree in French literature from Cairo University in 1988.

Initially, she tried adoption through the SOS project that allows women to raise eight children in a house dedicated by the government. This attempt was thwarted after it turned out that she was too young – in her early twenties – to be legally illegible for such a task.

Eventually, she thought of adopting a child on her own. However, her upper-middle-class parents rejected the idea and could not resign themselves to her constant rejection of suitors while insisting on becoming a mother.

At some point, Ghamri tried to reconcile her wish and that of her parents but failed to find “this someone who would agree to have an adopted child after marriage, whether we had biological children or not.”

She was not aware at the time that according to the law, an age difference of 15 years must exist between a biological and an adopted child.

Ghamri was also ignorant of many of the legalities of adoption, including Islamic Sharia’s prohibition (as the main source of legalization according to the constitution) of fully adopting a child as one’s own. Instead, the law allows for Kafala, a type of government-supervised surrogacy.  

Furthermore, for an unmarried woman to be legally eligible for surrogacy, she must be at least 45. “Luckily, however, the law was amended and now unmarried women at the age of 30 are entitled to apply for surrogacy,” she said.

Ghamri pursued a career in publishing children’s books and volunteered with civil society to help children in difficult socio-economic conditions. At the age of 48, she decided it was time to satisfy her burning desire for motherhood by attempting once more to adopt a child.

Working through the necessary paperwork proved daunting and frustrating for Ghamri, who felt that such a sensitive process could disturb the privacy of the future surrogate mother or that of the child.

She also felt that the process was designed to secure a healthy mother-child relationship but was rather a highly transactional process whereby the child would be transferred from the care of the Ministry of Social Solidarity to that of a woman who would be somehow affiliated with the ministry.

Furthermore, Ghamri began obtaining information on how to manage the situation psychologically, whereby her future child accepts being in the care of a surrogate mother.

She also had to learn how to deal eventually with her surrogacy, especially in a society that does not approve of that concept.

Ghamri also explored the possibility of a medical procedure that would allow her as a single and unmarried woman to breastfeed the child. 

As she read stories about surrogacy, she felt uneasy about the possibility of losing her child if the biological parents, or one of them, suddenly appeared and reclaimed the child.

“Contrary to the assumption that all abandoned children were born out of wedlock, many are left in the care facilities by mothers who failed to provide for the children after the father had just abandoned the family and disappeared,” she said.

Through breastfeeding, Islam allows a mother to have her son live and travel with her beyond the age of childhood.

Eventually, the time came when Ghamri had to start visiting care facilities. “I did not want to choose only but to be chosen as well,” she recalled. Regardless of gender, she began her round until she met the child who smiled and held onto her. It was a boy “with a big smile and a warm hug who would not let go of me, and I knew it was him,” she said.

Gharmi was surprised to learn from the head of the care facility that the child she had chosen had been repeatedly overlooked since he had darker skin. The boy’s skin colour, different from her own, meant she had to disclose her surrogacy.

After getting through all the paperwork, Gharmi took her son home where she had set up everything necessary for him. She decided to stay with him for three weeks until they both adapt to their new reality before breaking the news to her family and to everyone that she has now become the surrogate mother of Iyyad.

Ghamri received mixed reactions from family and friends and was constantly reminded that she was prevented from becoming a full-fledged mother. She always had to consult the ministry on almost every detail, including a medical intervention or an overseas trip.

She also had to deal with the law which bans a surrogate son from inheriting his mother upon death and compels the child to forfeit everything their parent passed on to them, including things such as the membership at a sports club – a situation that Ghamri described as “very unfair.”

“I don’t have full custody over my child, which is so unfair and hampering,” Ghamri complained. She added that it is always within the prerogative of the representative of the ministry “to take away my child if they decided they did not like how I was raising him.”

“I am a mother, not a babysitter,” she said, stressing that many surrogate children remain insecure for a while no matter how loving their surrogate parents are because the responsibility for the child is divided between the surrogate mother and the ministry.

Being well-off, Ghamri enrolled her son at an international school in Cairo where identity issues are not key. She soon overcame her inhibition about telling the truth about her son to all and sundry since she felt that what she did was fair and good.

“I honestly don’t see why this is not happening more often; why do couples have to go through expensive and exhausting medical procedures to get a child when there are so many children out there who are waiting to be loved and properly looked after,” she said.

She later found a job overseas and moved with Iyyad. However, she still worries about the future and that some serious amendments are required to make surrogacy laws more favourable to the interests of the surrogate children and surrogate parent or parents.

Ghamri documented her experience in a book entitled “Ana Essmy Mama” (My Name is Mama), which she said might provide answers to prospective surrogate parents and concerned legislators.

“I think we need the government to engage in a dialogue with experts and with surrogate parents to hear their experiences to ensure that the law that is currently being drafted is compatible with the requirements of a healthy and stable life for the children and their parents,” she said.

Ghamri added that she has penned a draft law and is trying to share it with concerned officials.

“I asked my son if I should publish the book, and he was cool about it. He wants other children to find homes with loving mamas and papas,” she said.

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