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Love, luck and Emily: Our daughter from the angels
When Amanda Cooper-Davies and her husband James arrived in Chile to adopt their daughter – something they’d dreamed of for more than a decade – they knew it would be a life-changing trip. What the Canterbury couple didn’t realise was that it would also save their lives.
When the Christchurch earthquake hit on February 22, 2011, destroying Amanda and James’ inner city apartment they were more than 10,000km away in Iquique, Chile, adopting their daughter Emily, now eight.
‘I’ll never forget, we went downstairs to the little petrol station next door and on the front page of the newspaper was a photo of the earthquake damage with this big copper dome destroyed in the middle of the road. We used to live under that dome,’ says Amanda, remembering the shock she felt staring at the remnants of their building.
‘When my best friend called after the earthquake the first thing she said was, “Thank goodness you were in Chile because you would have died.”’
Amanda, 49, James, 45, and their biological son Otto, 15, were living in a High St apartment above a World clothing store, before leaving for Chile on February 9, 2011.
‘The girl who was working that day survived but she was thrown backwards into the basement and it was right across the road from where a young mum and her baby died,’ says Amanda, who can hardly believe that while she and her family were celebrating their new daughter, other Kiwis were grieving the loss of family.
Amanda and James feel, in a way, Emily saved their lives. ‘Her middle name is De Los Angeles, which means from the angels. It couldn’t be more accurate. She really is our little angel,’ says Amanda, smiling at her girl.
Amanda, who works as a food stylist, and her husband James are sharing their story with New Idea as they believe there are too many New Zealand families struggling to adopt, who don’t know international adoptions are an accessible option. Unable to conceive another child naturally Amanda and James tried unsuccessfully to adopt in New Zealand for 10 years. Just 21 non-relative children were adopted nationally from June 2011 to June 2012, according to Child, Youth and Family statistics.
Still desperately wanting to expand their family, Amanda and James were thrilled to discover Compassion For Orphans (CFO, cfo.org.nz), a locally-based and accredited international adoption agency.
‘CFO were so amazing. We were quite sceptical to begin with and thought there would be lots of corruption,’ says solicitor James. ‘You hear horrible stories where people go over with suitcases of money in case they have to pay someone off, but it wasn’t like that at all.’
Relaxing in the Waiheke Island home where the family now lives after leaving Christchurch, Amanda and James hope their story will encourage other families to consider adopting internationally.
‘There are a lot of people out there hurting who haven’t been able to have children of their own who I know would love the same opportunity we’ve had,’ says Amanda, who admits there have been challenging times.
‘People often ask what it’s like adopting an older child. It is challenging but I’ve thought about it a lot and it’s no harder than having a newborn baby – it’s just different.’
Thinking back to the day they first met Emily, Amanda struggles to hold back the tears as she has her make-up done for our photoshoot. ‘I’m not allowed to cry with my make-up on,’ she says, blinking away tears as Emily interrupts. ‘Mummy remember what I taught you. You have to look up when you get your mascara on.’
Amanda continues: ‘We were in this little sitting room in the orphanage and the door opened and she just ran into my arms yelling “Mama!” She couldn’t speak any English and we couldn’t speak any Spanish.
We spent about 40 minutes hugging, kissing and playing.’ Emily, who was six when adopted, says: ‘I always wanted a new family and now I have one’.
And watching her run down the hallway, calling out to her brother Otto, it’s clear Emily is the daughter Amanda and James always wanted too.
‘We feel so lucky everything worked out. Having a little girl is just a dream,’ says Amanda.
‘I love all the little things, she has my best pair of boots in her bedroom and she loves make-up and high heels. I get chills thinking about it because there was a time I wondered if it would ever happen.’
New Idea Magazine | 26 June 2013