Jonté Watkins strolls into my house and it strikes me there's something very familiar about him.

"Are you sure we haven't met before?" I ask his mother Donna, who is at my house to pick up a mutual friend from Australia who was staying with us.

Donna says she doesn't think so, but that baby face of Jonté's is unmistakable — I (eventually) realise he once graced our Bay News cover in 2005 as a bouncing baby boy who had just been adopted by the incredibly lovely Donna and Rob.

The Bay News article that ran in 2005.
The Bay News article that ran in 2005.

Now that little cherub is a badminton-buff, sports-mad teenager, 13, with a big heart and big personality to match.


And if anyone deserved to have a family of their own, it's Donna and Rob.

The couple struggled trying to have a baby of their own for 12 years. Rob had children from a previous relationship but like most couples, they also wanted a family. They underwent three full cycles of IVF including six frozen cycles and experienced the misery of losing a baby at eight weeks.

Donna and Rob were among the group — pushing their empty strollers to Parliament — who campaigned for a second round of publicly funded IVF. They were co-ordinators for the local infertility group for some years.

Eventually, they decided to try for adoption.

"The whole focus when you shift from IVF rounds to adoption — it's about creating the family ... how you get that family is not that important. It was less about being pregnant and more about wanting a family."

It's been a rollarcoaster ride for the couple who "feel privileged to have been given the gift of life". Adoptions are low in New Zealand, especially in recent years. The Watkins didn't hold much hope.

They went through the process with Child Youth and Family adoption and were lucky to have been picked for a private adoption through someone they knew who was already a mother to three and who did not want more children. Theirs was an open adoption and now Jonté has a huge extended family with a sister and five brothers. He spends holidays with his birth father.

"The way we look at it is, the more that people that love a child the better. He's part of an extended family. Jonté has a birth mother and birth father, but we are always mum and dad."

Jonté was told he was adopted when he was 9. The word "adoption" was always a familiar word in the household and Donna and Rob often read the book Tell Me Again About The Night I Was Born to him.

"Jonté also knew that I couldn't grow a baby in my tummy. We think that's why he took it all his stride, because we had prepared him in small ways beforehand."

Having an open adoption has been beneficial for many reasons, Donna says, such as health and family history, heritage and there is no "unknown" for Jonté. His birth mother and father are friends with them, and they can watch Jonté grow up.

Jonté is just happy to have a big, loving family. He has told his friends he's adopted but "some of them don't believe me", he says.