Ankita Majumder and her husband Richard Henderson rattle around their beautiful suburban home. They have good jobs, loving friends and family but feel empty.

Sometimes seeing pregnant women gets to Majumder, 39, who can't hold back her tears. After more than a decade of failed fertility procedures and a disheartening experience looking at adoption, the West Auckland couple have turned to surrogacy.

"The house feels empty ... We'd rather have kids waking us up at 5am.

"We just want to share what we have and teach them what we know. To have a legacy and leave something behind.


"We have what it takes to make a child really happy."

The couple gave up on adopting after looking at home and abroad when they realised they faced microscopic chances, $60,000 fees and were told they would only qualify for a child aged over 5 with a physical or mental disability.

Majumder had five miscarriages and underwent several attempts to get pregnant. That included five rounds of artificial insemination, two rounds of in-vitro fertilisation, eight embryo transfers, ovulation induction (trying to increase ovulation with medication) and ovarian drilling (small holes drilled in ovaries to release more eggs).

In 2013, the heartbroken couple turned to adoption. They attended an information evening with Child Youth and Family.

"We were told that there are not enough babies to place in open adoption," Majumder told the Herald on Sunday.

"You can have your profile ready waiting for some mother to take a look at it but nobody puts their child up for adoption anymore.

"You may get lucky or you may never get lucky."

Majumder and Henderson's story is growing increasingly familiar.

Today there are 600 families hoping to adopt on the Ministry of Vulnerable Children's books. But there are not enough children to go around - last year just 128 local children were adopted. That's a third of the number compared with 10 years ago.

Adopting from overseas is on the rise but New Zealand only has agreements with seven countries and there is vast red tape to get through with lengthy waits, massive bills and court cases in other countries to negotiate.

Adoptions peaked in 1971 with almost 4000 children being rehomed in New Zealand, according to Child Youth and Family figures. By 1998 the number was down to less than 600. Last year there were just 128 adoptions - an all time low.

Richard Henderson and Ankita Majumder at their home. Photo / Dean Purcell
Richard Henderson and Ankita Majumder at their home. Photo / Dean Purcell

One adoption expert said only a worldwide disaster would increase the number of children needing to be rehomed.

It is, of course, a double-edged sword. No one wants a world with high numbers of displaced children, but growing levels on infertility leave would-be parents in limbo.

One in four Kiwis will experience infertility in their lifetime, which is defined as not getting pregnant after 12 months of trying, support organisation Fertility NZ figures show.

Five years ago it was one in six.

Factors like couples trying to conceive later in life and increasing obesity have contributed to this.

Every year, more than 5000 couples see a fertility specialist for the first time due to infertility.

Like increasing infertility, the decline of adoption is an "international phenomenon" that would take World War III to change, says Beth Nelson, Ministry of Vulnerable Children team leader.

Nelson, who has worked in adoption since the 1980s, says more children are displaced in unsettled times.

"Unless there's a worldwide disaster I can't say adoption will be any more appealing than it is now. It's a huge decision."

At any one time, the ministry has 600 families in their pool of people waiting to adopt.

"But we don't have 600 babies available. Never in a million years," Nelson says.

"It's a major thing to give away a child for adoption, you lose your parental rights. Most people believe children are best raised in their own family."

Christchurch woman Sophie Clarke* and her husband Liam are among the lucky ones. After four years in the adoption pool they were selected and given "the greatest gift on the planet" in 2014.

When a child comes up who could be a match prospective parents are ushered into a room. Clarke, who is now 41, remembers it being awkward and competitive.

"You hear about those children and imagine them in your home. When you don't get them it's devastating ... It's like being on a rollercoaster."

A social worker told the couple early on that their chances were slim. The rollercoaster included being rejected twice for two different siblings. Clarke wanted to pull out but her husband urged her to give it six more months.

Ankita Majumder and her husband Richard Henderson gave up trying to adopt a child because the process was too lengthy and expensive. Photo / Greg Bowker
Ankita Majumder and her husband Richard Henderson gave up trying to adopt a child because the process was too lengthy and expensive. Photo / Greg Bowker

"Six weeks later a social worker contacted us [saying] that an adoption situation had come up and our profile matched what the birth mother was looking for."

They had planned to go to South Africa for Christmas but the baby was due at the end of December. It wasn't a guarantee they would get the child but they "decided to go for it" and cancel their trip.

The birth mother was a solo mum who already had three children and did not want any more.

Their baby was premature. After a few weeks in intensive care the Clarkes were able to bring Lilly* home. Clarke said she connected straight away with her daughter.

"I always had concerns about bonding, whether I would feel like she is my child. But it's just an instinct. You're protective straight away."

The couple paid $3500 for the adoption which covered their lawyer and one for the birth mum. The only other cost was getting a full medical test done every three years to stay in the adoption pool.

Adoptive mums don't feel like they can complain because they've been waiting for such a long time, Clarke said.

"You feel like you can't vent or moan or say you're tired or frustrated because you've wanted it for so long. But it's just like having a child.

"I'm her mum. She throws tantrums. It's just normal. I get frustrated."

A prospective family can wait in the pool for a month or forever, Nelson says.

"The birth parents make the decision. They select 'Mr and Mrs White because something resonates for us'.

"That is a pretty amazing fantastic thing for the adopted parents. They've been chosen by the parents and have a huge responsibility to be the best parents they can be.

"It's also a thing that's sad. It's not a decision being made lightly. They're relinquishing this child."

Reasons women put their child up for adoption usually include unplanned pregnancies and not having the support of the birth father, or it could be a couple who completed their family and couldn't handle another child, Nelson says.

"It's not always your pregnant teenager."

Ultimately there's less of everything, less abortions and less children.


Women having fewer unplanned pregnancies is one reason behind a drop in the number of children placed for adoption. Contraception, combined with education, has become more reliable. That environment is also cited for abortions dropping to the lowest rate in 25 years.

Abortions peaked in 2003 with 18,500 carried out, last year that had fallen to 12,800.

Family Planning chief executive Jackie Edmond believes long acting forms of contraception like the IUD or implant were contributing to fewer accidental pregnancies.

"They're less open to human error.

"Ultimately there's less of everything, less abortions and less children."

The growth of social welfare has meant more young mums can afford to keep their children, even if they don't have their family's support.

New Zealand has adoption agreements with seven countries through the Hague Convention including Chile, China, Hong Kong, India, the Philippines, Lithuania and Thailand.

This is the area of growth in adoptions - there were 745 children adopted from overseas last year. Ten years ago that number was just 344.

But it is complex, time-consuming and expensive. Each country has its own requirements and process.

Majumder and Henderson looked abroad after realising it was unlikely they would ever be chosen from the domestic adoption pool.

They decided on India - Majumder's ancestral home. But they were told they were only eligible for a child aged over 5 who had a mental or physical disability - and they would only find out what sort of disability they would get when the child was selected. The couple decided not to proceed with India.

An attempt to adopt from Lithuania fell through due to a hefty price tag. Majumder estimated it would cost $60,000 - taking into account flights, accommodation, a home study and legal processes in Lithuania and New Zealand.

"It puts your life into limbo, you don't know when it's going to happen," says Majumder. "The journey has already been so long."

ICANZ director Wendy Hawke with her adopted daughter Svetlana Hawke. PHOTO/Janna Dixon
ICANZ director Wendy Hawke with her adopted daughter Svetlana Hawke. PHOTO/Janna Dixon

For many couples three is hope in the form of Inter-Country Adoption New Zealand. Director Wendy Hawke has overseen the organisation for 23 years after adopting four children of her own from Russia.

Hawke says it usually takes between six and 18 months to go through the process. The cost of adoption is about $10,000 but travel, visas, passports, legal fees, translators and other costs can blow this out by thousands.

The adoptive couple go through a course then complete a police check, medical check, reference reports and social worker visits. The social worker then recommends the couple as suitable to adopt and writes up a lengthy report.

This goes off with other documentation to the country of adoption. Sometimes there's a court hearing in the foreign country and the ministry has to approve the particular child that is selected.

When the adoption is approved the prospective parents travel to the country where they stay for over two weeks. A social worker then visits the family in their home for up to four years after the child is brought back to NZ.

ICANZ has helped facilitate around 1000 adoptions in the last 30 years.

For Majumder and Henderson, however, it is time to move on.

They gave up their adoption dreams last year and contacted the Herald to find a surrogate in a last attempt to have their family.

After their story was published they were flooded with 30 responses. But only four women decided to pursue that further. They are currently in discussions with two of them.

"If this doesn't work our journey is finished. We are not going to try for a child anymore."

* Names have been changed to protect privacy.

The New Zealand process

Adoption is the legal transfer of parenting rights and responsibilities from birth parents to adoptive parents. In 2016, 873 adoptions were recorded by the Department of Internal Affairs, and just 128 of those were from within New Zealand.

After an information evening prospective parents need to complete an application, go through an education and preparation programme, have a number of interviews with social workers and create a profile of their family.

The birth parents select families based on their profiles from an adoption pool. They usually meet the families they are considering before deciding.

Birth mothers must wait at least 12 days after giving birth to give consent for the adoption.

A domestic adoption's only expense is legal fees that the adoptive parents cover for themselves and the birth mother. They can range between $2000 and $5000.