Do you know this?

There are approximately 18000 parents registered with CARA, while the number of children in the Government's adoption pool is less 1800.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Inheritance of Love

Part of the fun in embarking on the parenting journey is observing the reactions of people around you. When you are pregnant, they analyse the shape of your tummy, predict the gender of the child and engage in animated debates on who the child is going to resemble. When you announce that you are going to adopt, the reactions are, of course, more complex. After we announced our decision to adopt to our close friends, one thing I realized is that people are genuinely confused about many aspects of adoption. If only some of these misconceptions could be dispelled, the rate of adoption in India would be much higher than a paltry 5000 per year. It is easy to write or speak about the legal aspects; but discussing the emotional side of adoption requires far more sensitivity - one of those situations when the fiction format comes in handy! That is how this story came into being - would love to hear your views and thoughts…

“Ok, Ok - I’ll listen. If you want to waste your money on long-distance calls to an old man, what do I have to lose? But I told you not to expect me to change my views - I may not have an MBA like you or that son of mine, but I’ve seen so much more of the world…”

Radhika could sense that her father-in-law was trying hard not to let a tinge of affection colour his stern voice. I guess this is what makes us so close, she thought fondly. She could almost intuitively read Daddy’s unsaid thoughts and feel the emotions painstakingly hidden under his tough lawyer’s exterior. She was grateful for the special relationship she shared with Sachin’s parents. She smiled thinking of how Sachin teased her, “You married me not because you thought I was the perfect husband, but because my parents were the perfect in-laws…”

“So, you both feel that Tanya can do with a brother or sister”, Daddy’s voice from the other end broke her stream of thoughts. “And you have decided to do it the easy way!”
“Do you seriously feel that way, Daddy? Do you think we have decided to adopt because it is a short-cut”? Radhika tried to sound unperturbed.
“As a matter of fact, I don’t. I think you are unnecessarily complicating things - but then, my son always had this way of seeing things in a different light, as he calls it!” Was there a hint of pride in his voice?
“I don’t get you, Daddy. Why do you feel adoption is more complicated than raising a biological child?”
“Don’t close your eyes to facts - you can’t make it dark by closing your eyes, as they say. Ok, you are smart enough to have researched the laws thoroughly; you know the procedure inside-out. But I don’t have to tell you it’s not just about the legalities”.
“Hmm...” Radhika didn’t want to interrupt - she knew that though he wouldn’t admit it, Daddy had thought about the matter and discussed it with Mum several times since their last conversation.

“I mean, you know I don’t like to mince my words. Let me get this straight - do you honestly believe that you’ll feel for this child just as you do for Tanya? The love, the bonding, whatever - you truly believe it will be the same?”
This was a quality she was glad Sachin had inherited from his father - this fearlessness; the ability to say things as they saw them without being insensitive to the other.
“Well Daddy, do you remember how nervous I was when I knew I was pregnant with Tanya? I was never the “mother hen” type, and had never even held a baby in my arms… Till Tanya completed her first month, I used to shout for Mummy every time she cried because I had no clue what to do or how to comfort her!”
“Hmm…your husband was not the epitome of grace either”, Daddy chipped in. He won’t spare a chance to poke his son - these men! thought Radhika fondly.
“Exactly! Both of us were so unsure to begin with, and to be honest I spent most of the first month wondering what kind of mother I was, not to feel a gush of maternal instinct at the very sight of my baby”, laughed Radhika. “But it happened, Daddy. Within a few days Tanya and I got used to each other - and I became a “natural” at the job. Soon, I found to my own surprise that every time I heard a baby cry anywhere, I would turn instinctively to see if I could do something! That was when Sachin and I started seriously considering adoption…” Radhika’s voice tapered off.

“It is easier when the child is a baby, I agree”, came Daddy’s voice again. “What when it grows up? Look at our baby Tanya. Can you deny that you feel happy every time someone tells you that she looks like her father or that she has a way with words just like you do? We all like to see something of ourselves in our kids - can that happen with a child who does not share your flesh and blood and genes? If the child does not match your expectations, won’t you be disappointed”?
Radhika was happy that she had anticipated the very same questions and done her homework thoroughly. In the last couple of months, she had read several books on adoption and gone through numerous adoption-related websites and blogs - not to mention the long hours of soul-searching and intense dialogues with Sachin.

“Daddy, Sachin and I have always believed that every child is a unique individual in his or her own right. When we look at Tanya, what we see is not an extension of either of us. We see a little person who has tremendous potential to grow into someone special - to us, that is what makes bringing up a child so worthwhile. We do feel happy when someone says that Tanya reminds them of us, but we feel equally proud of traits which are unique to her. Anyway, when we speak of common genes, we should remember that a person can inherit traits from ancestors across several generations. That is why we often see children who are very different from their parents - in terms of looks, abilities, talents, almost anything - or siblings who have very little in common.
“In most families, however, you can see that the members share certain common values, beliefs and principles. That, I feel, is something to do with upbringing rather than genetic predisposition - at least to a large extent. And speaking of flesh and blood, ours is a society where marriages were, and still are, arranged not on the basis of mutual compatibility but a convenient match of religion, horoscope, money and so on. I know of many friends who agreed to a match chosen by parents before even meeting the prospective partner. Imagine what an act of faith it is, deciding to pair your genes with someone you hardly know - other than that he or she belongs to a certain community, family and socio-economic class - to create a new human life! You know next to nothing about the partner’s traits and attributes, leave alone those of their ancestors! You know nothing about the child you are expecting till it is born - and even then, the possibilities are endless till the end of his or her life. Realistically, how can you then expect this bundle of complex genetic make-up to be your carbon copy? ”

Suddenly Radhika thought she heard a gasp from the other end. Had she got carried away by her emotions? Had she unintentionally hurt her father-in-law? “I’m sorry Daddy, I really didn’t mean to… I mean…”
“No, no, go on. Argued like a lawyer’s daughter-in-law - as my father would have said”, he remarked sarcastically. Radhika couldn’t suppress a sigh of relief.

“Daddy, remember Gibran’s ‘Prophet’ that you and Mummy bought me for my birthday? I loved the entire book and almost know it by-heart! But the part that really made an impression on me was his views on children. It goes something like this:
Your children are not your own - they are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They came through you, but not from you - and though they are with you they do not belong to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts - for they have their own thoughts…
You may strive to be like them but seek not to make them like you, for life goes forward and tarries not with yesterday

When I read these words I realized that the great poet had captured the essence of parenting in them. It is this philosophy that Sachin and I have been trying to practise - love your children unconditionally without any expectations, and savour that very special bond. Speaking of bonds, if shared blood and genes are what make a relationship special, how is it that I am so close to you and Mummy, probably closer than to my own parents?” She could not say anything more -a flood of memories and emotions filled her being and a huge lump in the throat stifled her voice. She sensed that Daddy had become emotional too, and was grateful when he deftly steered the conversation forward.

“How could I forget the most important part - Tanya? Is the little one prepared for all this? You never know how children will react…”
Instantly, Radhika could feel her eyes sparkling. “You know how she is, Daddy - quite precocious for a five-year old. She has been asking for a “baby of my own” for some time now, and we have had quite a few discussions on this. I have explained to her that babies can either come from the mother’s tummy, or from a special place where several babies wait for families. She knows that we will soon be going to one such place to bring home our baby - and she just can’t wait. Of course, she occasionally reminds me that we should try to get a ‘she-sister’, since a ‘he-brother’ may not know how to play with the dolls she has saved for her baby!” At this, the doting grandfather burst out laughing.

“Adoption is a noble deed indeed, no doubt…” he said. Radhika noticed that his tone had softened.
“Daddy, I feel that every act of parenting is a wonderful experience - be it biological or otherwise. But I get terribly put off when people tell me that adoption is a charitable act or a sacrifice on the part of parents. If so, what about the pain - physical and otherwise - of biological parenting? Besides, parenting is not a one-way relationship; it is definitely mutual. You and your child benefit from it, no matter whether the relationship is biological or adoptive. I feel every couple needs to be aware of this before embarking on the marvellous journey called parenthood”.
“If you do start the adoption procedure, how do you plan to go about the whole thing? Where will you begin from?”
“Since we are coming on leave soon, we thought it would be a good idea to visit the state ACA - that is the Adoption Coordinating Agency. They will advise us on how to proceed.”
There was silence at the other end for a few moments. Then she heard Daddy’s voice again, “This is the problem with you youngsters - you leave everything for the last moment. Let me contact the Agency right away and find out the details - that way, you can be better prepared”.
Radhika couldn't believe her ears. Was she imagining things? “Eh… Daddy..?” she mumbled.
“I said I’m going to contact this Agency NOW - don’t tell me you have a problem with that too”, he chuckled.

Was it joy or relief that overpowered Radhika at that moment? Daddy always manages to have the last laugh, she said to herself. Not that she minded it in the least!


Anonymous said...

Great pointers to deal with the family members before embarking on adoption. Fictional format helped me to relate to the characters.

Anonymous said...

Feels like someone just held my hand & took me , few steps forward. AWESOME!