On one of many visits to the building in Chembur, we meet a few of the several dozen kids there. One 8-year-old is all long legs and shy awkwardness, walking around in panties, T-shirt and gap-toothed smile. A bright-faced boy, slightly older, has just returned from a party. He's in fancy clothes and just bubbling over with joyous stories. Others clamber all over us as soon as we sit.
The thought comes naturally: we want to take the whole lot.
Yet when I look back on those weeks, those visits, it always seems slightly bizarre. One day in October 2004, we walked into that building in Chembur. Half an hour later, we walked out with a tiny human being. A little girl we call Surabhi. Just like that.
OK, it wasn't quite that simple. The whole process had taken a year. We had first met the small delight about two months earlier. Several subsequent visits got her accustomed to our faces, and us accustomed to her ready smile and mile-long eyelashes. Yet ... even so, at the time, it was something to get used to: walk in, leave with a bundle of joy.
Adoption, of course. That October, Surabhi came home to an indulgent elder brother and two star-struck parents. Just as Sahir did when he was born in 1999, she has added new meaning to our lives.
But if it was an unusual feeling then, the truth is that with every day of these last two years, adopting her has seemed steadily less unusual. I mean this in the best possible way. To us, the way Surabhi came to our family seems just as normal and natural as when we had our son Sahir, yet at the same time just as special. If you know what I mean. They are son and daughter, sister and brother, no more but no less and certainly no difference in the way we feel about them: two little beings, each of whom brings us joy in their particular ways, in overflowing measure.
Of course we had our worries. Hearing from so many who said we would find it hard to feel the same toward the adopted child as we did toward the biological one, we couldn't help wondering if it would indeed turn out that way. Despite our best intentions, despite the rationality we think we aspire to, would we end up looking at her differently? Is that the lot of every adoptive parent?
The quick answer: no. After all, how often do parents sit and think about how their biological children came to them?
Scratch that. Put it this way. We see the pair of them running around the house, teasing and tripping over each other. Positively the last thought to occur to us is: they took different routes into our home.
And of course we are also aware that there are potential hurdles ahead. While she will always know how she came to us, and we want her always to feel just as secure in that knowledge as Sahir is in his, we also know that other adopted children have had their emotional crises, small or large. We'd be poor parents if we didn't anticipate and plan for Surabhi's moments like those. But we look at it this way: let her believe in the natural normalcy of her coming, let her believe that it's our belief too, and then that time, if it comes, will be just another phase of growing up.
Crises are fine. Years from now, we'd like to feel that adoption didn't make for more difficult ones than, say, adolescence.
The ideal we aim for is for Surabhi (and Sahir) to think of adoption as boringly normal. We want to walk the line that lies somewhere between not telling her at all about it, and going on as if it is a most unusual virtue. Either of those extremes, we think, is a recipe for trouble. She will get teased about it; but we hope that she will treat that teasing like any other.
As I write these lines, one part of me thinks how they are, in a sense, utterly futile. Only because this article demands it, I'm trying to analyze and sift through an experience that we don't much think about anyway. Surabhi is part of our lives, period. Just as Sahir is. Just as their cousins and their aunts are. They listen to the Munnabhai soundtrack together, she scribbles on the walls, there are the occasional squeals of outrage as they scratch each other, he writes little books, she runs to him to complain that her father has scolded her ... ordinary family stuff that I just cannot imagine doing without, that I never want to do without. Ordinary brother-sister stuff that is familiar like the lines on my palm.
And I'm glad it feels like that. Because there are people who occasionally ask us why we adopted our daughter, whereas nobody ever asks "why did you give birth to your son?"
Ideally, nobody would ask either question. But either way, our answer is the same: "Because we wanted our child." We wanted Sahir. We wanted Surabhi. We are blessed to have them.
[previous discussion here]
n! - well, I admit I don't know what the reaction would be if we did adopt. However, when some people asked when we were expecting (the baby came recently), "do you want a boy or a girl?", I told some of them "it doesn't really matter because we'll probably adopt one of the opposite gender eventually..." I'm not sure if we actually will, we need to recover from this one first :) But at least that remark didn't seem to elicit any "shock". Maybe they're used to me saying outrageous things...
As I said, it's not unprecedented either in my family or in my workplace, and the kids in question are a hit with everyone.
Rahul: I was going to add the following to my comment over on the last post. I've noticed (caveat: purely anecdotal, non-representative experience here) that the shock is relatively diluted if not absent when:
1. The couple in question has tried multiple fertility treatments and adoption is the last option rather than the first. The mindset seems to be that a child is better than no child. Or even if the couple at least "tries" to have a biological child. But its more difficult, in my experience, if one announces that one has no interest in pregnancy only kids, so adoption is one's first choice.
2. The couple has a biological child first. I still haven't figured out the reason for this one, btw. But the reaction I always get is "have one first, then you can figure out". Maybe they think that if you have a biological child, you'll give up the idea of adoption? Or having had one child, its Ok to adopt another?
I had a final question to those who decide in advance to have one biological and one adopted child (this doesnt' apply to those who decide to adopt AFTER having the biological child). I am curious as to why one makes this decision. It appears, to me, that if one doesn't really care about whether the child is biological or not, it doens't make sense to go through pregnancy and its attendant hassles, not to forget labour pains. And if one cares abou biological children it doens't make sense to adopt. So why the mix? Apologies in advance if the question sounds too rude - just curious. The only reason I can think of is if one wants 2 children, one of each gender (as Rahul says). But then wouldn't it make sense simply to adopt both?
n! - yes in some cases I know this may have been the reason (inability to conceive). I know other women who nearly killed themselves going through all sorts of dubious fertility treatments, compared to which adoption surely seems very sensible.
It appears, to me, that if one doesn't really care about whether the child is biological or not, it doens't make sense to go through pregnancy and its attendant hassles, not to forget labour pains.
I can't speak for that... actually we'd have been fine with adopting the first kid too, it wasn't really carefully thought out. But apparently there are significant long-term health benefits to going through a pregnancy and breastfeeding at least once, including a significantly lower risk of breast cancer, some other cancers, and possibly osteoporesis.
Dont get me wrong certainly support adoption but...
...it doens't make sense to go through pregnancy and its attendant hassles, not to forget labour pains....
sounds a lot like outsourcing the unpleasant stuff eg. to Mexican / bangladeshi immigrants in a different scenario. Not that that is automatically invalid.
Dilip - absolutely splendid piece. Just loved it.
Jai - Are you saying adoption is like outsourcing the unpleasant task of pregnancy to mexican/bangladeshi immigrants ? Did I get you right ?
Jai: Hmmm, that was badly worded I'll grant you that. But no such implication was intended.
Rahul, thanks for answering my questions so thoughtfully. Appreciate it.
DD: Came over from MumbiGirl's blog. Superb piece. I feel happy for you and yours.
sounds a lot like outsourcing the unpleasant stuff eg. to Mexican / bangladeshi immigrants in a different scenario.
Jai - it would be outsourcing if you asked another woman to have the child on your behalf. That's not unheard-of, but it isn't what we are talking about.
In our country with over a billion people, we don't really need more children, but many of the children we do have need parents. That's the main argument for adoption, in my opinion.
One of our children was born in USA and is too fair. May be there was a mistake in the hospital or... . What ever it is, even for an atheist like me, any child is a gift from god.
... outsourcing ...
Something sounded a little off about the statement that I excerpted in my previous comment and I couldnt quite place it even as I was typing it in.
Some concern that it sounded like getting somebody lower down the economic ladder to go thru stuff you dont want to yourself ( thats where the Mex stuff came from).
The point came out very badly and I accept Rahul's response in toto. Also no offence meant, n!
Rahul - Sorry if I'm dragging this, but I just want to get what you've said.
I understand outsourcing somewhat loosely as "getting work done elsewhere because its cheaper" (here is a search).
What's that got to do with adoption ?
Also if this is not unheard of, where is it heard ? I mean have you heard of instances where pregnancies have been, well, outsourced ?
Another valid response to my previous stated position is that the economically weaker mother also likely was not a willing, informed and consenting parent-to-be ( since the kids are up for adoption).
She would certainly be happy that the kids are getting adopted.
Hadn't you posted this a few months back?
I introduced 'outsourcing' into this discussion and should take the blame for it, not Rahul. Some clarification has been attempted at comment #10. Its an inappropriate term to convey what I felt. Peace. Please.
Rahul owns the rest of his response.
Sorry for hijacking the discussion on this very commendable post into a rather offbeat track.
Jai - I appreciate your follow-up comment, but again I'm a bit lost on the point you're making (reg. the economically weaker mother).
However, this is Dilip's space and like you, I would not want to hijack it. We're not at war, but may peace be with you brother.
BA - conventionally, quotes from previous posts are italicised (blogger doesn't seem to accept the "blockquote" tag in comments).
have you heard of instances where pregnancies have been, well, outsourced?
Google "rent a womb"...
Like I said, this is not what we are talking about.
Rahul - I'm not sure if its the same as outsourcing, but let's leave it here. I think I've got what you're saying, and, yes, its not relevant here. Thanks.
Wonderful story; hope there are more people like you in the world, I'm sure there are plenty of children that need good homes.
Always great to read Dilip's views..especially on something as personal as adopting. Way to go.
I find myself naive to comment, but a lot of miseries abound this earthlok, for the very simple reason that we have not put our own lives in order.
Is it not simple that either you love or you do not? How can someone love and hate? So, if you love, you would love children ,biological, adopted, black, white, challenged, deaf, dumb, Indian, Chinese and the list goes on. If you do not love, you would not even love your own biological children. We live in the divided paradise of our so called love in superlatives , ridden with conflicts all the time.
As Dilip says that the adoption should become as immaterial, as the daily existence of ours. It is so natural and joyful in real sense. Thanks for sharing your joy with us.
Lovely post. It's so nice to hear about such things.
I feel bad when I hear about people trying to have kids desperately but they don't want to consider adoption. I don't want to judge them - perhaps they have their own reasons but still it would be so good if more people would consider adopting kids.
Kudos to you!
Conservatively speaking, why is it people first emphasise on having a biological child than adopting one?
Why is adoption a "second" option in most of the cases?
I am too immature to understand something like this on my own... but I have seen how people just keep wanting and trying to have "their own" baby. They say stuff like, "Your baby is your baby." Is the adopted kid not "your own"?
Thanks for the kind words, ladies and gents. Sorry for the late response, I was travelling; back now, I'm preparing for more travel!
This may answer Nabila and some other questions here, our reasoning for having a biological child and then an adopted one: very simply, we wanted it to be clear to both kids always that they were wanted. Not that either was a option turned to because other options did not work, but that it was a choice we made to have them.
Anirudh, some lines from this were part of an earlier piece. The rest was written for this time.
I don't know that I want to enter into outsourcing discussions ...
Mr. D' Souza...I belive u got me wrong...I am not throwing those questions on you. I appreciate your actions and have loved the way you have expressed yourself. What I am talking is something differrent...its not about u or me...it is abt d mentality dat people have. Why should 'adoption' be a big deal with 'certain' people?
Because there are people who occasionally ask us why we adopted our daughter, whereas nobody ever asks "why did you give birth to your son?"
A fact that no one think's about. Great post.
Congratulations on the latest addition to your family... Knowing you, I am sure she will have the most wonderful family.. did i mention that you taught me at XIC?
Had wanted to adopt but with a bad in law situation and plenty of trouble it was just one more thing to add to the mess we call our life... I hope you will write about her more often so we share in the joy....
Nabila, I didn't get you wrong, I understand what you're saying. You're right, and that's in a sense just the point of this article -- why should adoption be a big deal at all? Ideally I'd like a time to come about when a paper wouldn't even think of adoption as a "core issue" -- it would be that bland a topic.
Thanks Karthik and Mad Momma. No, I don't remember a Mad Momma from XIC, you'll have to furnish some other reminder! But it's always nice to hear from someone from there. Best to you.
oh i was neither mad nor a momma then... will write to you soon....am the same batch as annie zaidi.
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