Not my DNA, but I still love you

MRIGANK WAS a premature baby. He came into the family months before he was scheduled to arrive. Now, he is a bubbly three-year-old, and enjoys playing with his older sister Sringi. "Though the process of adoption takes nine months these days, we were lucky to have our little fellow within six months of seeing him at Ashraya," says Vandita Vikram, economics lecturer from Delhi University, who has turned full-time mom.

Why did a healthy mother with a biological child decide to adopt the second child? "It came naturally. Deliberating too long on the pros and cons of voluntary adoption takes away the charm from bringing home a baby!" was the answer. Lakshmi, Assistant Manager (Finance) at 24/7 is an office-bearer at Su-datta, the Bangalore wing of the Adoptive Parents Association. For her and husband Dharmarajan, software engineer at Rational Software, the decision to adopt a child was made even before they got married. "I wanted to experience all the facets of being a mother, and so I had my biological child, Kedar. But we knew we would be adopting our second child." "There are so many children in the orphanages and foster homes, waiting to be loved. We just fell in love with the little girl we were shown first, and we did not even bother to see another child. Of course, the decision has to be whole-hearted and have the sanction of other members of the family, and the children need to be told the truth. Krithi knows she did not come from `my tummy' the way Kedar came, but at four years she is blissfully normal and well-adjusted."

In India, adoption is generally taken as an option only when a couple is unable to have their own child. Many Indian families support their orphaned nephews and nieces, and do a good job of bringing them up. "But even voluntary adoption is not a bed of roses," warns Padma Subbaiah, who has been promoting adoption for nearly three decades, in association with Mathruchaya. At a time when adoption was shunned by a conservative society, she took the initiative to promote single-parent adoption, and adoption of female and dark-skinned children. She has been extensively researching the subject and has followed up the lives of all the children who have been adopted from this organisation. "It is clear that children who have been told the truth about their adoption do very well in life. The ones who accidentally come across their original parentage begin to distrust their adoptive parents. The hurt of not being informed never goes away." How do you react when you are told that your child does not resemble you at all? "I don't answer inconsequential questions from total strangers. I fob them off saying the child's father is dark. But we do answer well-meaning guests and acquaintances with the truth," says Lakshmi. At Gear Foundation, where her children study, some parents apparently said: "Hey, how come we never thought of adopting a second child!" Some wonder about the need to get into an unknown territory since they know nothing about the genetic strains of the adopted child. "Many embarrass us by calling us `noble', but we ourselves find our family quite normal!" says Lakshmi.

It is not always a good idea to give in to your `noble' streak and adopt a child. When Ketki (name changed) found an abandoned child in a hospital, she impulsively brought her home, knowing fully well the child had several medical problems. Ketki and her husband Sunil had to spend so much time and effort to bring up the sick child, that their biological sons started feeling left out and uncared for. "I regret that our impulsive decision to adopt this baby has caused my sons a lot of heartache, but the nine years that I had with my `daughter' before she finally died have made all of us so much stronger."

In the Chari (name changed) household, things were different. Vinod and Sheela had a normal childhood. When they were10 and five years old respectively, their parents asked them whether they could bring home another child. Ms. Chari had always nurtured the dream of bringing up adopted children. "The kids were so supportive and helpful, that we had no problems bringing up Roshan. The integration was so smooth that five years later we adopted the newly born seventh daughter of a gypsy. Now Reena is a happy 12-year-old, who knows where she came from and knows that she is one of us. She is pampered silly by her brothers and sister, and no one who sees them together can tell the adopted ones from the biological ones!"

The Charis do not enjoy public adulation. "Adopting these two children has only brought in more happiness for the entire family. We don't want it to look like a publicity stunt! We recommend that more parents should adopt children and enjoy them," say the busy couple.

Ms. Neena Nayak, Chairperson of the Karnataka Council for Child Welfare, brought home Arthi (now 22) when the couple remained childless even after five years of marriage. "As a social worker in Delhi, I had been greatly inspired by Swedish organisations and their work with adoption. In India, there was hardly any awareness about adoption. Even doctors and paediatricians did not look at adoption as a good alternative to remaining childless. Happily, today, more and more parents are experiencing the joy of adopting a child," says Ms. Nayak. Their second child, Adip, underwent a phase of illness, but has emerged a champ. At 17, the young man is a State-level badminton player.

Adoption, in some cases, is a challenging task. "One has to work on the relationship just as in any other relationship. Except, that in this case, the child comes without a genetic history," cautions Padma Subbaiah. To which, Vandita Vikram replies: "Who knows how biological children will be as adults? As parents we only know that we have to give the best of education and values to our children. How they will use these is up to them!" Adopted or biological, children need the same things — love, security, good values, and a family to love.