As told to Mahima Vashisht Jun. 27, 2020
Adopting a child in India is a process riddled with bureaucracy, tough questions, and long delays, often for the right reasons. But, as we found out, the red tape is the least worrisome part of adopting. We were not prepared for the resistance we faced from our family.
It was my son’s third birthday, and we’d decided to spend it a little differently this time. So we went to an orphanage to give away books and sweets. I spent time there reading to the children, and they responded as children always do – with open arms and open hearts.
Days passed, but my mind kept going back to the children. The hope in their eyes haunted me, and I felt compelled to do more. Just one visit a year felt incomplete and insufficient to make a real difference. That’s when my husband and I started talking about adoption.
The thought of adopting had first crossed my mind when I was 13. I didn’t think it would ever amount to anything more than a vague thought until I met my husband, who, in a conversation during our courtship, said he would be open to the idea.
Fast forward a few years, and here we were, talking seriously about it. We wanted to focus our love and energy on one child, our child.
Making up our minds was only the first step. We needed the support of our parents and siblings so that the adopted child received as much love and attention as the biological one from the grandparents and immediate family. We did not anticipate the twists and turns our journey would take – especially our family.
We wanted to focus our love and energy on one child, our child.
My mother expressed her whole-hearted support immediately. But other family members were not as prompt in giving their blessings. My father was skeptical, and grilled us until he was convinced that our motivations for adopting came from the right place. Since we were legally required to appoint guardians for our children, my sister and brother-in-law volunteered to do this. This simple act on their part meant the world to me and only boosted my resolve. My in-laws seemed reluctant, but my husband managed to bring them around too.
But we saved the most important stakeholder for last – our son who was now 6 and would spend his lifetime with the sibling coming home. We told him that we wanted him to have a special little sister who would not come from the hospital like most babies, but would be given to us by a court. With true childlike simplicity, he was ecstatic about getting a playmate, and where she came from did not matter to him. Later in the process, he even wrote a lovely request letter to the judge asking for a baby sister, and his excitement rubbed off on us as well.
It seemed like a perfect rosy picture, straight out of a Sooraj Barjatya film. However, as I found out later, the resistance destined to come our way was not behind us yet.
We still had to get past bureaucracy.
The first step for adopting in India is an application form to be submitted to the Child Adoption Regulatory Authority. The form asked us about our preferences – age of the baby, gender, health condition, etc. While we were clear we wanted a girl, this form made us confront some hard questions. For example, were we okay adopting a differently-abled child? A child older than our son? A child from another part of the country, whose features were very different from ours? These were some tough subjects that led to some intense discussions between me and my husband.
The form submission process was an experience in itself, involving soft copies, hard copies, photocopies, photographs, fitness certificates, notarisations and demand drafts to be submitted to the local CARA centre. Sadly, a typically sarkari experience.
After a home visit by a social worker and his clearance, we were officially on the waitlist. Six months passed and our number seemed to barely move. I began to lose hope. But after a year, things started to speed up. A few months later, a baby was finally referred to us (it would have taken even longer if we had asked for a boy, which says something about our society).
She was four months old, and was placed at a reputed agency in Aurangabad. I was overwhelmed when I saw her photograph – she looked a little like our son. She had his small nose, large ears, and two beautiful dimples. It seemed like fate. We conveyed our initial consent, and began preparing to visit her.
I started planning my second innings as a mother with great gusto. As it turned out, this innings came with heaps of documentation.
Two years after filling out the application form, we found ourselves at the agency. After passing through another social worker, a lawyer, and a doctor, we finally got to meet her. It was a moment that will stay with me forever.
I held her in my arms. Her wide eyes and dimpled smile made my heart skip a beat. Any concerns I had about loving an adopted child the way I loved my biological son melted away. I had found my baby girl.
After completing all required formalities, we came back home to Hyderabad, and desperately waited for the go-ahead from the agency. Three excruciatingly long weeks later, we got the call. We packed our bags and were ready to fly to Aurangabad to bring her home. I had my files and folders and checklists in order. At home, we had brought her a crib, baby clothes, diapers, the works. I thought we were finally on top of things, but I wasn’t prepared for what came next.
Any concerns I had about loving an adopted child the way I loved my biological son melted away.
The night before our departure, my in-laws called and told us to stop the adoption process. We reminded them that we had taken their consent before we started. They simply said that they hadn’t thought back then that we were actually going to go through with it!
We were aghast. But we obviously did not have time to convince them all over again. We decided that if our children were going to have only one set of loving grandparents, then so be it. Our daughter was waiting for us.
Despite the setback, we reached Aurangabad and her custody was handed over to us on a foster-care basis, and a court would legally approve the adoption later. Not being first-time parents, my husband and I were well-versed with the needs of an infant. It also helped that my family lived close by and provided an enthusiastic support system. Everyone got involved in shopping for the baby, childproofing the house, and decorating it.
I learnt to cook food exactly as the adoption agency did so that the transition was as seamless as possible for our daughter. Our son, excited to welcome his baby sister home, doubled up as a little guardian – holding the feeding bottle as grandma cradled her in her arms, wanting to carry her. I felt a pang every time I saw her with one grandmother, wishing the other one was around too.
Twenty days later, my father-in-law finally called. He wanted to make amends for their last-minute indecision. Eventually, they came over to meet their granddaughter.
Our daughter is two years old today. And she has everything I wanted her to have – a loving family, a protective big brother, and grandparents who dote on her.
Someday, she’ll grow up and understand the meaning of being adopted. But that day can wait. As everyone in our family says, “Our son was born from the womb, our daughter was born from the heart.”
The author is a former civil servant and currently works in the development sector. Generally though, the Harry Potter fangirl solemnly swears she is up to no good.