Adopt and adapt

Updated: 18 November, 2019 08:27 IST | Anindita Paul | Mumbai

After Sushmita Sen's daughter Alisah pens heartfelt essay encouraging adoption, leaving actor in tears, experts tell parents how they can navigate adoption and support services in India

Sushmita Sen with daughters Renee (in red) and Alisah
Sushmita Sen with daughters Renee (in red) and Alisah

At the turn of the century, actor and model Sushmita Sen raised many eyebrows with her decision to adopt a girl child — not only was Sen a single mother, she was all of 24 at the time. A decade later, Sen went on to adopt another daughter, Alisah, who recently moved many hearts with her heart-warming essay on adoption. Sen has shared a video of her proud-mom moment on her Instagram account, which went on to renew many conversations about the state of adoption in India, a country where more than 60,000 children are abandoned every year. For far too long, adoption has been treated as a taboo subject. Many parents are still reluctant to disclose their decision to adopt for fear of their children (and their families) being judged and labelled by their social circles. In fact, Sen recently discussed her displeasure with adoption being equated with charity, claiming that her decision was motivated by her need to embrace motherhood and to ground herself.

Sushmita
Sen with long-time boyfriend Rohman Shawl

Experts break down some of the most common misconceptions about adoption, while sharing insights about what the process entails.

Nature versus nurture

Sushma IRSushma IR

"Many parents worry about whether an adopted child will bond as strongly with them as their biological offspring. A large part of these apprehensions are rooted in the fact that the parents have lost out on the initial nine months of prenatal bonding. This anxiety is most pronounced when the child is of or above three to five years of age," says counselling psychologist Sushma IR. This is a valid concern, she says, because it may take more time for the parents and the child to find acceptance for each other. The best way to approach this bond — as is the case with any relationship — is by spending a lot of quality time. "Get to know the child better. Have conversations around the child's likes and dislikes. While you do not have to deliberately bring up topics pertaining to the orphanage, do not feel awkward if the child speaks about it or even draws comparisons. At the same time, refrain from trying to offer justifications," she says. There is also a lot of debate about the role of genetics and hereditary patterns in shaping the child's personality. However, Sushma points out that no matter the child's background, change is possible through the right kind of nurturing, care, love and guidance provided by the parents. If you do see patterns of behaviour or a thought process that is significantly different from yours, it is important to be objective rather than blame the child or yourself, she advises.

When should I tell my child?

Sapna BangarSapna Bangar

Many prospective parents worry about adopted children rejecting them or their family on learning about the adoption or the impact on their growing mind once they realise that their biological parents rejected them. The decision about when you should disclose the same to your child is personal, but should be governed by the following considerations, says Sushma.

  • Breaking the news when your child is six to eight years is often recommended as the ideal age since "children at this age have a developing brain that is both curious and understanding. Their level of acceptance is far higher than adults, which makes it easier for them to accept the fact," says Dr Sapna Bangar, child psychiatrist at MPower. "Telling your child early on reduces the risk of the child learning about his/her adoption from a relative or friend, who may unknowingly or knowingly discriminate against them. This could have a negative impact on the child," she says. Sushma adds, if your child reacts negatively or accuses you of not being his/her "real parents" when you discipline him/her, it is important to not lose objectivity. Understand that the child has lesser maturity and wisdom than you, and it is therefore up to you to handle your emotions and help your child cope with the emotional turmoil (s)he is experiencing.
  • Waiting until your child is in college or when s/he is ready to step into the real world can also work if your bond with your child is strong. Else, it could lead to feelings of unfairness and injustice, reveals Sushma. "Your child may want to find out who his/her biological parents are. Be aware that this is your child's decision, and is no reason for you to feel dejected or guilty," she reaffirms.

How long will it take?

Charmaine Ann Lazarus  Charmaine Ann Lazarus  

Once a largely uncontrolled area, adoption in India has recently become simpler due to revised guidelines and more transparent processes. All adoption cases are governed by the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA), and In India, Indian citizens as well as a non-resident Indians can adopt a child under the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act of 1956 and the Guardian and Wards Act of 1890, says Charmaine Ann Lazarus, a family court lawyer. "The process typically takes two to three years. There are several checks and processes to ensure that the child receives adequate care after adoption," she says. Some of the key criteria include the mental, physical and financial stability of the adoptive parent(s). The accumulative age of the parents should be under 110 years, while a single adoptive parent must be under 55 years of age. The minimum age of either parent should be over 25 years. While the marital status of the adoptive parent is not considered — which means that single parents can adopt — couples that are married must have been married for at least two years. These criteria, however, are somewhat different for relative adoptions and adoption by step-parents.

How much will it cost?

A 2017 revision has made the associated costs slightly higher. While Indian candidates are charged Rs 75,000 as a one-time fee, non-resident couples will have to pay $6,000. These charges are inclusive of childcare corpus, medical examination, child study report, and maintenance and administrative costs. Couples may have to pay an additional amount for the detailed evaluation that determines their suitability for adoption, and for post-adoption follow-ups and counselling sessions.

Love conquers all

Family

I had always wanted to adopt a girl child, even when I was still a college student. After my son was born, my husband, Gaurav, 39, and I discussed having another child. Gaurav was an only child and we didn't want our son to have a lonely childhood like his was. Instead of trying for another baby, I broached the topic of adoption. While Gaurav was apprehensive, he became quite amenable after a few discussions. We decided to ask our son, who was five years old at the time, about his views; his reaction encouraged us even further — he was delighted at the prospect of a little sister and couldn't care less about where the baby was coming from. We decided not to discuss this with anyone else, since we were wary of bias.

Once our decision was made, we registered on the CARA website. We were asked to submit basic documentation and medical records. A case worker visited us for a home study and we took this opportunity to address the doubts we had about the process. It also helps that the form is quite elaborate. We were on the waiting list for two years before being matched with our daughter. We travelled to Madhya Pradesh, where we received the child.

Today, my children are inseparable. We've explained to our son that his sister had come from another woman's womb. He didn't have any further questions. For us, adoption is more than a noble cause. Alisha is an addition to our family and we love her unconditionally.

As told by Suvarna Thakur, 35, chocolatier and homemaker

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First Published: 18 November, 2019 08:15 IST

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