Would you adopt an HIV+ baby?

Updated: Sep 24, 2019, 08:08 IST | C Y Gopinath |

She really wanted a baby. The adoption agency needed to do a few routine tests. And then the results came

Back then, if you wanted to adopt a child, you found an agency that took care of orphans and abandoned or surrendered infants. You registered with them and once you completed the paperwork, they’d send a social worker to conduct a home visit to assess and evaluate the home you would give the child. Pic/Getty Images
Back then, if you wanted to adopt a child, you found an agency that took care of orphans and abandoned or surrendered infants. You registered with them and once you completed the paperwork, they’d send a social worker to conduct a home visit to assess and evaluate the home you would give the child. Pic/Getty Images

C Y GopinathBinkie had no children. I didn't know her well enough to know why. She lived with her husband two buildings away; we'd meet them at parties, make small talk. She was in her 40s, dignified and understated, but an empath, warm and good-natured in conversation. I didn't know that she wanted to adopt a baby until she told me one day. It was some year in the late 1980s.

Back then, if you wanted to adopt a child, you found an agency that took care of orphans and abandoned or surrendered infants. You registered with them and once you completed the paperwork, they'd send a social worker to conduct a home visit to evaluate the home you would give the child. Shortly, you would be invited to view some babies.

Things are different today — as with most areas of civilian life, the government micro-manages who you may adopt and from where. To adopt, you must register with the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA), a statutory body under the Ministry of Woman and Child Development. After due diligence and much paperwork, the government will direct you to three children in their database; you may add only one to your shopping cart.

In this clinical and heartless process, adoptive parents are neither counseled nor prepared to receive the child who will join their family. They do not know her age, health, gender or needs. Between 2017 amd 2019, an unprecedented number of adopted infants have been returned by their adoptive parents, who had neither been prepared nor given a choice.

In the last two years, 278 adopted children — about 4 per cent of the 6,650 children adopted in that period — were returned. About 25 per cent of them were children with special needs. This is what happens when the government bureaucracy inserts itself into family life.

Back in Binkie's time, adoption was a more emotional and intimate process. She registered with an agency, specifying that she wanted a recently born baby. The home visit was completed in due course and she was approved. One day, Binkie and her husband visited the agency and were shown several babies. Without much difficulty, they selected Chinnie, a chubby, cheerful child.

There was joy in the air.

"We need to do some basic medical tests," the doctor said. "It's part of the process." "Whatever you wish," Binkie said. "This is my child and I am his mother."

After some days, Binkie was called back to the agency to receive the medical reports. The doctor closed the door and looked at Binkie gravely. Something was not right.

"The medical reports were fine," said the doctor, and Binkie sighed in relief. "Well, all but one. This baby tests positive for HIV."

Binkie looked blank. She had no idea what HIV was.

"In the light of this, we'd like to know if you're still keen to adopt Chinnie."

Binkie asked for some time to think about it.

In the next few days, she learned more about HIV than she had ever known: it was a lethal virus transmitted through an exchange of bodily fluids during unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected person; through a transfusion of infected blood; or by injection with an infected needle. There was no cure; HIV meant death, sooner or later.

How could Binkie bring home a child, care for him with all the mother's love in her — only to lose him after a few years?

With the heaviest of hearts, she told the agency that she could no longer adopt Chinnie. "I cannot be the best mother possible to a child I have had even the slightest doubt about," she said, weeping.

But the HIV tests of that time did not detect HIV directly but rather the HIV antibodies — the immune system's soldier cells — that the body produced to fight HIV. A pregnant HIV+ mother would definitely pass on her HIV antibodies to her foetus — but only one in three babies would receive her HIV virus as well. As the baby's immune system developed and it produced its own antibodies against diseases, the antibodies inherited from the mother would fade away.

This process could take as long as three years. In this period, the baby would technically be recorded as HIV+ because he carried his mother's HIV antibodies. It would be a few years before they could know if he was HIV+ as well. During this period, few parents would want to adopt him.

Binkie did not want to wait that long only to have her heart broken again.

But three years later, when his mother's antibodies disappeared from his blood, fat little Chinnie turned out to be completely HIV free. He was adopted by a loving family in Delhi, where he grew up to be an outstanding young man, beloved by everyone.

Here, viewed from there. C Y Gopinath, in Bangkok, throws unique light and shadows on Mumbai, the city that raised him. You can reach him at cygopi@gmail.com Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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