Talking about adoption, as a parent! – Deepali Kulkarni
Being a professional from the field of adoption and child welfare, I was thoroughly convinced that we had to talk to our daughter about the fact of her own adoption and the earlier the process was initiated, the better it would be. We did have a few people who tried to brainwash us against it. However, we always wanted our relationship with our daughter to be based on truth and did not want any factor to create any sort of problems / issues in our relationship with her only because we had chosen not to tell her the truth or deny her the right to know the facts about herself and her homecoming.
We had started documenting our daughter’s adoption in the form of photographs since the first time we saw her. We had made sure that we had clicked a photograph of her with one of the caretakers in the adoption agency. The caretaker had shared her experiences of taking care of Keya. We added more photos over a period of time, after she came home, and we knew these would help us in talking about our adoption journey.
The talk about adoption with our baby began with introducing the concept of adoption through stories from day two, after she came home. We are fortunate to be staying in a country like ours where we have stories revolving around the concept of adoption. Such stories are available across religions and cultures. We really didn’t have to take off “special” time to talk to tell her stories about adoption. The ‘feed time’ was our story time, the best time when I got to speak to Keya on a one on one basis about adoption. Over a period of time, I realized that she was responding well to stories. I would tell her different stories ranging from mythology to folktales and so on. Her responses would make it evident that she would love listening to what I was narrating to her and even as a baby aged about 6 – 7 months old, I could see her facial expressions change as the story advanced.
Eventually, as Keya was growing up, the nature and the matter of stories changed from general to more personalized / specific ones. Around the time when Keya was about 2 years old, we developed a story woven around Keya’s adoption facts. Considering the fact that I had a hormonal imbalance and a gynecological problem, we chose adoption as a better option to parenthood. We developed a story around these facts mentioning that we were waiting for a baby for a long time and it was through one of our friends that we got to know that our baby was in her “first home” and that we could go and bring her home. (We chose to call the adoption agency as her first home to give it a positive note). We then visited her first home and saw our baby. We spoke about how she responded to us during our first “meeting” with her. Later we went back to bring her home and her custody was handed over to us during a small ceremony. We had clicked pictures of every single incident that we were talking to our daughter about. We clubbed the narration of the story about our daughter’s homecoming with simultaneously looking at the relevant pictures of the process. It was a very encouraging process for us, as parents, to see our daughter enthusiastically sit with the two of us and listen to the story and see the pictures simultaneously.
During the immediate phase after she had seen and heard her own story for the first time, Keya would frequently ask us to narrate “her story” to her. All these years, she was listening to Krishna’s story or someone else’s story. Now she was listening to her own story based on her parents’ firsthand experience of her homecoming and this, for her, was probably a very fulfilling experience. Over a period of time, this phase faded away and Keya started asking questions about herself, related to her adoption. We, as parents, were always open to her questions and we chose to answer them freely. Whenever we did not have an answer to a question, we would tell Keya that we did not have an answer so we would think about it and then get back to her with the relevant answer. We would get back to our social worker for help in such situations and take her suggestions on how we could deal with that particular question.
Somehow, she never asked me if she came from my stomach. Instead, she asked me about why she had not come from my stomach. I shared with her that I had a problem in my stomach and so God could not send her to us through my stomach and so God chose her “Devaki mamma” to send her to us. Referring to her birthmother as “Devaki mamma” helped us refer to her birthmother in a positive terminology.
A curious little child that Keya has always been, she had always heard many people around her say that she had a lot of traits which were similar to my maternal grandfather whom she had never seen in person. (This is a mere coincidence and one would find a lot of adoptive families who would mention different similarities in behavior and habits between the adoptee and some member in their family). One day she asked me about where she was before she came “here”. Under the impression that she was asking me about her life before she came home, I said that she was in the first home. She spontaneously said, “No mamma. Where was I before that?” I replied saying that she was in her Devaki mamma’s stomach. To this Keya further explained that she wanted to know about where she was before she went into Devaki mamma’s stomach. This was indeed a tough one for me. I thought for a while and then said that she up there in heaven, sitting on God’s lap. The minute the answer went out to her, the next question popped up instantly. She then wanted to know what she was doing while she sat on God’s lap. I had to give her an answer which would satisfy her curiosity as well as appeal to her logically at that age. So I said that God was looking for a home and parents for her and he wanted to send her to a set of parents who were anxiously waiting for a baby and then he saw us. While God peeped through the clouds, she too looked down from heaven trying to figure out what God was looking at. This seemed like a good enough answer for her and she didn’t ask further questions.
Later, she came back to me asking me about life after death and wanted to know if we are reborn in the same family again. To this I correlated what I had told her earlier. I told her that we go back to God after death but I wasn’t sure if we were born again or went back to the same family. When I look back, I realize that Keya had asked me these questions when she was about 6 years old.
Keya was about 6 ½ years old when we decided to visit the adoption agency from where we had adopted her. We always wanted her to see the place from where she actually came home from. We spoke to her and prepared her for the visit. Visiting the city where she was born and the “first home” where she stayed during her initial days as a baby was an exciting experience for her. We had requested the staff there to permit us to meet the caretaker who had taken care of Keya while she was in their care.
On the way to the city where the adoption agency was located, Keya asked us different questions like: Would maushi (aunty, the staff members at the adoption agency) there remember me? Would the caretaker remember me? Would I get to see the cradle/ baby cot in which I slept? Answering all her questions helped us go down memory lane ourselves. Reaching there, Keya seemed both excited as well as slightly nervous. Nervous probably because she wasn’t sure of how and what her experience at the adoption agency was going to be like. After reaching the adoption agency, we met the social worker and then the caretaker arrived. She remembered Keya as a baby in their care. It was an extremely overwhelming experience for us to see Keya greet the caretaker, move about in the centre and see the facilities there and listen to stories about her babyhood days, from the caretaker. She listened to the caretaker with a lot of attention and curiosity. We spent most of our evenings there and Keya seemed happy and contented when we left from the agency. We realized that the caretaker was also very happy to see Keya after a long time. A girl whom she had bid farewell as a little baby go home in adoption now come back to meet her as a big girl – full of curiosity about her babyhood days.
The same evening we visited one of our friends (also an adoptive family) in that city. Their daughter Pooja (name changed) was about 2 years younger than Keya. But since she was not told about her adoption by her parents, we had warned Keya against talking to her about adoption. Both the girls connected well with each other and spent the rest of the evening playing with each other. After spending about over 2 hours with them, we left for our hotel.
Keya had been through different experiences during the whole day and I knew she would come up with a lot of questions after we had left from our friends’ residence. But I never thought the first question would come in immediately after getting into the car parked below their residence. Keya with a serious tone asked me about why Pooja’s parents had not told her about her adoption. I really did not know why they had not and so I told Keya the same. To this her instant reaction was that her parents should have told her about it mamma. As a parent, I could sense the concern that Keya felt for Pooja. All these years, we as parents, had made sincere attempts to speak to Keya about her adoption and give her the best possible answers about the questions / queries that she had about her own adoption. But we did not know how and what she thought about her own adoption or how she felt as an adoptee. But the moment she reacted this ways, we were convinced that we had made the right decision to talk to her about her adoption and answer all her questions. We could sense her confidence in herself as an individual, the faith that she had in us as parents (knowing adoption related facts from us had made a difference) and her concern for the other little girl who knew nothing about her adoption and the fact that the parents should have taken the initiative of talking to her about adoption.
Over a period of time, we realized that Keya was the apple of everyone’s eyes and was showered with a lot of attention and love by everyone, since the minute she became a part of the family. It was after my sister – in – law conceived that I realized that Keya needed to be prepared for the arrival of her cousin into the family. Keya, alone, had received all the attention and love for over 7 years and it was obvious that everyone’s attention and love was now going to be divided between the two children, after the arrival of the second child in the family. We knew and were prepared for the new set of questions that she would come up with once we had told her about my sister – in – law’s pregnancy.
We spoke to her on different occasions on the fact that her baby cousin would be born around the month of May in the following year, how she could help take care of him/ her, etc. She did not ask many questions during the phase of her aunt’s pregnancy. Since my sister – in – law was going to be with her parents after her delivery, we chose to travel to that city after she was admitted to the hospital. Keya’s questions started on the way to their city of residence. She was very concerned that her aunt would have to go through pain when the baby would be born. We assured her that the doctor and the hospital staff would take good care of her aunt. We reached the hospital within a few hours after the baby’s birth. It was the first time she had ever seen a baby who was just about 3 hours old. She loved to take her baby sister in her lap.
She then, for the first time, saw the baby being breastfed. It was then that the next round of questions started coming in. Keya was curious to know if I too had breast fed her in the same way. My mother was around when Keya asked me this question. Knowing how extra sensitive she was regarding the questions that Keya would ask about her adoption and now about her birth history, I chose to tell Keya that we would talk about it when we went back to the hotel room. Keya has been aware of her grandmother’s sensitive nature and was aware that we would not get the space and the freedom to talk on the related topics; she didn’t ask me any further questions. After going back to the hotel, I casually brought up the topic again and spoke to her about how her “Devaki mamma” had breastfed her. She had heard adults around her talk and wait anxiously for long hours before her aunt had delivered and so she had questions if her birthmother had to go through the same phase of labor and child birth. I was aware that a child barely 7 ½ years of age was asking these questions but it was the right time to answer her questions and so, I told her that mothers have to go through a lot of pain for their baby to be born and so mothers are precious. I also showed her the belly button and told her that this was a sign of her “Devaki mamma” that God had left on her body as a mark of her “Devaki mamma’s” love for her.
All through this phase we went through different questions and thought processes. We slowly started realizing that our daughter was growing up to become a pre – teen. The way she thought, the way she spoke, the nature of questions she asked was slowly changing. She did ask me once if I knew where “Devaki mamma” was. I said we didn’t and instantly she asked me about why we didn’t know. I told her that maushi (our social worker) had not told us about it. She wanted to know if our social worker knew about where her birthmother was. I said probably she too would not know, incase her “Devaki mamma” had changed her residence after Keya had come into the agency’s care.
On one instance, when Keya asked questions about her birthmother, we did discuss about why Keya’s birthmother chose to give her up, into the care of the agency. She did not have the resources and any support to be able to raise the baby she loved the most. She wanted loving parents, a good family life, good education and resources for the good of her baby, which was completely out of her reach. She was aware that maushi (the social worker) would help her in finding loving parents and a good home for her baby and so she approached her for help and that was how she was in care in her first home and we got our precious baby. She also had further questions about whether her birthmother remembers her and I said, “Yes, of course”. Her “Devaki mamma” is also a mother after all and she too thinks about her and also worries about her and prays for her wellbeing.
Keya, on different instances, has asked questions related to a hypothetical situation where her birthmother has come to our home to meet her and wanted to know about what our reaction would be as parents. We, as adults, know that birthparents cannot reach us due to the factor of confidentiality that is maintained for both birthparents and adoptive parents. But talking in reference to the hypothetical situation that Keya would talk about, we said that we would let her birthmother meet her and find out about her wellbeing. Keya did go one step ahead and asked us if we would let her birthmother stay with us if she wished to and we said yes.
As adoptive parents, we have made sure that we do not feel insecure when our child speaks about her birthparents and hypothetical situations related to them. We respect her birthparents, especially her birthmother, and are thankful to her for taking good care of herself, especially during her pregnancy in the limited resources that she had. Her efforts in reaching out to the adoption agency at the right time helped the baby get good care and assistance in time and we could complete our family, as a result. Keya was probably asking us these questions to find out our thoughts about her birthmother.
During the growing up phase, it became challenging for us to handle a few situations, especially when it came to disciplining. She would want to do everything her way and would want to know as to why we sometimes stop her from doing something or vice versa. We have made sure that we explain to her about why we say or do so. But she is a child after all and there have been instances when she did comment that I am restricting her from doing something just because she did not come from my stomach.
As a mother, I missed a few heart beats when she said this for the first time. But, I instantly reacted to it and explained to her as to why I was asking her not to do something (or vice versa) and the fact that she had not come from my stomach is irrelevant here. She tried to emotionally blackmail me by making this statement on two such occasions but now she is convinced that discipline and adoption are two different matters and there are certain rules / disciplinary matters that she has to follow, whether she likes it or not. We have made sure that we explain to her that the discipline and values that we have inculcated in her are for her wellbeing. When I look around, I realize that there are other children who use the same tool to emotionally blackmail their parents to have things their ways. To emotionally blackmail their parents, other children use their gender and/ or birth order in the same way that Keya used her adoption fact. Not giving in to such weak moments have helped us in having the discipline in place for our child.
During all these years we have made sure that we are in touch with other adoptive parents. Keya has also met a few other adoptees. We try to attend all the programs organized by the adoption agency from where we adopted her as well as the one that I freelance for. This has helped us in introducing Keya to the fact that there are other adoptees that are growing up in other adoptive homes and adoption does not make her different from other children around her. She has a lot of friends in school as well as in the complex that we stay in and we see that she is at par with any other child around. We see her live with confidence, knowing the fact of her own adoption.
We have had our highs and lows in the journey of parenthood. Although I am a professional in the field of social work and I have been working in the field of adoption for some time now, the professional self takes a back seat when I am at home and am mother first. Having an open and a transparent relationship based on truth with Keya has helped our relationship, with her, grow and we see that our bonding has grown stronger.