paper-work, though endless, is done. We are registered on the CARA (Centralized Adoption & Resource Agency)
website, and the wait, we are told could take up to two years.
It takes 1.5 years, actually, before our baby girl is placed in my arms. As the husband carefully straps her into the baby seat for the road trip home, I make my first ever bottle of milk: warm but not too warm, thick but not too thick, and no lumps, please! It isn't easy using the convection burner provided at the children's home—but I manage, despite my clumsiness. The social worker-cum-mentor gently urges me to give baby the bottle, and she accepts with both hands. The grandmoms (mom and mom-in-law) assure me I have a flair for this. I feel a lump in my throat. Baby yawns—snuggles into her seat and diligently suckles on her milk, eyes closed.
Lost for words, I type out a message: "On the auspicious day of Margashirsh Guruwar, this day of the Mother Goddess, with the kind permission of the court, we are thrilled to welcome our very own Little Ma Shakti into our home and hearts."
This was exactly two Decembers ago.
The last 730 days have been a roller-coaster ride into unchartered terrain; but I wouldn't have it any other way. Baby is now a wise little toddler, 2.5 going on 10, and is busy with sports day practice for her playgroup. Queuing up at the starting line with her little friends, she lets out a war cry of pure glee. Unlike her mama, this is so her thing. I don't question it, heck no, I revel in it. I let her run her race, unburdened by expectations. She wins, but this is not what it's about. It's about the journey that is just as amazing—let no one tell you otherwise.
Of Legalities and Paperwork
1.) The Centralized Adoption Resource Agency of India (CARA), is the umbrella organization of all the registered childrens' homes in the country and the only legal way to adopt. So this is how it goes: you approach a children's' home in your vicinity (CARA-registered, of course) to mentor you. They give you a list of documents to put together—from your tax returns to property papers to answering a list of questions on why you are adopting to character testimonials from responsible sources to a NOC from the local cops. This is followed by a formal visit from their social worker for a Home Study Report, and more questions. You are invited for counselling and encouraged to attend a workshop on what adoption entails. Do not fight any of this, or grumble. Answer the questions, even if you think they are intrusive. No, no one is out to get you. But as the mentoring team had us know: "Our job is not simply to help you find a child for your family, but the correct family for the child." Go over that again. And do attend the workshops, though optional. Featuring paediatricians, lawyers, geneticists, social workers, experienced adoptive parents and more, the information will only help you.
2.) Once you are queued in on the website, you are now a prospective adoptive parent with an All India Waiting number. It could take anywhere between 6 months to 2 years to find a baby to match your requirements. The reason for this is not bureaucracy but the availability of children declared "free" for adoption by the Child Welfare Committee.
3.) Remember, under Centralized Adoption, the baby can come from anywhere in India, and the institute who has mentored you, will not be the one giving you the child. CARA has a flat fee once the child comes to you, that's all. Apart from that, you may want to factor in lawyers' fees, the expenses of putting clothes and a little nursery at home together for baby as well as your tickets to the city from where your baby has arrived. Remember, in case of couples, both husband and wife are expected to be there for the entire process. You can't say that your partner is travelling for work—it doesn't cut much ice.
4.) Once your baby's details are inboxed to you, you need to update your documents again. This is not a requirement of the home, but the local court under whose jurisdiction it is. You have 15 days to do this. Do not hurry. You will have to take three to four files of xeroxes and attested true copies. In addition to the medical records already provided, you can repeat a few more tests (as permitted by the paediatrician) before saying yes. Now the baby is set to come home with you.
Sleepless nights and more
1.) When you are doing your paperwork post the baby's assignment to you, put a nursery together and childproof the home. Grandparents can be recruited to help with baby's shopping: clothes, diapers, milk sachets, bottles, woollies, toys, blankets, the works. This is going to be crazier than crazy time, but oh so joyful.
2.) Be sure to take that three-month maternity leave from work. You are going to need it: for the sleepless nights, endless feeds and doctor's visits. This is as overwhelming a process as giving birth. Don't kid yourself that it's not.
3.) Baby could cry. A lot. Give him/her the time and space to do so, and don't let that dim your joy. There is no such thing as 'instant chemistry' with a child who is between 3 months to 3 years old. The little one is going to respond to you as per her/his moods. And don't look for any 'divine signs' here. But a full tummy, a loving lap and plenty of sleep in a clean, secure environment is usually the perfect panacea for those early, hazy days.
4.) Friends and family will make a beeline with gifts and good wishes. But careful to earmark visiting hours. As I learn the hard way, this isn't the time to make gourmet meals and I need my rest—even if I haven't given birth.
"It is my firm belief that my baby's story is her own, and no one else's business".
Baby's right to privacy—and yours as well
1.) Intrusive questions are a socially sanctioned custom in India. This is tricky terrain, but each couple finds a way. Ours was simple: Don't complain; don't explain. In other words, we didn't hide the fact that we had adopted, nor did we entertain the nosey parkers. "Who are the real parents?"—yes, we did get that—is met with a cheeky "We look false to you?” and a hard, glassy stare. They get the drift.
2,) While we are proud of our baby and the process that brought her into our life, there is a fine line between information and over-sharing. It is my firm belief that my baby's story is her own, and no one else's business. The strange part is that the "dumb" (hubby's choice of words) questions come from acquaintances, and not those who matter.
3.) Similarly, even if you want to work for adoption as a cause dear to your heart (natural, given the circumstances) do not share personal nuggets about baby to do so. You can promote the cause without parading the child. And yes, babies do have a right to privacy. Let that sink in.
4.) We were lucky to have all relatives on board with our decision, but if that isn't your story, fret not. A rule of the thumb is to put the baby's interests over all else and cut the offending parties out of your life if need be. Decision making is easy if there are no contradictions in your priorities.
Her own person
Never mind the nature versus nurture debate. This is your baby and nothing can change that. Strangely (or not so strangely), my mom used to say that our baby has exactly my personality as a child: joyful, confident, independent, and bossy. (That too!) Like me, she stands up for herself. (Read: gets into fisticuffs with her friends.) But just like me, she doesn't start fights, she only finishes them. (Some consolation!) She is noisy and expressive, loves dogs and books and eats all the veggies possible, just like the hubby and I. They learn what they see, and do as you do.
As for her gob-smacking ability to backflip and somersault, something I never felt inclined to do, I am content to let her be her own little person. I don't have all the answers, but I can live the joy—one cartwheel at a time.