Some years ago, while I was waiting for my freshly ground coffee to be packed, I met our old cook who used to work in my mother’s place when we were growing up. My girls were with me, we exchanged smiles and polite conversation and while doing so she said, “You must have had a lot of coffee during your pregnancy,” and looked at my girls. Well, I smiled back at her and said “You know how much I love my coffee.”
This was a familiar situation, I would walk into grocery stores and there would be these glances, furtive whispers, and an awkward smile across shoppers as well as employees wondering and guessing about us. It happened in every public place and continues to do so even today. The reason? We stepped out of conformity and did not concede to matching of the skin tone.
So, when we adopted our first one, we had no clue and were almost absolutely naive at handling these sometimes subtle, sometimes caustic, judgments about colour and physical attributes. I think it was the most agonizing period in our lives, and it was very hurtful. But we had to deal with more serious issues on hand, like nursing our daughter back to health. This was not the time that we needed to hear about our choice or preferences.
We decided to rise above these societal triggers as we did not want our reactions to have any impact on our children; it is tough enough that they have to deal with the feeling of abandonment and rejection when they are growing up and accepting adoption. We needed to remain unperturbed in our minds, so that there would be no negative environmental impact or effect on our children, reminding ourselves that colour is only a skin deep issue, and the universe does not make these distinctions, and the social prejudices are only in our hearts and minds.
A few years ago, I got a call from a prospective adoptive parent on whether it was okay for her to adopt a child who looked physically different from her and her husband. The parents were the natural Indian colour of wheatish to brown and they were given a choice to adopt a very light skinned baby. My response to her was “Go ahead and adopt if you have an emotional connect with the baby. People will have their judgments either ways. Light skin or brown skin does not matter. It’s your emotional connect, when you hold the baby in your arms. That feeling of ‘I want to take the baby home now’”.
There are many biological children who look completely different from their parents. Sometimes, biological siblings look different from each other. So, what if adoptive parents made a different choice?
The fact of the matter is, it’s not an easy path for either the biological or adoptive parents; societies across the globe are steeped with prejudices about race, colour, or disability. Breaking these barriers, and rising above these prejudices is not insurmountable, it actually requires only a change of heart and opening of minds by individuals in societies, and this can be achieved only through dialogue and creating awareness.
The concern now is that with the new changes in the adoption route, we may find a wider gap in the adoption of children with lower chances of acceptance, (children with lesser physical attributes, mainly color and with physical disabilities). There is no point of intervention in the new digital route to rationalise and help parents make an informed decision on their choice of baby. So, that makes it even harder for these children to be adopted.
In the current scenario, it requires a greater push than ever, and only the collective consciousness of individuals in society can bring about a radical change in thinking of different perspectives in adoption. Individuals in societies need to develop more compassion and empathy to (people) prospective adoptive parents, who choose to walk a different path.
When we decide to adopt, it’s imperative that we cast off our prejudices about caste, color, and religion and accept and love the child unconditionally, it may otherwise be counter-productive while dealing with adoptive children in their growing years. Abandoned, surrendered children come from various socio-economic / cultural, religious backgrounds.
Clinging onto to our caste, religion, colour or race, mainly comes from our fear or insecurity of losing our identity. When we rise above our identity and merge with humanity, one can realize the human potential of compassion and empathy for each other. Truly, the only identity for adoptive children will come from having a nurturing family.
It’s tough for prospective adoptive parents to make these decisions. Even if there is a shift in thinking with prospective adoptive parents to tread a different path, our societies do not make it easier on adoptive parents and their immediate family, with their personal preferential choices. And many a time we move away from our personal choice because of the intense pressure of conforming to the societal norms. Stepping out of conformity is not easy, one needs a strong armour of resilience and tenacity to break these barriers.
This is a personal experience, not to hurt anyone’s sentiments but to awaken people’s hearts and minds towards adoption and looking through another window of perspective, particularly towards children with disabilities or deemed less attractive by conventional thinking.
The only way we can transcend barriers and rise above social prejudices is from our life experience. We are blessed our children have been instrumental in opening our hearts and shaping our minds, and this is, I am sure, an ongoing life journey for us.
This is really possible; it may be a daunting challenge in the beginning, but one needs to have deep conviction and faith to de-stigmatise the prejudices which have been deeply entrenched in our societies for generations.