‘For most biological parents, the wait is over in nine months’

on Saturday, April 26, 2008

IN LONDON’S CAMDEN Market there’s a stall for everything. From discarded cutlery twisted into modern works of art to thirdhand Levi’s to gothic tattoos. None of these caught my fancy that autumn afternoon in 1996. Instead, I gravitated towards a curious hand-written sign that read ‘Silver and nearly precious gems’. A sliver of a man with an enormous smile held out one of those triple interlocking rings and before I could protest, made me try it on. “There you go dearie: one ring for you, one for him and one for…” And then I heard myself say: “The baby… we’re expecting a baby.” Just like that; hope was born.My husband and I had been married for eight years and had lived in almost as many cities. It’s not like we didn’t want children. On the contrary, they loved us and we loved them. When our nephew was born, we clicked every expression that made its way across his tiny face. Then we’d blow up and laminate our efforts as constant reminders of his perfection. Along came the second nephew and we realised, much to our surprise, that we doted on him just as much. Children and us went together.We were going to have many little ones of our own someday. Someday. Call it bad planning or fate, but ‘someday’ didn’t arrive on schedule. Disappointment. Advice. Options. Decisions. Questions. Why was this taking so long? Should we wait? Or should we just get in the experts? The experts in this case were supremely confident: this was a fairly typical technical glitch: nothing that a relaxed lifestyle couldn’t cure. A couple of months and no results later: it was nothing that a few sessions of fertility treatment couldn’t cure.Fertility treatment. Two words that spell hope and despair in equal parts. We tried to focus on how it had transformed lives, worked like a miracle. But half a half -hearted attempt later, we just knew it wasn’t for us. I don’t exactly know when it happened but we’d gone from being a perfectly complete couple to a childless one. Suddenly, there was a gaping five pound hole in our lives and we were grappling to fill it.Adoption. The idea that had been crouching in our minds now stood up, stretched, and stared us in the face. Myriad what-if’s swirled in our heads. What if we didn’t feel anything when we met the baby? What if the baby never really took to us? What if the baby never looked or smelled anything like our nephews? What if, 18 years later, the child wanted to look for her ‘real’ parents? What if she finds them and finds we don’t match up? While the mental rhetoric played out incessantly in our minds, the paperwork wore us out physically. Living outside India didn’t help; everything took longer and was infinitely more complicated. For most biological parents the wait is over in nine months; after eighteen months, we were still hoping, praying, waiting and trying to answer the army of questions that marched percussively in our heads. We also tried to forget we were waiting. We rarely said it out loud. We were in London when we got the call. In a day and a half, we were waiting at the adoption agency-cum-orphanage well before the scheduled time of 10 am, sitting in a small office making even smaller talk. I recall most vividly — desperately wanting the baby to arrive and not arrive. I also recall wanting the relentless churning in my stomach to stop. Or was it my heart?Seconds later, everything stopped. An aide walked towards us (I can swear it was in slow motion), carrying a six-month-old in a diaper and the only dress she owned. The first thing I noticed were her eyebrows: perfect upside down ‘U’s giving her face the expression of perplexed innocence. The first thing she noticed was my husband. She stretched both arms towards him. He walked into them and has never returned. She fit so perfectly in the nook between his neck and shoulder, it seemed like somebody had invisibly measured them up for size. I remember holding her, inhaling her and the absolute clarity of that moment. She didn’t smell of Johnson’s baby powder or any baby product off the shelf. It was something more edible. Like honey or cinnamon or toast — just like the colour of her skin. I held her closer and looked down to make sure I wasn’t squeezing her too hard. She smiled. She had two perfect dimples! She never spoke and yet, had answered every question we had in less than ten seconds.Today she’s 11 years old. She loves the outdoors. She’s an animal magnet and can spend hours in the company of horses, sheep, dogs, lion cubs or even snails. Complete strangers stop to tell us they’ve never seen a smile like hers. Neither have we. We know now why they say that when you adopt, you give birth to true love.
From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 16, Dated April 26, 2008