Rejected for Adoption

The girls at Shishur Sevay were all rejected for adoption. Some describe being lined up along a wall and looked at — and not being chosen.   The girls with disabilities didn’t even make it to the line-up, as it true also for the older and darker girls.  In a sense, this is the real definition of an orphan, a child no one wants, a child who is legally free for adoption, but rejected.


Yesterday we had 25 visitors from the US, families with their Indian adopted children, returning to the places of their births and the culture of their heritage.  I always wanted Shishur Sevay to be a place where adoptees could come back and feel at home, and to feel good about what they saw.  My kids here were wonderful hosts, mixing easily with the visitors, helping in any way needed.  There was no tension and no fighting.  We were celebrating birthdays of three of our children, the ones with disabilities and no traces of their past.  I’d made 1 January the birthday for the three and decided to celebrate when our guests were here.  I found out that two of the children also had birthdays and quickly had their names added to the cake.


The main question asked by our girls yesterday was whether these children were born speaking English.   The girls are very familiar with adoption as some of the girls in the institution with them went for adoption.   I remember in raising Cici that some people would ask, “But how did she learn to speak English?”  The day we went to pick up our last group of children, a girl initially given to us was pulled away, screaming, because she had just been picked by the agency there to go for adoption.   We were told that as she was “fair and smart” she would be adopted, and we learned later she went to a “good, wealthy family.”  

I’m the kind of person who is always wondering what is going on that I don’t see.  When I adopted in 1984 I wondered about the children not adopted. These are the children I wanted to care for in opening this home.  These are the children I have.  My feelings about international adoption are mixed.   The first problem with all adoption is that it occurs within the context of a business, a basic exchange of money for a child.  And because the business is framed as “humanitarian” there is less or no oversight as to what actually goes on.   Further, because of “privacy” concerns, there is no way to authenticate papers.  When I buy a computer I have more information about where it comes from than I do in adopting a child.  For those in the US, remember the scandals of United Way, the pinnacle of ethical donations, created so there would be proper screening and controls — while unfortunately providing a five star jet-set existence for its executives.  I’m not talking about “third world” or “poor” countries.  These problems are endemic.

A few years ago I came across an adoption orphanage where two of the toddlers were tied to their cribs, hands and feet, in cribs too small for them even to stretch out.  Another child was tied to the window pane with a rope to her foot.  The management were not embarrassed.  In fact I took pictures freely.  I have pictures of smiling staff while a child is in the background straining to see what was going on, limited by her tied hands and feet.  When this child was upset she would rock, and I was sure one day she would rock the crib over.  I held them each, promising I would do what I could to get them out of there.  I failed after many different avenues I tried, including taking the pictures to government officials, and also trying to negotiate “under the table.”  I was threatened.  I made sure there were others who would release the pictures if anything happened to me.  When we opened Shishur Sevay I kept a place for two more little ones, just in case I could get them.   I still think about them.

I am aware of the enormous difficulties of children raised in counties not of their birth and heritage.  This is particularly true for dark skinned children raised in a primarily white environment.  I am in touch with adoptees who imagine their lives, their emotional lives, better if they had remained in their country of origin.  These were some of the questions I came here to answer for myself, or at least to understand the picture better.  There is no one answer, no easy answer, for a child born into a situation where the family and community of origin will not keep the child.  It is rarely simply a matter of money.  Among the poorest, children are rarely given up.  It takes an agent who will pay, and a level of disintegration or social status protection of the family, so the child is not absorbed.


So yesterday, over lunch, I had a chance to talk to the girls, ask them what they think about adoption, about the children visiting.  They are already familiar with Indian adoptees because of Cici Didi and others who visit and stay with us.  I asked my question very carefully, first making it clear that no one was leaving for adoption.  I asked, “If you were little, do you wish you would have been adopted?”  I knew from their grins, that the answer was yes.  The lone major dissenter was a girl we home-school but send to school for examinations because she acts so badly in school.  I’ve always believed she just needs to be home, enjoying what she didn’t have before.


In India, as in most places in the world, there is a great demand for  healthy infants.  This is not true for older children or children with significant disabilities of any age.  Adoption of older children can be very difficult.  Children traumatized with violence and abandonment do not “melt” into a family already formed.  Loyalty to their families, alive or not, fantasized or not, will keep them from giving themselves fully to their “new” families.  They do not forget, nor should they.  The past must be built upon, not buried.  It must be a foundation, not a black hole.  Moishe Holtzberg, two year old who lost his parents in the Mumbai attacks will not be expected to forget them.  Someone or someones will parent him and love him as if he were their son, but he will be allowed to honor and love his martyred parents.  It would be strange if he didn’t.  The same is true of adoptees who have known and lost their parents and families.


The adoptees visiting were surprised, and I think disappointed that these girls would not be going for adoption.  It says a lot about their adjustment and happiness, and ability to deal with duality, at least at this time in their lives.


I am often asked about adoption.  I simply could not imagine putting one of my girls on a plane to go to strangers, knowing I probably would NEVER see her, hear from her, be able to be there for her, or even know how she is.  No child should have to be torn in that way.  Most “preparation” is really indoctrination and threats.  The older adopted child is forced to turn to absolute strangers who do not know her language at a time when she is most in need of comfort, reassurance, and information as to what is going on. My girls here love and care for their Gods.  They take their strength from their prayers, pujas, rituals.  What happens when everything is changed, lost, and even your Gods are no longer there?  And there is no one to ask, no one to tell…

Sometimes I think if children must be moved, they should go in groups, and stay in groups, and have contact with “home” and be able to visit “home.”  The natural questions for the Indian adoptee raised in the US, “Am I American or am I Indian?” would still be there but there would be context as to what “being Indian” means as well as what “being American” means.


I came to India with hope that there would one day be many Shishur Sevays, and maybe there will be, because this is a very good way for the unchosen to grow up in their country and culture of heritage.  Love, the ability to love, the fortune to be loved, are essential in our lives if we are to have any peace or satisfaction.  We cannot order it up, nor even predict where it will be found.  We are a family here, a funny family — we each play our parts (me- several at once) — and any child we might lose would create a great gap and give us great pain.  As I write I hear the girls upstairs in classical song class.  Today we visited the home of one of our massis to see her new grandson.  This is how I imagined it, a weaving together of connections, of people we know, of people we become attached to and who become attached to us.  We have love here.  That’s a lot.

November 2008
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