The Ancestors and the Babies

Part I: Boys will be boys; girls will be mothers

A baby girl has been born to a young woman in India. She wants to keep her baby. She writes to me for help. The boyfriend will not marry her, a reversal of past promises. In India it is nearly impossible for a single mother to raise a child. She cannot rent a place to stay or get a job if her status is known. For the child it is impossible to come through childhood unscathed by the names, insults, bullying, and exclusion because no father is present. For now though the baby nurses peacefully, unaware of the forces suddenly focused on her existence. She has no idea how her birth has turned a corner of the universe into chaos.

The issue is SHAME, the loss of the girl’s family’s Houour, which includes the presumed anger and sadness of the ANCESTORS. I step back in wonder. “Is it really true that one young woman’s birth of a child has the power to undo generations of respect and standing in current times and even causing anguish for past generations no longer here? Can 2 kg. of human infant wreak such destruction on families and community? And is it true that if the baby’s father “mans up” and marries the mother the baby is no longer the source of family dishonor and the Ancestors can go back to doing whatever ancestors do?

Part II: The Voices in my head.

Mostly I hear adoptees talking in my head and mostly they are Indian adoptees. My daughter is an Indian adoptee which is how I came to be here in Kolkata to care for the girls rejected for adoption. She doesn’t say much, mostly because she has seen and experienced too much of the pain of women’s lives here. But others ask:

“Why couldn’t people help my mother keep me instead of adopting me?’ This is a frequent question I think of when faced with an unmarried mother who wants to keep her baby, The biggest barriers are not financial but social and now we are back to the family HONOUR and SHAME, and the wrath or sadness of the ANCESTORS — the ruination of generations by the arrival of a baby without proper papers! She will be banned from her mother’s home. Her friends will turn their backs. Others will simply be to afraid to help because then they too will be stained by protecting a baby who has no proper papers

The only way for a baby to have proper papers is to have a father who is married to its mother. In India, the choices for the baby are to be raised by a single mother which is almost impossible, and unlike the US she will not be able to find a place to live or a job, and will find that many schools will not accept her child. The child will be subjected to teasing, bullying and social exclusion. But the child will still have its mother.

The second option is adoption, domestic adoption in India where there are thousands of families on waiting lists for infants free for adoption. This may be successful in that the child is raised as a natural child of the family, or not. The child may be told, or maybe not told, or maybe have a sense of secrets about its origins or may be told by others. When the child discovers it is adopted it will also wonder why it was given up, why it was not loved, what it had done wrong. I hear these voices in my head because these are words told to me over and over by adoptees.

Am I against adoption, not at all. Sometimes it is the ONLY option, but the adoptive mother, including myself, is the child’s second mother. We may wish we were the first, just like the child may wish it bad been birthed by us. A solid identity must be built on truth, not half-truths or lies. We owe that to our children. And if it is difficult to us to manage emotionally then we are doubly obligated to sort it out and come to a comfortable place about our motherhood. Children read our emotions. They should not have to bear our pain.

I stand, holding the baby in my arms, wondering her future, feeling sad and impotent and torn apart but clearly not as much as this young college girl, now a mother, still hoping maybe the father will marry her, give her and the baby the papers, still hoping her family and community will accept her and her baby without the papers, and torn between what she is told will be a “better life” for her baby — but wondering how she herself will survive the pain of loss.

Part III: Why? Why? Why?

Whether one believes in evolution, or God, or Gods, or G_d, or a god force within all life, none seems to require that newborns come with passports or papers. We arrive naked, without accessories. Honor and Shame are about culture, about people making rules, about beliefs – because if papers or passports were required for new life, then why are babies born without them?

Why? Why? Why?

Today I Bathed in the Ganges

Tuni at Rest.

Tuni at Rest.

Today I bathed in the Ganges.  Tuni Harrison died on the 14th of August 2013.  She had heart surgery the day before, but her heart gave out.  Today, three days after her death, Bijoy and I went to the river, with a Priest, and gave rites to send her on her journey.  We offered clothes, food, milk, flowers, incense, and so many prayers.  And then we immersed ourselves in the river three times, and pushed water out into the river three times, and I cried because I want her journey to be wonderful while I also want her back in my arms.  I accept, but I am bereft.  Even as I send her off to be with the Gods, I also call for her to come back soon.  I’ll be looking for her.  I will always be looking for her.  When she came into my life I felt as if I’d always been looking for her.  When she died I felt that I’d lost someone I’d always known.

Souls sang to my heart,

The winds taking them afar,

My nestlings flourished.

Yes this is true.  My children, my nestlings, flourished.  And when they were grown, I went looking for where the winds had taken the others.  Tuni came home to me, and now she is gone… Like a little God, she came and filled our hearts, and the hearts of so many around the world, and then she left….. with the slightest smile on her sleeping face.

I am raw.  My life is raw.  I am immersed, as if in the Ganges.  Tuni came for a purpose, a light and a gift, but I think we are only at the beginning of her impact in our lives.

In the days ahead I will write and post pictures of the last seven days.  It was just a week ago that I took her for an evaluation and the doctors decided we could not wait for surgery as her blue spells were increasing, and medication was not helping.  Here at Shishur Sevay we arranged for an oxygen concentrator and bought a pulse oxymeter.  It was frightening when she would turn blue, and cry and then go limp…..

Today I bathed in the Ganges.

Coming out from the Ganges

I Did Laundry and Cleaned the Kitchen While MaaDurga Slay the Demons

We are in the midst of the Pooja Festivals.  Today is Maha Navami, the ninth lunar day of the holiday.   As per Hindu mythology, Goddess Durga killed Chando and Mundo, two asuras (demons) at the confluence (Sandhi) of Maha Ashtami and Mahanavami.  In Kolkata the holiday is both religious and secular.

Today we were very short on help.  The big girls were invited out.  So we made do. I did laundry.  Many times in my life when stress was high, so much on my mind, doing laundry grounded me.  There is something about the simple work of cleaning, the repetitive necessity of life, attending to the basics.  Wash the clothes, spin dry, hang to dry, and fold….. appreciate that we have water, electricity, a washing machine, and sun in the garden…

I cleaned under the refrigerator.  I don’t think this had been done for months even though we have a schedule.  I just had a feeling it would be bad under there.  I bought a refrigerator with wheels so I could move it easily.  I vacuumed with my little hand held that I use mostly for around computer wires.  I poured detergent and scrubbed with a green ScotchBrite pad.  Then I cleaned the freezer, and then the refrigerator doors.  Feeling really inspired I cleaned the doors of the steel pantry, and then went after the shelves where water bottles and pitchers are kept.  I filled a garbage can with stuff to go out.

Pearl, our house supervisor was here and pitched in.  I called Gibi and told her we were without help and she came.  Between us, we really did fine.  I bathed the little ones.  I think for Bono, this was the highlight of her festival, that Mummy gave her a bath.  She did not stop squealing with joy.   I’m “special” to all of them so having me taking care of them really made their day.

I downloaded another iPad program to try with Rani, Bono, and Sonali.  You had to get little circles together so the fish would eat them.  It’s a math game but they loved following the action, and their touching the screen didn’t shut down the program.  The iPads are a wonderful addition, partly because the programs are also fun for the teachers.  I had fun, so the kids had fun with me.  I did have to remind myself once to keep them in the game as I suddenly got too focused on winning.

Laundry, kitchen cleaning, and slaying dragons.  All are necessary for our existence, and at different times we play different roles.  For me as a woman, especially one who faces demons, the daily activity of taking care of children anchors me and gives me strength.

Tomorrow, on Dashami, we are all invited to a community lunch put on by a local club that has been very supportive.  The girls will all pitch in, and we will all go, walking,  in wheelchairs… our little family procession…

The lives of our girls are not simple, nor are  they without scars, and wounds that are not yet healed.  We try to live three steps ahead of  demons within, looking for hope and light and promises we can believe.

Maa Durga has come to Earth with her four children, Ganesh, Kartik, Lakshmi, and Saraswati to visit her parents. She stays for four days to eradicate all evil from the earth before returning to her husband Lord Shiva at Kailash on Dashami. 

As every woman knows, you must first do the laundry and clean the kitchen if good is to overcome evil in your home.

December 2022
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