Time might be the most precious currency we have—holding as its value a limited reserve of life.
Nowhere does it tick so persistently as on the biological clock. Forced to think motherhood is only open for business a few years at a time, women are usually the ones who start to wonder:
“I’m still single. Should I have a baby on my own?”
“We’ve been trying to get pregnant for years. Is it time to adopt?”
Unfortunately, adoption is most often the option of last resort. The inclination (and biological inevitability, some would argue) to reproduce one’s own is the preferred choice.
But what about the outliers? Those of us for whom—whether through time, experience, or instinct—genetics has come to matter the least.
“When she asked me if she was born from my tummy, I told her, ‘You were born from my heart ,’” Sushmita Sen wrote about her adopted daughter Renee.¹ In India, Sushmita is the ideal independent single woman who decided that regardless of the other cards she’d been dealt, motherhood was one she’d singlehandedly pick out of the deck. On her own terms, no explanations necessary.
But it’s not quite that simple. If it wasn’t already complicated to decide whether you have the capability to love a stranger’s child as your own and defend him against familial and social unacceptance—the criteria for adoption is lengthy, tiresome, and in some cases, outright mean.
In India, a single man cannot adopt a female baby. No person can adopt until they’re 30. If you’re married and older than 55, you’re too old to be eligible. If you’re single, you’re too old at 45.² Although restrictions are necessary for the protection of children, some of them imply prejudice. If you get pregnant at 27 or 46, people hardly question your capability to parent. But adopting at both those ages is scrutinized.
In fact, adoption at any age is scrutinized. We are hardwired to believe that only children of our own blood and toil will feel like our own. And even though history has proven otherwise time and tales again, we don’t want to buy it.
We take into our homes the children of deceased siblings. We read our children storybooks about orphans cared for by unknown families: Oliver Twist, The Secret Garden, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Anne of Green Gables. And to top it off, we worship as the epitome of parental love the bond between Lord Krishna and Maiyya Yashoda—who as it turns out, is not his biological mother.
From over a decade of defending an unconventional childbirth choice, I’ve found a few points that get through—to people who want to adopt, and to those who are hard pressed against it.
Sincerity trumps society
It’s a point of no contention that if both parents do not believe they can care for a non-biological child as their own, adoption is out of the question. Despite societal pressure to have children because you’re married, by a certain age, or to carry forward a family name, it’s far more important to wholeheartedly want to take a child into your home.
Nurture versus nature is a no-brainer
There have been more than enough studies to prove that raising children is a combination of both nature and nurture. Yes, children inherit your traits. But they also develop their own based on their environment. Yes, an adopted child brings to the table unfamiliar genes and characteristics. But parents also have the capability to nurture those traits in a way that complements their own. There is a far greater need to realize that, biological or not, you do not have complete control over how your children will develop. There is an element of unknown that inevitably prevails.
Let there be love
Is there really a negative to women (or men) wanting to adopt children on their own, if they have the emotional and financial capability to do so? If there are people out there who see no difference in children of their own blood or others’, why are we to stop them? Why point the finger, put up a roadblock, imply that it reflects personal failure?
On the same note, parents who desire a child who looks and feels like themselves—a signature smile, the way he sleeps, her hair just like her grandmother’s—are no less representatives of a true kind of love. It is unarguably a miracle: the ability to give birth, and raise a new life from conception to adulthood. The benevolence associated with adoption should not undermine the simple service of reproducing one’s own.
In either case of parenting, caution is justified. The factors to consider are infinite; the implications, eternal. Whether we see it as ‘other’ or ‘our own’, there is a human life at stake.
¹Sengupta, Nandini. Babies from the heart: A complete guide to adoption. Random House, 2011.
²Intercountry adoption, Bureau of Consular Affairs. U.S. Department of State. November, 2010.