Single and ready to adopt

AMRITA NANDY | Updated on October 13, 2011

The number of single women adopting children is growing, and many of them happen to be highly educated professionals.

In a culture that glorifies marriage, motherhood, blood ties and the hetero-normative family as the ultimate traits of womanhood and ‘decent' families, a social revolution is gathering momentum as a growing number of single Indian women are adopting children.

They are shaking the many pillars of social conventions and redefining belonging as something that can transcend the human obsession with procreation.

Highly-educated mum

In cities such as Chandigarh, Bangalore, Delhi, Hyderabad and Mumbai, there seems to be a slow yet steady increase in the number of single adoptive mothers. Interestingly, many of them happen to be highly educated and accomplished professionals.

Dr Suma Ray is a 40-year-old scientist with a Ph.D. from the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and a post-doctoral degree from the US. She worked in Germany and the US, and returned to India to adopt a baby. She currently heads the Asia operations of a leading biotechnology firm in Gurgaon.

Malini Parmar, the adoptive mother of two girls (siblings) in Bangalore, is a product of Delhi College of Engineering and Indian Institute of Management - Kolkata; she had worked with leading corporates before setting up ‘Daughter in the Neighbourhood', a Bangalore-based social enterprise that offers medical, social and emotional support to senior citizens through neighbourhood-centred activities.

Malini spoke on adoption at TEDx, the local community edition of TED, the global conference that brings together some of the world's most inspiring thinkers.

Mumbai-based Amy Thanawala is a filmmaker with her own production house. In Chandigarh is Dr Charu Sharma, yet another single adoptive mother and a scientist with a Ph.D. and a post-doctoral fellowship.

Financial independence counts

Perhaps because many of these women are financially independent, their decision to adopt and raise a child is met with greater acceptance. Says Suma, “Adoption is a social taboo, especially for single women. Yet, there are more women than ever before who are adopting. I myself know 10-15 single adoptive mothers. But reactions to them vary. It takes many kinds to make the world, but I have been lucky. My daughter and I have received tremendous support from my family and friends.”

Malini anticipated prejudice and bias, but did not encounter any. “I spent time convincing my close family, but expected a much colder/ruder response from my very conservative extended family in Himachal. But without exception, they loved the girls,” she says. She even describes her life now in terms of “BC or Before Children” and “AD or After Daughters”! Charu echoes this sentiment, “My brothers have a child each, but the child who is loved the most in the family is my daughter. My parents have been my biggest support and pitch in to take care of their granddaughter.”

Supportive network

And it is not just family members but also a wider network of people who have stood by these women. The PGCAI, or People's Group for Child Adoption in India, has 750 online members who offer advice, encouragement and even mentoring as prospective adoptive parents move from the pre-adoption to post-adoption phases. The network's founder, Nishank, 28, says, “I started the group in November 2007. At that point there were some online communities on Orkut, but very few national-level forums to promote adoption in India.

“While the PGCAI started as an online group, we have tried to help organise adoption meets in different cities, so that people can meet and work on the ground.”

At one such adoption meet recently in Delhi's Dilli Haat, many adoptive parents turned up, married couples and single women included, with children in tow, both biological and adopted.

PGCAI had invited Laila Baig, Secretary of Central Voluntary Adoption and Resource Agency (CEVARA), which monitors CARA-recognised agencies in the Capital. While the kids had a field day, their parents discussed their concerns with each other.

Battling bias

Suma, for example, shared the immense difficulties and discriminations she faced as a single adoptive mother. When applying for a tatkal passport for her daughter, she was told the scheme is not for adopted kids even though there are no such rules. Moreover, her daughter's birth certificate states“adopted child” and “adoptive mother” beside their respective names.

The government officer, a woman, she approached for redress had reportedly described it as a “ ganda (bad) case”. Charu also struggled to find school admission for her daughter: “Despite telling them that I had adopted my daughter, most insisted on the father's name. They looked at me strangely. The school that finally agreed to take my daughter simply struck off the column that asked for the father's name. My daughter has my surname.”

As a single woman, Amy was shown the door by many child adoptions agencies in Mumbai, “Couples are given preference over single women. When agencies in Mumbai and Pune failed me, I finally found my daughter in Chennai, where I was told she had no takers perhaps because she is dark-skinned and had a squint. But these did not matter to me in the least and I jumped at the chance of having her.”

A complete family

One of the reasons single mothers are spurned is their real or perceived ‘rejection' of marriage. As motherhood is bracketed within the institution of marriage, they are seen to sever and subvert the “link between the two sacred roles”. But while most of these women do not consider their single status a major personal loss, some fear it may have an adverse impact on the growth and development of their children.

Amy explains how her father's death had seemingly affected her daughter, as she tried to make up by clinging to male relatives. Charu says that while she may not feel the need for her former husband, whom she had divorced soon after the adoption, her daughter feels the absence of a father figure. For Suma, though, “marriage was never a pre-requisite for motherhood… I earn decent money, look after my home and can do everything on my own. Though it may be good to have someone to consult, it is sometimes easier if you can take all the decisions yourself.”

Adds Nishank of PGCAI, “A lot of kids are offered for adoption because they are born out of wedlock. Their mothers find it difficult to raise them on their own. So adoption by single women is also a way for the women to send out the message that they do not accept the stereotype of the woman being considered dependent on a male, to whom she has to first get married before she becomes a mother. It also helps in changing gender equations in our society.”

The most radical part of being a single adoptive mother is the proof that families can be created socially and not just naturally, that all it requires is the desire to nurture — not have a ‘maternal instinct' — and that families can come in different shapes and sizes.

© Women's Feature Service

Published on October 13, 2011

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