Nature, Nurture and Why Openness in Adoption Matters

poochi

It is late morning. Ammu and Pattu are out the door, on their way to the bus-stop. Saathi is getting ready for work. The first level of our home is quiet. Laddu and I are ambling along, bending down to pick up stray pieces from the floor. We stop at the patio screen looking up to see a huge insect silhouetted against it. Laddu turns to look at me and smile. Her cheeks are shiny, soft and full. Her lower lips are plump. For a moment, I see a version of my brother at that age look back at me. I stop in awe, trying to imprint that memory. It happens again as she sits on the steps, patting the carpet beside her, indicating for me to sit. I tease her and sit above instead. She looks at me, her nose all scrunched up, eyes slivers of black and a ghost of my dad takes shape. Right after her shower, a linen towel wrapped around her, her face all dewy and moist, her hair slicked to the side, my Amma looks at me. Lying on her back, deep in sleep, jowls relaxed, her lower lip pushed out, I see Saathi lying there. I wonder if they are a relic from his mom. Every so often, I see glimpses of Saathi’s father, his brother and wisps of ancestors past peek at me.

At dinner last night, I stand pouring batter on the griddle, serving up hot savory pancakes, all three of my children gathered at the table. Yogurt and sugar asks Pattu. Molaga-podi and oil demands Ammu. I carefully tear the last pancake into pieces, steam escaping from its center and place them on a brightly colored plate. I set it before Laddu and look at her. She punches the center with her chubby index finger indicating she needs something to dip it in. I parade a variety of options and she shakes her head vehemently as she pushes each away. “Chatna” she repeats. I am not sure I understand her. I wait and she patiently repeats for me. “Chatna”

I shake my head and offer molaga-podi instead. No “chatna” I say. Her face falls and she grudgingly accepts the proffered spice powder and a dollop of thick yogurt. I watch her as she painstakingly dips each piece and relishes it as she eats. I turn my attention to Ammu who is demanding more. I feel a surge of affection for all three and that carries me through the rest of the evening.

Late at night when I ease into sleep, the words nurture, nature, openness swim in front of my eyes. The resemblances and strong personality quirks I see repeat generation after generation aside, it occurs to me that the decisions regarding openness I made intuitively when Ammu and Pattu came to me are right. I knew it was the correct thing to do but till date could not put my finger on the why. I have read about genetic mirroring and the need to cultivate a strong sense of the self. My visceral bonds with Laddu and the connectedness I feel with her based on the gene pool we share only cements my thoughts on why Ammu and Pattu must know their heritage, their family and everything they would have had access to if not for the adoption. It is imperative for them to see their family and trace their features back through generations. They need to know where their love for banana bread is from. To know that being left-handed is a trait that someone in their family shares. The seemingly little things that connect them in tangible and intangible ways. To be able to have that connection is important.

Over the past few years, I have been following numerous blogs, forums, opinion on all things adoption. I have mostly kept silent fearing my voice is nascent. That I need to be further along this journey to speak from place of authority. Today as I looked at Laddu, Ammu and Pattu as they sat around the kitchen island drinking milk, it occurred to me that I have perhaps walked quite some way and my voice needs to be heard.

5 comments

  1. Hmm. I read this post quite a few times before deciding to leave this comment. Plenty of food for thought. Family resemblances have always been a huge part of my life, because almost every where I go, someone or the other will point out a resemblance between me and someone in the immediate family. I’ve always loved hearing it. Like you said, it gives such a sense of belonging and that you have a tangible connection to someone else. I honestly think I would feel a little lost if I grew up missing these resemblances.

    That being said, I never thought of open adoption from this perspective. Every time I think about open adoption, I always wonder, “What if the child suddenly decides she prefers her birth family?” or, “What if the birth family suddenly decides they want the child back?”. I guess these comments sound really immature and I’m sure you would have given it much thought. I would love if you explained how you dealt with it.

    On a side note, a friend of mine recently wrote a post on facebook saying that when she turned 18, her parents asked her if she would like to contact her birth parents. She had been told as a young child that she was adopted. She wrote that she decided against it. That she had a happy life and a happy family and didn’t want to complicate the situation. I thought it sounded incredibly mature, but there’s different perspectives to everything, isn’t there?

    My apologies for the lengthy comment..just a lot on my mind.

    • Thank you for taking the time to voice your thoughts. I get where the insecurity regarding open adoption comes from. Trying to explain it may be difficult so bear with me. The way I look at it, my children came to be because of difficult circumstances. Just as my husband and I took oath in the court of law promising to treat the children we are adopting ‘as if born to us’ the birth parents likewise make a promise to relinquish. This is a legal contract in the eyes of the law. At a personal level, I love my children with every fiber of my being. I also know that their birth family loved them enough to let them go so they could have a life that their mother aspired for them. The goal is the same. The well being of the child. When the adoption is child centric, there should really be no conflict of interest. Having said that insecurity is a strange beast and we often do things irrationally. I feel secure in my place as a mother. I also feel that having two mothers who love you fiercely can only be a good thing.

      As for the child, it is natural to want to escape (in fantasyland) to a place where there are no rules and everything is happy. As a child, influenced by books, I have often wondered if I had another family that was the antithesis of the family I was blessed with. But as children, we also know that love and security are a given in our parents. My hope is that if we are the parents who love them unconditionally, they will feel secure knowing no matter where they want to go, they always have a home here.

      There is nothing we can predict about the future, we can only live our lives as if only the present matters.

      As for your friend, her views may change as she grows and has a family of her own. She may grapple with conflicting feelings if she initiates a search. A feeling that she is in some way betraying her family by searching for her roots. Each person gets there in their own time.

  2. Bang on. Open adoptions are about the kids’ well being. Wish it was an option here. Wonder if we are mature enough as a society to handle it. Here, adoptive parents are venerated when their child is placed with them and then pretty much unsupported (except for a consciously sought out tribe they build) after that. Adoption is swept under the carpet with many parents not even telling the child, or others, some go to the extent of going away for a few months and coming back with a baby, like they were pregnant.

    That said, if it were an option, I would have loved it for us.

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