India remains a favorite among the countries to adopt from as prospective adoptive parents begin to look for children. With greater availability of birth control and abortion, along with the acceptance by American society of single parenthood, the number of healthy infants available for adoption has diminished. The well-publicized cases of Baby Richard and others have also made many prospective adoptive parents wish to work in an arena without birth parents who might ask for their children back. Enter international adoption, for some an ideal way to a healthy child.
For Chris Futia, 40, and her husband Carl, 49, of New Jersey, India was the country of choice. Chris, a marketing support systems manager for Nabisco, was an exchange student for a year in India. Her experiences there profoundly affected her, she says, and when she and Carl encountered difficulties trying to have biological children together, India was where she wanted to turn.
Eleven years ago the two began having meetings with agencies and filled out the forms that would lead them to their eldest son, Leo, named after a member of their family. Chris remembers praying to God about the adoption and asking that the child be healthy. She knew that some of the children coming out of the area she was adopting from were diagnosed with cerebral palsy (CP) due to being born at approximately seven months’ gestation. As there is great stigma in India attached to single mothers, some women struggling with this ordeal ask that labor be induced before their pregnancy becomes obvious. Thus if children who are either considered as being aborted or born early actually live, they become available for adoption On the other hand, many children placed for adoption are born at full term.
Leo, 10, came home at just a few months of age and was healthy and beautiful, says Chris. Then at age three he was diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Chris went into therapy for six months to try to grapple with and accept the diagnosis and what it meant. “I had made a pact with God that I not be given a child with cerebral palsy or ADD. Of course, this was a unilateral bargain. You can only shake your fist at God for so long before understanding it isn’t productive.”
“By four Leo was reading the New York Times’,” says Chris. “His intelligence and charming personality make him an essential member of our family.”
The Futias adopted again, this time a little girl, Annie, who joined their family when she was one year old. She is now a healthy seven year-old who likes to play games with her brother Leo and attend camp.
Two years ago the family brought home their third child, baby brother Peter, two and a half. For Carl, an investment advisor, and Chris, this is most likely their final child. “With the costs of fixing teeth and university educations on the horizon, our money is earmarked for these children,” she says.
Children who are Indian in ethnicity and American through nationality, who are adopted by white Americans, may wonder about their identity as adolescence approaches. Several heritage camps held throughout the United States are designed to try to deliver a sense of the Indian part of themselves to these children. One of these camps is called SPICE (Special Parents of Indian Children Everywhere) and is held on the East Coast In the summer. This year it is from June 30-July 3 in Pennsylvania. Families from as far away as California and Switzerland attend. Camp goes on for a week and everyone who attends, from parents to babies to teens, gets involved. Over 50 families, some of them Indian, attend and the activities are geared to the theme of that year.
Last year, the theme was “Going to the City” and activities included learning some of what goes on in villages and in the cities with special emphasis on traveling by train in India. Some of the activities included making rangolis to decorate their homes, how to wrap a turban, how to write their names in Sanskrit, and the beginnings of kathakali dance. The parents are the teachers and each one must learn a skill that he or she will then teach to each grade of children. On the final evening of the camp a performance takes place as each group of children gets up on stage and does their part.
The camp is, of course, a place for learning about things Indian but it also serves as place for the families to meet and be connected to other families that share similar values and interests. It’s all in the soup of adoption, says Chris Futia. Sometimes it gets tiresome sticking out as different in the general public. At the SPICE camp, the transethnicity of the families becomes the norm. “Every year when the SPICE camp comes to a close, my kids start counting down the days until it starts again,” she says. She counts too.
HOW TO ADOPT
Indian adoption generally costs between $I0,000 and $15,000, including home study and travel. The wait for a child can range from a few months to a few years Generally Indian couples (at least one of whom has American citizenship) who go to India to adopt can come home with a child relatively quickly, while those who choose to go through an agency can find themselves waiting a year. Some programs such as International Mission of Hope (IMHI in Calcutta have children as young as four-months coming home.
If going through an agency in the U.S. the general process is such:
- choosing an agency and being accepted by that agency
- home study (generally done by the agency) which requires:
-visits with a social worker
-letters of recommendation from friends (generally four people who know you well)
-copies of birth and marriage certificates
-FBI fingerprint clearance
-local police clearance
- choosing a program to work with
- having a child assigned
- getting clearance in India and being granted Guardianship of that child
- going to India to bring back your child, of having your child sent to you
- post-placement study
- adoption finalization
- citizenship for the child
If one is an Indian and a Hindu, then one can do the home study steps listed and then have a friend or family member in India locate a child. Then one must travel to India to complete the adoption process there. The costs are lower for this kind of adoption because one is not working with any sort of program through the United States.
If one is not a Hindu, then the adoption must be completed in the United States. Andrea Stawitcke of Bay Area Adoption Services recommends readopting the child in the U.S. anyway, regardless of what the law in India says about the legality of the adoption “For inheritance purposes, it would be a good idea to make the adoption legal in the United States California accepts the foreign adoption status but some other states do not.” says Stawitrke.
When choosing an agency, it is wise to keep in mind that international adoption docs have some components of a business transaction you cue. You are, in a way, luring the agency to represent you and work on your behalf to the adoption search, referral, and legal processes. As such it is prudent to check into any agency one is considering by asking the agency to give names of families that have worked through the agency Obviously this will be a sell-selected list so it would be good to also seek information on the agency in other neutral areas such as in newsgroups on the Internet. After you are convinced that the agency has a good reputation and will work well on your behalf, you can begin the adoption process
As for who can adopt a child from India, India permits adoption only by couples who have been married two or more years and by single women “Most countries: says Stawitcke, “don’t have written rules about single men adopting but there is a real bias against it China is an exception There the government states that single men aged 40 or older can adopt. Of course, one can adopt domestically.”
Sidne Goodwin, adoption coordinator with North Bay Adoptions, believes that a person or couple seeking to adopt should try to find the best agency specializing in international adoption in the area where they live. That way, as questions arise there will be someone close by to give help. “I’m a good hand-holder,” she says.
CHOOSING A CHILD
Many Indians who adopt wish to choose the child themselves. Arun and Meera Bhojani, in their forties, have adopted two children this way.
After meeting in England in the ’70s, they got married. Years later when there were no children they decided to adopt. Family and friends accepted their choice and the Bhojanis left for India where they found their son, Neeraj, now aged 9 and a half. They found him by chance at Children of the World, an orphanage In Pune. They were told that a certain child was selected for them by the orphanage staff and all other children had either spoken for or were not yet available for adoption. In India, a child is not made available for adoption for the first three months after placement as the Indian government deems that this is the time the mother or father should have to reconsider and reclaim their child.
Neither Arun, an architect, or Meera, a chemical engineer, felt a closeness to the child chosen for them. Instead, as Arun rambled through the orphanage, his eyes led him to then five-week-old Neeraj. He sensed an immediate affinity with this child. “As soon as I saw him I loved him,” says the proud father. At first, orphanage officials turned down his request and said he should not have looked at other children.
He and Meera left and went further south to look at other options. While they were gone, an official with the orphanage tried daily to reach them. Upon return from their unsuccessful trip to the south, they heard about the phone calls from the orphanage. As the sun rose the next morning, the phone rang and the official told Arun and Meera that if they could wait for Neeraj to become available, he was theirs. Neeraj arrived home in Fremont, escorted by a family friend, at five months of age.
Arun and Meera felt it was important that their children match their skin color as “people would ask a lot of questions in India if we didn’t match” says Arun. As for choosing a child, they cannot fathom how others can allow someone else unknown to them to choose their child.
Chris Futia, however, allowed someone else to pick her children. “I would have turned down the opportunity to choose. It seems to cheapen the process. It makes me feel like shopping. There really are no real criteria upon which to make a decision like this on the spot. It’s quite a superficial thing. I do understand about a profound feeling of connection. Most of us who adopt, whether we pick our children or allow another to, feel this connection toward our children,” she says.
After living with Neeraj for almost seven years, the Bhojanis decided it would be nice to have another child. Rupali, eight, joined their family three years ago. They went to India and chose her, too. “It’s been difficult,” says Meera, “She has a difficult time in her studies and has not yet learned to read”
For well-educated parents such as the Bhojanis, children who have learning difficulties can present a struggle. Arun says, “You never know. We could have had a child born to us with these same difficulties.” Meanwhile Neeraj and Rupali frolic together in the televi sion room in the Bhojanis’ spacious home. I sit and talk with Neeraj who says he loves India. “My mom and dad let me go riding my bike to the grocery when we are there. Here it is too dangerous to cross the road,” he says laughing. As for looking for his birth parents in India, he says, “These are my real parents (pointing in the direction of Arun and Meera) and I don’t care to find my other ones. I’m happy here.”
The nurse asked them to sit on the bench and began a conversation with the social workers and the husband. The man spoke in regular tones about how his wife had delivered him another girl recently. They decided they could not afford another daughter and all the expense they involve. The couple resolved not to feed the baby but instead to leave her on the floor of their house and wait for her to die.
Each day the family went to work in the sugar cane fields and each night when they came back the little child still lived. Unknown to the father at the time, the mother had been dripping sugar water into the baby’s mouth, The mother could not bear to let the child suckle at her breast, but yet could not bear her cries of hunger.
The child was still living but looked worse with each day. She was losing weight. Finally a neighbor suggested that they talk with the nurse at the hospital, perhaps she could do something to help.
That’s how we came into the picture. The social workers explained to the couple that their child would be placed for adoption; that she might go to live in Sweden or France or the United States. They agreed that this was acceptable. While the mother held her littlest child, the two others hung on her and listened with bright eyes, taking in everything. The social workers began a physical examination, and the baby’s clothes were removed. Her almost transparent skin seemed to be stretched, tight over her ribs and skeleton. But somewhere inside that little child her spirit was fighting hard to live. Her eyes looked serious and she seemed intent on making it.
I had been taking photos with my 35mm, I soon went back to the truck and got my Polaroid. I took a photo of the boy who had brought the Pepsi and when it developed I showed it to the family. With the help of the social worker I asked them if they would like a photo of their family. Indeed they would, I took three photos. In each one the mother held her baby close to her. The older girls hung on now to their smiling father. I gave them to the mother and watched as they began to develop.
Documents were drawn up and thumb prints were taken. It was time to leave. The man asked if we could come again if this happened again. They wanted a son and were going to try for one. The mother was rocking her baby now and looking at the photos. Soon she handed one of the social workers her baby. We went to the car and got settled. A bottle of formula was made available. It was time to go. As the car slowly made its way to the hospital gates, I looked up to see the mother crying, in her hand the Polaroid photos.y
Yvette Marchand, mother of four-year-old Jaya Sarasvati and five-month-old Andhra Shakti, is working on a book about international adoption.