I used to think that the very first time I held my daughter – I didn’t know then that we’d have twins – I thought there would be some magic. I expected to feel something soft… something tender, maternal, loving…
This was when I knew we’d be adopting. I felt sure that it wouldn’t matter that it was someone else’s child I was holding, that the child would straightaway feel like mine, ours. I thought I’d feel happy, ecstatic even, and most of all, I thought I’d feel sure. Confident. I was confident that I’d be confident… when the time came.
In the end, I was nothing of the sort. I was, if I can use a single word to say it, determined. I was determined to be a mother to these two children. But I would have to say that right there and then, there wasn’t much motherly feeling in me. I felt two steps removed – like watching someone else clumsily taking hold of someone else’s baby.
Bonding doesn’t happen right away, does it? Both the girls cried when we first held them. I suppose this was inevitable – our social worker had warned us to expect this. I looked at them, each in turn, taking in their dark complexions (we had been told to expect medium, but I found them outright dark), their snub noses, their jutting out top lips, their dark, oily hair, and with Mrini, the spots and scars on her face and limbs, due to a combination of chicken pox (in the past) and scabies (ongoing). I didn’t think them pretty then, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. They were too old to have the absolute, heartmelting baby innocence of a 3-4-month-old infant, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me either. The only thing that could have stopped me, by then, was the discovery of some terrible and fatal disease or condition. That apart, I was determined that these two girls were going to be ours… but I realised then, that they wouldn’t become “ours” just by wanting it. That would take time.
Then, there at the orphanage, as well as in the days that followed, as we started getting to know the girls better, I didn’t feel any delight or elation. I felt a sense of achievement at having finally got what I had for so long wanted and hoped/tried/waited for… but more than anything I felt worried, unsure of myself, even a little scared. The enormity of the responsibility of being left alone with two small children without any idea of how to manage them began to sink in. At first, I was terrified of how I would manage when Amit finally returned to work and I was left alone with them all day. What would I do if they started to cry and wouldn’t stop? It took over two weeks for me to settle down, gain some confidence, realise that I could handle most things that they threw at me, and that they didn’t generally start crying without reason and without being amenable to love or distraction techniques. I realised that I had some, even many, of the answers – and that others I could pick up “on the job”.
In every possible way, the first 24 hours that they were with us were the worst. We didn’t know when to feed them, what to feed them, how to feed them, how much to feed them, how to clean them, how to sleep with them (we both were scared about rolling over and squashing them!)… Both were unwell, vomiting and suffering from diarrhoea, and Mrini (I think) had a mild fever as well. We rushed around, feeding, cleaning, making an absolute mess of that hotel room and feeling horribly guilty about it. No sooner had we cleaned one girl’s vomit than the other one was at it. We had planned to leave at 6 a.m. and for that we woke at 5, but it was 7 before everything was a little less of a shambles and we finally walked out of the room leaving behind utter disarray and a terrible smell. The only good thing about that time was that they didn’t cry, not even when they woke up that first morning, in a hotel, strange surroundings, strange people, strange food, everything new and different… They didn’t cry, but they didn’t smile much either.
That day, we took a large, comfortable car with driver and made the six-hour drive to Bangalore. I felt so self-conscious about being out with them – I thought that everyone, from the driver to the hotel staff, to the people at the restaurant where we stopped for lunch, everyone must be wondering what we two were doing with these two, when they clearly didn’t belong to us. I almost felt that we should have some legal document proving that we are adopting these kids, lest someone accuse us of kidnapping. (All we had was a foster care agreement, a single sheet of paper that simply didn’t seem to me to be very substantial; that’s all we have even now, and I still feel it is inadequate, but at least now the girls’ behaviour with us tells the tale more convincingly.) That same self-consciousness carried over for the next several days, as neighbours and acquaintances raised eyebrows and we had to explain. I never minded admitting that they were adopted, though, and gradually the self-consciousness gave way to delight and pride in the girls.
Getting home was a huge relief. At last, the girls were in their permanent home. From this point on, I thought, their lives would re-start. Both had been hungry and crying in the car, but once home and fed, Tara slept peacefully, while Mrini, the adventurer, set about exploring the house. It was so nice to see her wandering about, curious, apparently happy – they had been so extremely quiet and subdued till now, it was nice to see some spontaneous initiative emerging. Now, when I look back at the photos and videos of those initial days, I see two frightened, timid little creatures, nothing like the naughty monkeys they are now. But at least their smiles were beginning to show.
I know now that I know how to be a mother to these girls. I know now that I know them now better than anyone else does. And, wonderfully reassuring that it is, I know now that they know me and turn to me the way any child knows and turns to its mother – I’m no longer just another kind – but passing – stranger to them.
And yet… I still worry about the paperwork – until it is all sealed, signed and stamped, how can I breathe easy? What if some strange twist of fate wants to take them away from me?