Indian expat Connie Ferrao had always wanted a child and when she was in her 30s, she decided she wasn’t going to let the lack of a marriage stop her from raising one. “I would have liked to have it the old fashioned way. But since it didn't, I decided to have a child anyway,” she tells Gulf News.
The now 50-year-old from Mumbai recalls registering with a number of agencies in India and going through a ton of paperwork only to hit dead ends: “They said that they don't have children. I thought it would be because of my single status.”
Ferrao, who would spend years, trying to get a baby also had to contend with some negative reactions. “My dad, to begin with, was completely unhappy about the idea. As you would imagine, every parent wants their child to have, you know, like a normal life and a normal family - to get married … that kind of thing. So, he was upset about my decision. And lots of people said to me, ‘ You don't know what kind of child you will get’ and ‘What happens if one fine day if she decides that she doesn't want to be with you, and she wants somebody else?’ By and large, I had quite a bit of negative reaction to my decision. But I was very clear once I made up my mind - it took me a while to make up my mind. I toyed with this with this idea for many years before I [committed],” she says.
Four frustrating years on, Ferrao had no baby but plenty of these conversations. This is when, she says, Gulf News helped her contact the head of India’s Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA). Two months later, she got a call from one of the recommended agencies. A month later she was called and told that they’d identified a baby for her and sent her photos.
“When a child is identified, you have three choices,” explains Ferrao. “If you say no to the first and they show you a second, you say no to the second, they show you a third. And that's it. Three choices, but she was my first – I loved her from the moment I saw her. She was small and skinny [and had] big beautiful eyes. I just loved her from the moment I saw her - I saw her pictures actually and I just knew [she was mine].
“And that was enough to get the process started. It took a year for the process to be completed for her passport to arrive. And for me to physically go and take custody of her,” says Ferrao.
Lisa was two when Ferrao finally brought her home. “If you see her now, nobody believes that she's not mine biologically, because she's an image of me,” she says, adding that her father – who once had reservations about the choice – is completely onboard. “My dad is besotted with her,” she laughs.
The big talk
But the revelation of birth mother did strain things a bit this past year. “It's been a year, exactly a year since she knows she was adopted. She was seven at the time. And I was aware of the fact that it was much too early. But she asked me a question and I didn't want to lie to her. So I told her, but it was tough for her for a long time before she could actually come to terms with it,” she says.
“You have to pick a time, right time. But you must definitely tell the child. Because the last thing you want to do is to have the child get to know through a third person. In my case, it would have happened eventually. Because I am a single parent. You see, in the case of a couple, it may never happen because it's a normal family, nobody is going to question and no one would probably know. But it's always best for the child to know the truth from the parents,” she stresses.
“I told her about the adoption in a way that she became very excited about it. Because I told it to her like a story; how it happened, how I decided and made up my mind, and then I started registering with several places, and many people said, ‘No’, and then one fine day this happened. She was actually very excited. And that's when she asked me, ‘but why only me?’ But then I suppose there are still questions in a child's mind. Like, where did they come from? I told her where she came from. And I told her that I would take her there one day, and I fully intend to do that, you know, but also the fact that because of she was only seven, when I told her, it was too much for her little mind to comprehend and to digest.”
Talk, talk, talk: Your child is starting to understand that to be adopted means they were given “up” or “away” be someone else. They often feel a sense of loss, grief and sometimes even anger. It does not mean they love you any less. They need time to figure things out. They understand the connection between thought, feeling and behaviour, and are better problem solvers. This is not a one-time event, nor is there an easy answer. They will need your help to sort this through now and in the coming years.
Reassure them: They may ask if a woman they pass of the street is their birth mother, or if their birth parent could come back and get them. They may respond to an adoption themed movie or TV show. Use all opportunities to reassure them of their place in your family. Choose your words carefully. At this age, your child can distinguish between fact and fantasy. They know when someone is not being truthful.
Patience is key: Children this age often blame their mother for ANYTHING that goes wrong. An adopted child may stretch this into “If you were really my mother, you would let me.” Or “You’re not my real mother!” Stay calm, be patient and do not overreact as you address the issue at hand. For example, “The reason I won’t let you stay up so late is that you need your sleep. I will record the show and you can watch in the morning.” or “As your mother, I am making what I think is the best decision I can. I know you don’t like it, but I think it is the right thing to do.” Do not say, “What a terrible thing to say. I am your real mother.” or “Go to your room right now.” This is a time to control your immediate reaction and try to see where your child is coming from. Are they really trying to figure out what you vs. their birth mother might do? Are they manipulating you through guilt to get their way? This may be an opportunity to explain what a mother does and how you are filling that role.
Never negate or pretend their birth parent doesn’t exist. You may want to explore that neither of you know what their birth mother would have done in the same situation. That mothers are there to teach and protect their children. That you did what you felt was best for them at the time and assume their birth mother would do the same. You may also find an opening to share why their birth mother was not in a position to care for a child at that time. That the decision had nothing to do with them (children sometimes feel they were bad or did something wrong).
Assure them it’s legal: At this age, children are very capable of asking questions about adoption and their birth family, but they don’t yet understand the legal concept of the adoption. Their fears of being “taken away” or “taken back” are real. Reassure them that the adoption was overseen by a judge. That papers were signed which made you the parent. That they are your forever child.
Encourage them to ask questions. If you do not know an answer or it is difficult information that you do not feel they are ready to hear, tell them you will try and find out. Many children think about adoption at the end of the day. Like adults, they often replay their day as they wind down at bedtime. If you need time to come up with an answer or think they are asking to avoid bedtime, tell them “That’s a great question, but it is bedtime. We can talk about it a breakfast.” Then prepare how you will handle it and ask them at breakfast if they want to discuss it. Sometimes, they will. Sometimes, they won’t. The point is you came back to the question and have demonstrated to your child you are ready to talk about it.
You have demonstrated your willingness for open dialogue. They will have learned they can ask you about adoption and other topics. Establishing this relationship will serve you well in the years to come.
Source: Adoption Network Cleveland, USA
Once the novelty of the tale wore off, the fear of its implications began to sink in. ”Over the months that followed she was not so well. It took a while. The only way to do this is to constantly be in touch with your child and with reality. Talk to them and also get them to be able to confide in you and to tell you what's going on. Thankfully for me, so far Lisa has always come to me and told me what's going on with her… but because of what I told her, I kept an eye on her. And I was aware I could see what was happening. I could see she was changing in her manner, her attitude, and all that kind of thing. Patience and resilience [is key]. And, you know, communication is the only thing that can help you get through.”
Ferrao often mulls a second adoption. “As a single mum, it would be a challenge, but it's not a closed door, I can tell you that for sure. I'd love to have a second child – a sibling – for my daughter. But for me, it was you know about having a child, and I'm completely satisfied with mine.”
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