A single woman in India doesn’t necessarily have to give birth to a child to become a mother. She can become a mother through single parent adoption writes Pallavi Bhattacharya.
Imagine a scenario in which a single woman in her thirties is being pressurized to tie the knot with any man who wants to marry her as ‘her biological clock is ticking away’. The worst ever decision she can make is by giving in to pressure like this.
A woman doesn’t have to be married to enjoy the pleasure of motherhood. Nor are we advising her to have a child out of wedlock if she isn’t comfortable with the idea. Impregnation through artificial insemination is also not yet legal for single women in India.
A single woman in India doesn’t necessarily have to give birth to a child to become a mother. She can become a mother through single parent adoption. An adopted child as actress Sushmita Sen puts it is ‘born from the heart’.
According to Sushmita that is what makes her adopted daughter extra-special as she wasn’t ‘born from the tummy’ as it is for most mothers. Indeed her daughter was different. She was after all born out of pure love.
How do you ascertain that you will make a good adoptive mother? First of all, you need to understand your motives for adoption.
Do you want to adopt because you want to nurture your motherly instincts? Do you want that special experience of loving and being loved by a child? Then that is a good reason for adopting.
Do you want to adopt a child because you think he/ she will be a quick-fix for your loneliness and ‘instant cure’ for your depression? That’s a bad reason to adopt. You need to be emotionally stable to raise a child single-handed.
Mothering is after-all a life-long commitment. If you adopt a child when you are in a distraught state of mind, it may be worse both for you and the child. You may soon discover that you can’t manage the responsibility of raising a child. Nor is he/ she the answer to your loneliness.
Do you want a child so that you will have someone to carry on your family name and inherit your fortune? Or maybe you’ve been conditioned into believing that you need to adopt a male child as he needs to light your funeral pyre to ‘guarantee you salvation’?
Perhaps you’re worried that nobody will be there to look after with you when you are old, therefore you feel the need to adopt a child with the hope that the child will grow up to be your caretaker. These are also not good enough reasons for wanting to adopt.
Have you yearned for a baby and found out that you can’t have one? Maybe your husband divorced you because of that. Now you want a child at any cost. You should be adopting a child only after you have calmly accepted your infertility.
Do you want to adopt because your child has died and your marriage may also have broken up as a result? Wait till you come to terms with your tragedy before you adopt.
If the adoption agency finds out that you are still deeply grieving the death of your child and may compare your adopted child to your late child, they may turn down your adoption plea.
You need to have a calm and composed mind to be found eligible for single parent adoption. Do you want to adopt a kid because you want to prove to society that you are a philanthropist?
If you want to adopt a child to make a statement, it is not a good reason for adopting. Most importantly you need to adopt for the sake of the child than for yourself.
Adoption agencies won’t let you adopt unless they are convinced that you are capable of giving the child a loving home. Please remember that a baby is not an accessory or a doll to dress up.
Babies may be up all night, they may fall ill, they need nurturing. Do you have the patience, tolerance and maturity to raise a child?
Ascertain objectively if you are suited to parenting. Do you like spending time with children? Do you get along well with your nieces and nephews?
If you’ve had experience in volunteering with children then you may be able to make the transition to parenthood more smoothly. If you haven’t been exposed to children, do interact with them before adopting one.
Can you truly love and bond with a kid who is not biologically related to you? Your adopted child may look very different from you and may also have a radically different personality.
If you are fixated on adopting a fair baby who hasn’t been born out of wedlock, rethink adopting. Your baby’s looks and the social background of your adopted child shouldn’t matter to you.
Can you afford a child? Do you earn enough and have a decent bank balance to support a child? You are after all the sole-breadwinner. Are you willing to cut down on your shopping sprees to spend on quality education for your child instead?
In addition to money, you need to be able to devote quality time to your child. Will you be okay with cutting down on partying and socialising to bond with your child instead?
Does your family support your decision to adopt? If your family is vehemently against adoption, raising the child may not be too easy for you. After all when you are out working, if no family member wants to look after the child, what are you to do about it?
All crèches aren’t reliable and home and family are always far better places for a child to grow up than a crèche or just with a nanny. If you are forty or older it is best to adopt an older child than an infant. If you’re young you may comfortably adopt a baby.
A single woman’s right to adopt
According to the CARA (Central Adoption Resource Agency) website, “A single parent has equal legal status to adopt a child and to deny him/her on the ground of his/her single status is not only a violation of his/her legal right but also her constitutional right guaranteed under Art.14 and 15.
Whosoever is deprived of the right to adopt only on the ground of single status may bring the matter to the attention of CARA in writing.” The single woman may be unmarried, divorced or widowed.
Adoption agencies are however extra-cautious while granting single parent adoption to single women than to couples. This is because they feel that it’s easier for two parents than for a lone parent to raise a child.
After all many babies are put up for adoption because the mother was single and unable to care of him/ her well. Therefore they don’t want the child to be put back in a similar condition.
Says Jaissita Panigrahi, Managing Trustee of Bal Vikas Shishu Welfare Trust of India, “We do look for a father figure in the life of the child when granting adoption to a single woman. The father figure may be the father, brother, brother-in-law or a good friend of the single woman. He should be willing to act as a godfather to the child.”
In Mumbai, the court requires an undertaking from a close relative, most often a male, supporting the single mother’s adoption plan, offering future security for the child in case of her demise, and assuring that a male presence will be provided to the child.
If either of your parents is opposed to you adopting a child, adoption agencies may turn down your plea for adoption. This is because they want to make sure that the child is accepted by the family he/ she is going to.
Those who have watched the Oscar-winning film, Juno, will agree that it’s not necessarily true that two parents are always better than one for raising an adopted child.
In the film, Vanessa makes a far better parent for the child than raising him with her unfaithful husband who even shirks the responsibility of fatherhood.
Vanessa not only can financially support the child single-handedly but also gives him all the love, care and affection he needs, just like India’s own role model for single moms, Sushmita Sen.
In-your-face. Outspoken. Endearingly different. That’s Sushmita Sen, the Cinderella who turned Miss Universe® and subsequently Fairy Godmother to Renee.
Sushmita speaks about her inherited parenting values, the process of acceptance as a single mother in the public domain – and the incredible joy of it all.
Your father is an Indian Air Force officer and your mother was a fashion artist and jewellery designer. Did this somehow influence your own outlook and choices in life?
My parents were an exceptional blend of spiritual and practical. As such, they complemented each other perfectly. Their approach to parenting was – make your own choices, and follow through on them.
This meant that there was, from an early age, an onus of great responsibility on my brother and me.
I won’t say it was easy in the beginning… but yes, this approach helped both of us to believe in our own instincts and to be accountable for our decisions in life.
Many describe you as a maverick that often refuses to pay even rudimentary lip service to popular opinion.
I have faced a lot of rejection for what I believe myself to be – and for what I believe is right for me. But I have also discovered that acceptance always follows rejection.
The problem is simply that many of us lack the resilience to wait for that acceptance… we give up halfway.
I guess there’s a people-pleaser hidden in every one of us, and sometimes we’re weak enough to let him reign our lives. I firmly believe that life is too short to sacrifice our dreams on the altar of popular opinion, and I live mine accordingly.
By adopting Renee, you have put a serious dent in the taboo usually attached to single motherhood in India.
Adopting Renee was a personal decision, based on a long-cherished dream of motherhood. Raising social consciousness on the subject of single parenthood was never my intention.
If it had been, it would have seriously diluted my focus… and believe me, I needed a LOT of focus to see the process through.
You are in the public eye. Your personal life is subject to public scrutiny. Was adopting Renee was a gamble in this respect, or were you certain of a favourable reaction?
I am frankly amazed at how supportive everyone has been – but as I said, pandering to popular opinion was not part of the landscape. I always meant to fulfil my dream of motherhood, but I also knew that it would be unfair to expect others to share my dream.
It was very clear to me that the context would define the level of acceptance. In all honesty, I can’t say whether being in the public eye was an advantage of a drawback in the whole process… all I know is that everyone has been extremely compassionate and helpful.
Did you encounter any serious opposition?
Not from my parents – and that is where it would have hurt the most.
Their concerns were for my ability to handle being a mother to a child with significant infantile health problems – not the social acceptability angle. There were also problems on the legal side.
If you assume that the fact that I’m a public figure made the adoption processes easier – the contrary was true.
The adoption authorities were understandably worried about whether this was just some kind of publicity stunt, and they made things incredibly tough for me.
I put in my application when I was eighteen – it was approved when I was twenty-four!
Do you feel their caution was justified?
Absolutely. They cannot be too careful – after all, there is human life at stake. There may be a bureaucratic component to the whole thing, but the process basically serves to check out the woman’s strength.
I do not grudge the fact that it was drawn out in my case. In fact, I like to believe that the persistence I showed despite the added stumbling blocks served to underline by sincerity. I do know that adopting single fathers have it even tougher – again, understandably.
How does it feel to be a single mother? Do you imagine it would have been different if your motherhood had happened in the usual context of marriage?
The last is a hypothetical question since I’ve never been a biological mother. But love does not have to be biological… in fact, it CANNOT be. Every child is a unique individual, and I fell that true love embraces that fact.
Being Renee’s mother is the most amazing and fulfilling experience of my life. I know how clichéd that sounds, but it’s true. I have evolved as a person, and Renee has evolved in tandem with me.
Have you ever felt that Renee might miss the presence of a father?
A child cannot miss what she has never known. We should all wake up to this liberating fact … it would rid us of so much of the guilt baggage some of us drag through parenthood.
But yes, a child also needs exposure to the other gender. It is a fact that each of us carries both male and female components within us, and we need an opportunity to relate to the other side.
It is the beauty of men and women that they exist in each other! Thankfully, Renee receives so much male attention that I never had to bother about any ‘deficit’ on that score.
It seems that almost every man around her is either a surrogate father or brother.
Come on, now – never so much as a HINT of an indication?
Well… Renee came home one day and stated that they were celebrating Father’s Day at school the following day. I’ll admit I had a bad moment then, fully expecting a “so where’s MY daddy?” question next.
Instead, Renee asked me matter-of-factly “So are you coming?” I went, all right – in a male-as-you-like-it business suit and tie. The PTA loved it, and I know that the admiration we got had nothing to do with a Miss Universe crown.
You are visibly confident in your role as a single mother, but you apparently monitor Renee’s exposure to the media carefully.
(Laughs) Yes, I did to some extent, but I’ve chilled out more on that front now. I realized that I must not shield Renee from reality… and my public life IS a reality.
I guess I just wanted her to mature enough to be able to develop her own take on it. And she has! She takes to the media like a fish to water.
No artifice, no misgivings. And I think that’s so healthy! I wish I had her confidence when I was her age…
You are counted among Bollywood’s ‘thinking’ actresses. Does choosing to be a single mother call for above-average intelligence in the Indian context?
(Laughs self-consciously) I don’t know about THAT, but it certainly calls for an above-average ability to weigh the odds and make an informed decision.
There is an unspoken opinion that parenting skills are catalyzed only in marriage and subsequent child-begetting.
As I’ve already said, the desire and ability to love a child is not biologically derived. I believe I’m a child of God (sometimes I even think I’m his favourite child).
Whoever believes the same has to accept that God loves us beyond measure, despite the fact that he’s not our biological father.
He has given us the ability to love beyond physical boundaries. Whether we use that ability or allow it to atrophy within our own human preconceptions is up to each of us individually.
Would you encourage other Indian women to adopt children if marriage is, for any reason, not a feasible option?
If you want a child badly enough and having one biologically is not feasible – yes. Be ready for a struggle, though.
There are 27 different criteria to be fulfilled to adopt a child, and your personal life will come under scrutiny as it never has before. But it’s worth it… believe me, it is.
Do you see India moving towards a universally progressive outlook to concepts such as single parenthood, or will there always be traditionalist detractors?
We’re not there yet, but we MUST. We have to have something more substantial to show in terms of progress than a booming economy. Moreover, this economic boom supports the demands of single parenthood.
Still, the Indian mindset is evolving beyond the traditional, and many see single parenthood as a viable and compassionate option. As for traditionalists – every country will always have those. What’s the big deal about Indian ones?
You had the choice to adopt a child and chose a girl. This is indeed very noble. What was your decision based on?
Noble??? The only criteria I had when I set out to adopt were that the child be happy, healthy, between six to eight months of age, and female. I never attached any particular significance to the ‘female’ part, except that I wanted a girl.
I guess you’re referring to the fact that the majority of children in Indian orphanages are girls… that is a sad and telling fact, but it wasn’t one of my motives.
How do you balance parenting with your professional and social life? Have you ever found yourself overcompensating?
(Thoughtfully) I guess I may have overcompensated for the physical distance often created by my profession in the past.
But I raised Renee to be very individualistic, and as a result, she’s not easy to hurt. Renee never cries when I have to go travelling – instead, she simply accepts it and plans her own schedule accordingly.
And even though she has learned to enjoy her own company, she rarely is. There are so many loving people around her.
I know that, when all is said and done, she has only me – but I take comfort from that rather than feeling guilty about it.
With hectic city living, many mothers find their kids and husbands quality time difficult. Can you give our readers a few tips on spending quality time with kids despite pressing schedules?
I can’t advise other parents on this, because every scenario is unique. What I do is tell Renee about the pockets of time we have available for togetherness – and allow her to decide how she wants to spend them.
And guess what? Sometimes she would rather spend time with friends or alone! That’s such a trip for me! Then again, an hour together before bedtime is non-negotiable when I’m in town.
That’s our ‘honesty hour’, where we tell each other everything that’s on our minds – no holds barred. We just let it all hang out, and nothing is judged as good, bad or ugly. The quality of such moments does a lot more than a mere volume of time could.
As a parent, what advice would you give fathers so that they can bond with their kids as effectively as mothers do?
There is no comparison between the two kinds of bonding. A father bond with his child in a very different way than a mother.
A daughter bonds with her masculine side with her father and a son picks up his male values from him. Both these roles carry a lot of responsibility with them, but they happen best when they happen naturally.
The only way to bond with one’s child is to spend a relaxed and happy time together and to be there when you’re needed.
According to me, some of the best examples of father-child bonding are seen in rural India. Have you ever watched the simple splendour of a farmer teaching his child how to work the land?
Did the name Renee have a special meaning to you earlier?
It was the yardstick I used to make my final choice. I was so gung-ho on it that my mother named her jewellery store after it! I first believed that Renee means ‘Goddess of Love’… can you imagine a more befitting criterion?
Anyway, I checked how the girls I met responded to the name. Some stared at me blankly, others yawned (laughs). Then finally, there was this rather sickly girl who reacted with a wide-open mouthed smile when she heard the name – and I told the authorities “That’s her!”
So what does Renee really mean then?
It derives from the word ‘renaissance’, which means ‘rebirth’. That’s so appropriate it still makes me cry…
Does Renee have any hobby preferences? How do you offer the necessary encouragement?
She shares my love for music and attends special classes to groom her in it. What more could I ask for? I do everything I can to support her there, without going overboard and allowing it to become an obsession.
What would be your first reaction if Renee were to win the Ms World title in the future?
(Laughs aloud) What do you think? “Go for Miss Universe!” of course!!
Do you have a message to Indian adopting mothers and fathers in particular?
I guess so. It’s simply this – follow your heart, and believe that acceptance always follows rejection. You’re doing the right thing. Don’t deny yourself or a child the unique joy of loving and being loved for love’s sake alone.
What in your opinion are the fundamental doctrines Indian parents must inculcate in the kids in early childhood?
Independence, honesty, trust in those who love them and a curious mind. Needless to say, we can’t pass on what we don’t have ourselves, right?
This article is republished with permission from Parent & Child Magazine. Image by Bollywood Hungama, CC-BY 3.0
Miss Universe® is the registered trademark of the Miss Universe Organisation.
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I Am a single women ,a doctor by profession.26yrs age.i wanted to adopt a child in coming next two years.can u please give me details about child adoption in india legally for single women.and the agencies from which i could adopt my child.
I am single woman and want to adopt a child but I am not sure if my parents would support me. My sisters would but they are married and have their own family. What is the probability that I would be able to adopt?
Wonderful article. And very informative too.
I'm a single woman wanting to adopt. I think my mom and sis will support the decision more than 100%.
But my dad might agree only half-heartedly. So what would happen to the child if I die ?
Is there any insurance or something that I can take so that the adopted child can be taken care of by my mom and sis,
but her expenses will be covered by the insurance or any such thing.
After reading this article, I've also decided to wait for another year before going for adoption; to ensure I'm financially and emotionally stable. Thank you for such a wonderful article.
So glad you found it useful, Kameswari. I will ask my writers to find answers to the questions you asked about and perhaps post another article on it.
nice to know many things about a single parent
Glad you liked the article, Sharmistha.