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( By Nilima Mehta )

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Deciding To Adopt

Childlessness is not an inadequacy
Should you, shouldn’t you?

Has the whole exercise been
worthwhile? Would we go
through it again if given an
opinion? The answer is a
resounding yes. For pleasure
and pain are two sides of the
same coin. This is what living
is all about.
by an adoptive father

THE DECISION TO ADOPT is fraught with many apprehensions. This might be because any course of action that deviates from societal normal and practices is controversial and often difficult to choose. As a ‘childless’ couple, it may be extremely hard to decide to accept an unrelated child into your family. At the same time, you might be experiencing a craving for parenthood to fill what you perceive as a void in your lives.

This is what brings us to the fundamental questions of adoption: Is adoption second-best as a means to building a family? Are ties of blood superior in some way to ties of love? How can you compare parenthood by procreation to parenthood through adoption?

In searching for the answer, it might help to keep this thought in mind: neither procreation nor biological birth alone are the prerequisites for parenthood, but rather parenting ought to be seen as a couple’s contribution to the nurturing and growth of another human being.

A common reason that might lead a couple to consider adoption is their involuntary childlessness - a condition that gives rise to a complex of emotions for the two individuals involved. These emotions have their roots in the fundamental human need and desire for parenthood. Other motivations to adopt could be a desire to give a home to a child who needs one, wanting a child of the other sex, advanced age and the possibility of the genetic problems in one’s biological child.

Infertility is most often seen only as a medical problem, but such a viewpont overlooks the emotional and psycho-social aspects which are probably more important to the couple. Most couples simply assume that conceiving, childbearing and giving birth are matter of choice and an inevitable outcome of a marriage. Hence, an inability to conceive or to take a pregnancy to full term is an unexpected and traumatic shock.

Parenthood is thought of as an integral stage in life that goes hand in hand with being married. When you cannot have biological children, and when you think you might miss out on the experience of parenting, you may experience a void in your life.

The hardest part of being infertile is coming to terms with the fact that there is some physical problem which is coming in the way of childbearing and that no amount of medical intervention can successfully change this. This realisation may lead to feelings of loss, inadequacy and low self- esteem in some parents. You might also experience denial, guilt, depression, frustration and a sense of helplessness.

Some couples may be so embittered that their marriage is force through a trying period. You might separately suffer from the "Why me?" syndrome which, unless addressed, could lead to your psychological estrangement as a couple. On the other hand, crisis often brings people together; by sharing your grief and resolving the issue, you could build a close bond between yourself.

Unexplained infertility sometimes leaves a lingering hope that some miracle will occur which will give you a biological child. In the hope of conception, you will thus tend to keep postponing a decision to adopt a child. A gynaecologist who specialises in problems of infertility might help you make the right decision at this point. However, while may couples with problems of infertility have been able to conceive, as a result of today’s medical technology, there are as many parents who would benefit from an early resolution of their conflict by deciding to adopt.

In the Indian context, infertility has negative connotations. Particularly among traditional society and lower socio-economic groups, a woman who does not produce biological children faces social ostracism, threats of divorce, and the husband is pressured to remarry. Infertility studies show that in 40% of the cases the man is the cause, in another 40% it is the woman, and the couple share the problem in the remaining 20%. Still ignorance leads society to most often hold the woman responsible for childlessness.

The Social Role Theory views parenthood as one of the de fining roles of adulthood, and so childlessness creates a sense of ‘role deficiency.’Besides, in India, procreation is highly valued, both from religious and social points of view, because the offspring is responsible for continuing the family name and performing religious rites for the family. A couple’s feeling that, in some way, they are not performing an important role in their lives is reinforced by these social pressures and expectations.

When a couple resolves their crisis of infertility only then can they channel their energy into deciding to adopt a child. In getting to this point, some couples may go through the stages of denial, anger, grief, acceptance and finally hope.

To cushion themselves from this initial shock, most couples use denial. This functions as a buffer and a temporary defence. "No," the couple thinks, "it is impossible. Maybe the reports are mixed up...."

"Why me?" is the next stage in the process of mourning, and this is often accompanied by anger and hopelessness. This is very difficult to cope with, since it can get displaced and projected onto the environment. Marital tension might result. Blaming your partner might lead to a rift in your relationship. You view infertility as a loss - the loss of a dream and the loss of the potential role of genetic parenthood.

A way to resolve this crisis is for you to view and accept childlessness or infertility as a shared loss. Doing so will let you look ahead and explore your alternatives constructively. Articulating your feelings and discussing the issues facilitates the process of acceptance.

To some couples, infertility does not assume great proportions as a problem. These individuals are able to accept the disappointment pragmaticaly and want to move ahead to considering the options - adopting a child or reconciling themselves to a life without children.

The traditional Indian concept of fate is another response to the situation of infertility. Drawing on this, some couples begin to accept their situation by believing tafalistically that they were not destined to have biological chidren.

Before you decide to adopt, you must resolve satisfactorily all the issues relating to your infertility as a couple. If not, there is the risk that your adopted child will be a constant reminder of your own inability to have biological children. But by reframing or redefining your problem you might view the situation you are in from a new perspective, and having done so you can consider an alternative mode of achieving parenthood- namely adoption.

You will learn to accept that the joys of parenthood can be as successfully achieved through adoption, and parenthood by procreation is by no means a superior form of parenthood.