To tell or not to tell?

-By Adhira Nagesh

Our dealings with adoption began with our daughter Prerna, when we brought her home 20 years ago - all of 2 months old. It was a moment that Hari and I had thought about for long.

An experienced parent explains her reasoning about and experience of talking with her children about adoption.

Pranay, our son, almost six at that time, was also waiting eagerly for the “permission from the government“(court case) to bring his sister home.

It was exciting and an eventful day in all our lives, when Prerna came home. Time flew fast and decisions had to be taken, and taken fast. The most important of them all, we had a choice: to tell or not to tell………. That she was adopted.

And to all those who are still grappling with this choice as parents, or wondering as educators or friends of families with adopted children… WHY tell…. We would like to share our experiences first hand. It is not to convince or persuade… but to bare a portion of our lives, with a deep desire to build more understanding that this sharing comes to you….

Not telling Prerna about the fact that she was adopted, would have been the easiest. We could just let her believe that she was biological and tell her later. But it would also mean living everyday in the fear of being found out. And then, the most important fear: what would happen after that? How would the child react then? What if she stopped loving us, once she knew the truth? These were daunting thoughts. If we chose not to tell, the question was, for how long? We all tend to procrastinate doing what is difficult. In most cases, that we knew, the parents were so overjoyed and engrossed in bringing up their children once they were home, that before they realized it, the child had grown. And the dilemma they faced then: HOW do I broach the issue NOW? And the issue remained……….

We grappled with the choice deeply and the answer that emerged was quite clear. We chose to go with the Truth and face its consequences, rather than live everyday with the fear of the unknown. That would neither be healthy for Prerna’s psyche nor ours. The thought of beginning a relationship that was so precious, on anything less than the truth, seemed unacceptable. Lifelong relationships like these need the solid foundation of trust. If Prerna would get to know later ( as she was bound to, eventually ), it would be major breach of trust.

We chose to tread a path more difficult, but safe. Most families who wish to build a truthful relationship opt to tell…… however, it does mean overcoming the fear curve. Fear of what society would say, how the child would respond as s/he grows. It is for this reason that we chose to make truth a part of life, rather than wait for some special day to dawn. The wait would be so intimidating that we may not have the courage then to see it through. And this in a nutshell, is one of the most crucial and difficult decisions that adoptive parents make. We decided to be open with adoption, with our children, family, friends and society in general. We firmly believed that the truth was the only basis for a long term stable relationship and deepest inner security for everybody.

Armed with this conviction, we went about talking to both our children openly about adoption. We spoke about its implications and at various stages of their growing, tried to answer their questions honestly, however difficult they were. Perhaps truth and honesty were good foundations to begin a lifelong relationship with our daughter. Pranay and Prerna are well adjusted children till date. They have taken the process of adoption as it should be: that there are 2 ways of becoming parents, either biologically or through adoption: and we chose to have one of each method! That is what we told our children and it was something that we believed in…… we can become parents in 2 ways…. Grow children in their own bodies, or nurture babies who grew in other peoples bodies.

The “telling” was not a dramatic event on a particular day, but a part of the growing up process itself. Even as she learnt to think and understand, Prerna knew that she did not grow in my stomach, but in our hearts. Letting her know early enough gave her time to internalize it at various stages of her growing. As she grew, her understanding deepened, and questions of various kinds cropped up. Not all of them were easy to answer and they did pull the heartstrings, but the bottom line was that she was growing up with the truth. Her being open with her adoptive status, sometimes left even adults, at a loss for the right responses!

Fears about what the world around us would say, faded away in the back ground, as we faced actual events. We realized that WE were the world…………. The strong convictions we displayed in our decision, reflected back. People took to Prerna and the situation with utmost affection and warmth. True to her name, she was also instrumental in building more such families.

The theory that once the child is home and everything is forgotten, may not always work……… children have curious minds and they need answers. Whether the thought rests easy or not, we have to accept that these families are special and do require special skills. Skills of parenting, brothering or sistering, grandparenting, educating, friending!

Adoptive children, who have been empowered with the information of their status by their families, talk easily about it, sometimes to the discomfiture of the listener. Sometimes the listener is more aware and conscious of the situation than the child. It is for this reason that forums of parent- groups, newsletters, special meetings with educators, gentle counseling of members of the extended family become almost essential in providing the child with a enabling environment and make the process of growing smoother. Sharing always makes things lighter and easier.

Many felt that our openness and involvement with the cause was like opening a wound again and again. Once the child was home and the initial telling done, ( if at all it had to be done ) it should be forgotten, they felt. Forums and groups only served to remind the parents and the child about the “difference”, they contend.

While this may be true of parents, who would be most happy to forget, let’s spare a thought for the child who knows that s/he is adopted. Where are her peers? Who would she go to when she needs to talk? Children are perceptive and the parents’ desire to bury the event is transmitted. This makes the child hold all important questions in her heart as she cannot voice them easily………or the questions are such that the parent or educator (2 people closest to the child) may need help and support in answering them. We have to give secure loving answers to our children through out their life……….. Hence the need to learn and grow based on our roles…. be they as parents or educators. Special forums therefore have a crucial role to play. And over these years, we as a family have been involved in the cause. Sometimes we have received, sometimes we have given. But there has never been any regret about the decision that we took so many years ago…. to stay with the Truth.

We owe this to our children and ourselves………. as parent hood is for a lifetime, whether adopted or biological.

Sheela Ramakrishnan, Hyderabad, India.