The Stigma Attached to Adoption in South Asian Culture
By Anjali Joshi
Like many little girls, I began talking about my wedding and future children years before my first crush. I remember one particular conversation; I was 7 years old, and I very non-chalantly mentioned my third child, who I would name Diya, would be adopted. Before I could even finish describing my future plans, my mother shot me very stern look and muttered, “Don’t say that.” For years, I never quite understood why what I had said warranted such a forbidding tone in her voice.
As I grew older and took on the role of wife and mother, I realized there was a great deal of cultural stigma that was associated with the term adoption. In a culture that placed so much value on marriage, family, and fertility, the idea of adopting a child seemed to signify an inadequacy or shortcoming in a marriage.
Adoption was seen as a last resort – a path meant to be walked by couples who could not conceive a biological child. With feelings of inadequacy instilled by society, the few South Asian families that did choose to adopt often did so in secrecy and with little familial support, and, in some cases, even resistance from family. Parents with adopted children often tell me they couldn’t even fathom having to face the challenges of the adoption process without the support of family and friends. So, how was it that this stigma continued to exist in South Asian culture?
To take a deeper look into whether the cultural biases associated with adoption are still prevalent today, I had the pleasure of speaking to three South Asian couples who have adopted children. They have all asked to remain anonymous in this article. While the parents themselves were comfortable with revealing their own identities and the identity of their children, their extended families felt otherwise.
“Our parents still struggle with our choice to adopt our daughter, instead of trying to conceive a biological child. It has been an ongoing challenge; there’s that mindset that I’m not really her mother because I didn’t go through pregnancy and childbirth. It’s hurtful when I hear the comments in passing. She’s my greatest gift and no one can take that away from me.”
This mother’s recount brought on a flood of tears that made it difficult for me to continue the conversation.
I think about my own experiences in motherhood, and how little my identity as a mother has to do with my pregnancy and childbirth. Those short-lived months weren’t what made me fall head-over-heels in love with my baby. Those moments aren’t the ones that have changed my entire perception on life. No. It was each day thereafter – watching my son grow from a helpless newborn to a strong-willed toddler, the long nights I spent awake with a sick baby, the overwhelming exhaustion and the just as overwhelming joy and love — these were the moments that made me a mother.
These were the moments that made me a mother. And, each one of these unforgettable moments had little to do with our shared biology.
“We have chosen to keep our daughter’s adoption private,” another couple tells me. “We want her to be treated with the same love and care as her cousins. I am certain that if our extended families back home learn that she is adopted, she’ll be seen as lesser because she was not the same caste as us. People still feel strongly about that. I am her father. I won’t be able to bear her being treated differently. We tried conceiving for nearly a decade before our daughter came along. Ten years. That’s how long I waited to hold my little princess. It’s unfortunate that they’ll never understand the love between parents and their children has nothing to do with ‘blood’ ties.”
I know that feeling he’s talking about; holding that tiny body in your arms, and making a silent promise that you will do everything in your power to protect and care for that small child. But, what I can’t imagine is the fear in his mind – the fear that his daughter will not be given the same love, attention, care, and opportunities as other children like her. Sadly, for this couple, it’s a heartbreaking reality they’re attempting to dodge for as long as they possibly can.
The last couple I spoke to you had yet another unique experience – one that touches on another aspect of adoption. “While most of our family and friends were very supportive of our decision to adopt from the very beginning, there was and perhaps always will be doubts and concerns about adopting from an Indian orphanage.
There is so much emphasis in our culture about prenatal care and its importance on long term health. But, sadly, many of the children from Indian orphanages are delivered premature, are malnourished, and receive little prenatal attention. Our first child has cerebral palsy and our second child is seeing speech pathologist due to language delays. While no one vocalizes their sentiments in our family, there is an unspoken ‘What if?’ that lingers in the air. But, we pay no regard to it. Our children are unique, just like every other biological child out there. And, we will give them all the love that we have.”
After these brief but eye-opening conversations, it is apparent that cultural stigmas are still prevalent when it comes to adoption. It seems that South Asians from generations past are battling with mixed feelings; they want to support young couples with their journey as adoptive parents, but there are age-old beliefs that seem to prevail. Sometimes, their concerns and sentiments remain unspoken, and other times they are explicit. It is unfortunate that adoptive parents face this stigma in South Asian culture; instead of being congratulated for their bundles of joy, their families welcome the new additions with looks of sympathy and understanding.
The couples I spoke with all had different experiences, but they all unanimously agreed that their children have brought more joy and love into their families than they could have ever imagined. The cultural stigma was just another small bump in the road to adoption for them. Sadly, until the South Asian community becomes more accepting of different family structures, many adoptive parents and their families will continue to face this stigma.
What are your views on adoption? Have you ever considered it? Share your thoughts with our readers below!
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