My adoption experience is about pure joy and about starting to gain acceptance in the world’s eyes as a grown-up. I started the paperwork to adopt a little one from India about a year ago in January 2010. So far, this experience is the one thing in my life that elicits the most smiles and approval from the world. From friends, family, colleagues, classmates and strangers. They all inquire about the process on a regular basis and they are all hoping hard for me. When the lady giving me a manicure yesterday asked if I’m married, I said, "No." When she looked at me quizzically and disapprovingly, I quickly added, “I’m adopting,” (to give her something to chew on) and then she smiled again and stopped and looked up at me in the eyes. Then she asked, “Why are you not married and adopting” and I said, “Because I wanted to be a Mom” and then she looked up and asked, “How old are you” and I said, “38” and she said, “Oh, I thought you were 25. You have good skin.” Then she concluded, “It will be good for you to adopt because you have a warm heart.”
That story was from yesterday, but some version of this happens every week. It leaves me feeling supported and also that it’s not fair that single folks or folks without children do not have the world’s love and support in the same ways. I still have kinship with those folks. I was one for many, many years. In fact, I’m still one of them, for now.
My adoption experience is about educating myself about language and realizing that I am now tasked with educating the world about never asking questions such as “who is her REAL mother,” to regularly question all this focus on “blood family” and to give voice to the 100 other ways our society disapproves of creating families through adoption. One aunt says: “This is a good thing. You are giving this child a life” and I wish I could say to her (and I will one day), “This is not a charity situation -- the baby will be adding to my life as much as I add to her life. I don’t want my baby to feel like a social cause. Please don’t refer to the adoption in that way.”
My adoption experience is terrifying. Every morning I wake up and wonder if it will all work out, or not. My co-worker said he never shut the door behind him so tight as the day he and his wife brought home their son (now 19) from Columbia. He still remembers the intensity of shutting the door on that day so many years ago. I haven’t shut that door yet. I haven’t even opened the door to leave my apartment to go to India to pick up this little one. Hoping and praying this will be in 2011. A few months ago I had been making myself ill (for weeks and weeks) thinking I was solely responsible, each and every day, for getting this baby here already. I tried so many approaches with the agencies. I tried to be extra nice, I tried to be stern, I tried to contact their supervisors, I tried being honest about how frustrating the waiting process is, I tried leaving them alone. I tried everything. At this point I am trying to make peace with -- “the baby is fine -- she will get here when she is meant to get here and not one day before.” I know good friends who have been to the same orphanage to pick up their daughter and as such places go, apparently it’s a fine place. I have to tell myself that even if this baby lives there for her entire life, she will be fine. I’m just impatient and I am doing all I can (not much at this moment because the paperwork is pending with the Indian government and then has to go to the Indian court) to sit still /stay busy with other things. She is already a toddler and I am so sad to miss her entire babyhood.
My adoption experience is forcing me to grow up. In the past year I have challenged many problematic situations that have thus far gone ignored! It’s as if I could make myself live with such things but I don’t want my daughter to live with them. I am speaking of relationships that bring tension, anxiety, and stress. I am trying to make changes such that this little one (so far as this is possible in our world) can live in a peaceful environment and is surrounded by love and support. These changes have helped me to live with less of those negative dynamics in my own life. She is helping me to become a better person already. (Even if she never, ever gets here.)
My adoption experience has forced me (more than ever before) to roll with the punches. Shortly after I accepted the referral I learned that the India program was changing its rules such that there would likely be many less adoptions going forward. Some agencies even stopped taking applications. I am so grateful it seems like I just squeaked by. Of course the kiddo is not here yet but, so far, so good.
HOW HAS THE ADOPTION EXPERIENCE AFFECTED YOUR POETRY?
I started an MFA program at CUNY Queens College MFA Program in Creative Writing and Literary Translation last fall and as part of that I took a Translation Craft class with Professor Roger Sedarat. In this course I started by looking at children’s books in Malayalam (the language spoken in Kerala, India where my family is from) and working with my father on those translations. I was interested in children’s literature because of the adoption, and also because that was easiest for me to translate given my limited vocabulary in Malayalam. As my final project for this class I made a first book for the baby -- it includes translations of lullabies from all over the world. I asked friends and family members for lullabies and poems from their cultures of origins and worked to create English versions of these songs. I included these in a colorful scrapbook with pictures, quotes, and artwork. It was a good place to put my energies as I wait and wait and wait. Beyond this project, adoption related themes have continually cropped up in my poetry in the past year, as in this poem I have shared below.
What’s been most challenging about the waiting process is the lack of updates about this particular kiddo that I was matched with late last summer. I have been continually asking for updates in terms of photographs and narrative descriptions and I have not been too successful so far. So the poem below is about one such rare photograph that I received in February. She had grown so much from her earlier baby photographs and I felt so sad knowing I’ve missed all this time and that it’s completely outside of my control. She is now 18 months. The process takes the time it does. I have a friend who has gone through this process and her kid is here now, and knowing that is the only way I get through the day. I can see the process has worked before for someone I know and I have faith it will work for me too. Let us see. Please send prayers, good energies, hopeful hearts.
PLEASE SHARE A SAMPLE POEM(S) ADDRESSING (IN PART) ADOPTION:
In the newest photograph
from the orphanage I can tell
you had been crying by the remnants
of snot, clear, slight snot coming down
from your nose. And now I know
how Amma knew about those nights
in high school that I was off to conduct the greatest
of mischief, she knew I signed
my Appa’s name, the one time I got a D
on a fifth grade math test. She knew that
when I was five I broke
my school friend’s watch. She understood
that junior prom was not something I could miss,
in this land. And now, I can already tell
at least forty things about you, my baby,
just from one new photo. You
had been crying, real
tears, as the investigators are taught,
it’s only real if the nose starts
to run. You had been crying
and then someone came to snap
a photo because some lady
in the States kept seeking
an update. So the last in the chain
eventually went and witnessed
you, and put on for you a blue
doggy dress, falling off your one-year-old frame
and you kept crying. And then she gave you
one biscuit and then you kept crying,
and then she gave you two. Good
for you for making them give you two
before you would stop. You already know
this much about negotiations
and hungers. And of this fact I am proud,
as much as it breaks me daily.
ABOUT THE POET:
Sunu P. Chandy is currently an MFA candidate in the CUNY Queens College MFA Program in Creative Writing and Literary Translation. When she’s not writing, reading or listening to poetry, she’s working full-time as a civil rights attorney for a federal agency bringing discrimination cases on behalf of employees against corporations.