For nine months, the family had waited excitedly for my sister's arrival. As the ninth month drew to an end, my mum couldn't wait for the labour pains to begin. Except it wasn't she who was going into labour. It was my aunt, her brother's wife, who was delivering. My parents were adopting from within the family. And, as fate would have it, my 'sister' turned out to be a red-faced, kicking and screaming little boy.
Predictably, the decision had raised many eyebrows. Most people couldn't understand why my parents would want to adopt a daughter, considering they already had two. I won't go into the reasons, they're not important in this context. But my parents' mind was made up. And I was ecstatic. Because I was finally going to have a little girl to push around the way my sister had pushed me around! That didn't happen, but I was still ecstatic about the addition to our little family.
But that's just one part of the story. The other, less pleasant part was the underlying tension between the two sets of parents. The first time it made its presence felt during my brother's naming ceremony. My mother suggested a name, my aunt hated it. Nonetheless, my mother went ahead and named my brother Krishna*. And then got the adoption deed drawn up. That raised many eyebrows and provided fodder for whispered gossip. But my mother was adamant: this was her baby and she was calling the shots. For a while, the decision may have made mum the b**** in her family, but it set boundaries. And they've made my brother's life a whole lot easier.
According to Mumbai-based psychologist Kanchan Bhatia, my mother's decision was the right one. "Very often, when a couple adopts from within the family, the adoptive parents are wary of asserting their right over the child. In the long run, this does more harm than good to the child. It's important for the child to recognise one set of parents as his own. It gives him the feeling of security and belonging."
Who do I belong to?
Who he belonged to was never a question in my brother's mind. He was, without a doubt, my mother's prince. Mum was mum and 'maami' was 'maami'. None of the 'badi mummy' and 'choti mummy' business in our family. She was most certainly not going to share her child with anyone. "And why should she?" asks Kanchan. "Do biological kids go about calling five different women 'mummy'? Then why should adoptive kids do it? Besides, it isn't fair to the biological mother. It might make her feel important and involved initially, but eventually, it's important that the umbilical cord be severed. Otherwise she's going to keep thinking of the baby as her child, which will invariably cause strain within the family."
Hammering in the message
For the first three years of my brother's life, my mother's relationship with her brother and sister-in-law was precarious, to put it mildly. Expensive presents were returned with a polite but pointed, 'Thanks, but we can't accept this' card and my mother didn't shy away from reprimanding Krishna for improper behaviour in front of our maami, in spite of her displeasure being written all over her face. Mum's logic: it was her job to discipline her children, regardless of what the others thought.
As time passed by, my aunt's relationship with mum and Krishna stabilised. She will always be very fond of him, more so than all her other nieces and nephews, but she's no longer trying to be his other mother. The expensive presents, preferential treatment and the proprietary attitude have stopped. And the friendship between my mum and my aunt is off the tightrope and back on solid ground. All because mum wasn't afraid to be the b**** for her baby.
*Name changed to protect identity