You Don’t Have To Give Birth To Be A Mother!

"How can I have a baby without a husband, Maa?" Radhika was genuinely surprised as she asked her mother!

“All stories must end so, with the next tale winking out of the corners of the last pages, promising more, promising moonlight and dancing and revels, if only you will come back when spring comes again.”

— Catherine M. Valente

 Kolkata, 2022

“Yes, twelve boxes of Motichoor laddoos. Make sure that each box contains twenty laddoos. And deliver the sweets to my place as soon as possible,” Upasana Roy issued frantic instructions to the shopkeeper of the nearby sweet shop over the mobile. After that, she took a few moments to calm her jittery nerves.

“What will you do with so many sweets, Maa?” asked a bemused Radhika.

“I’ll distribute the sweets among our neighbours,” replied a beaming Upasana. “After all, I’m the proud grandmother today!” she added for good measure.

“That’s true. And I’m the proud mother. Let’s plan a family dinner today at The Cinnamon Lounge to celebrate Julia’s success at the board examination. My daughter is a big girl now,” Radhika smiled triumphantly.

Julia came out of her room and tightly hugged her mother. “Love you, Maa!” she planted a light kiss on Radhika’s cheek. “Love you too!”, Radhika felt choked with emotions.

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Who knew such unadulterated happiness was waiting for her? She had lost all hopes of becoming a mother. But destiny had other plans in store for her.

*****

Kolkata, 10 years back

The divorce dragged on for five years, almost as long as the marriage. When it was over finally, Radhika expected a feeling of relief to wash over her. Instead, she felt lost, depressed and despondent. She was a thirty-five-year-old divorced woman.

She had never imagined her life to be this barren at this age. Her job as a software professional ensured her financial independence. But she felt that she was doomed to live a life devoid of love and affection.

Sitting on a couch in the living room, she was wallowing in self-pity when a gentle touch on her shoulder jolted her back to reality. It was her mother’s touch.

“Beta, our neighbour Vandana has invited us to her daughter-in-law’s baby shower. Would you like to attend it?” she asked gently.

Radhika was cut to the bone. She burrowed her head into her mother’s chest and started to sob silently.

How can I have a baby without a husband?

Only she knew how a fit of searing jealousy coursed through her whenever she saw other women’s happy family pictures on Facebook. Or the photos from the hospital where the lucky mothers flashed tired, albeit content smiles with babies on their chests. Or the pictures of pudgy baby fingers wrapped around their mothers’ fingers. Each marked a milestone a woman achieved. The milestones she would, perhaps, never achieve.

Upasana placed an assuring hand over Radhika’s head.

“Shhh… be quiet, child! I can understand your pain. But don’t despair. You, too, can become a mother.”

Radhika looked up quizzically.

“What? How is that possible? Please don’t advise me to go through the rigmarole of another marriage now.” She replied sarcastically, wiping her tears.

“No, child! I’m not trying to cajole you to marry right away the next guy you meet. All I’m trying to say is that this is not how your story ends. Rather, it’s just where the story takes a turn.”

“How can I have a baby without a husband, Maa?” Radhika was genuinely surprised.

What about adoption?

“You can always adopt a baby, dear. Of course, it’ll not be the same as having a baby with a husband by your side. Now you’ll have to choose between having no baby without a husband and having an adopted baby.” Upasana paused and looked at her daughter,

“Which choice will make you happy when you reach the age of sixty? Think long and hard before you take a decision. Who knows when you’ll meet the ‘right sort of man’? Such things are beyond your control. Or maybe, you will not want to remarry.”

She continued, “Also, once you have a baby, some men won’t be interested to settle down with you. Others will be fine with the baby, maybe, you’ll find the ‘right sort of guy’ among them. But regardless of whether you choose to re-marry or not, whether you end up finding the right guy or not, you’ll have a baby.”

*****

Kolkata, 8 years back

When Radhika registered for adoption, all she hoped for was a cuddlesome, healthy baby of any gender. But when she was going through the process of adoption, she realized that a child was after all a child, be it a newborn or an older kid. Soon she realized that the trend in India was to adopt younger kids. She started wondering what happened to the older kids.

The older the kids got their probability of getting adopted lessened, for no fault of theirs. And if these older kids were not adopted, where would they go? The institution sheltered them till they turned eighteen. After that, they were abandoned by the institution too.

Considering they had been abandoned by their biological parents, this was their second abandonment. Radhika shuddered to think about how those hapless children felt.

It was D-Day, the day Radhika was supposed to become a mother. She could barely sleep the previous night, tossing and turning in the bed. By dawn, she fell into a fitful slumber. When she opened her eyes in the morning, she felt a strange adrenaline rush, imagining what the day had in store for her. She got ready in a jiffy.

Then she looked at herself in the mirror and adjusted the pleats of her cotton saree one last time. She put a red bindi tentatively on her forehead, hoping that the red bindi would make her look more motherly. She cast one last appreciative glance in the direction of her soon-to-be daughter’s room, which she had painstakingly decorated over the past few weeks.

A daughter awaited her

One central wall had been painted with a deep shade of pink, while the rest three were a lighter shade of pink. Stickers of fairies and gardens adorned one wall, while clouds were painted on the ceiling. A newly purchased bed with bright upholstery, a study table and a dresser were waiting in anticipation to welcome the new member of the family.

When Radhika reached the orphanage, the director told her that her daughter would be coming from the building on the other side of the courtyard. Radhika dropped her tote bag and waited anxiously to meet her daughter.

Soon, the most gorgeous little girl she had ever seen walked into the room, holding the hand of her teacher. When Radhika inched towards her, she became afraid and hid behind her teacher, clutching onto her teacher’s pallu.

The director informed her that Julia had been adopted by a family earlier, who later surrendered her. Radhika’s heart melted for Julia, and she made a promise to herself to be a good mother to Julia. She hugged her and shed copious happy tears. That day, 38-year-old Radhika Roy became the mother of a 10-year-old girl, Julia.

Not an easy beginning

The initial days of motherhood were a roller-coaster of emotions, both for Radhika and Julia. As Julia was not a baby, but a 10-year-old girl, she naturally came with her baggage of experiences. Unlike other mothers, Radhika was not allowed the privilege of naming her daughter.

By that age, Julia had internalized her name, which had become a part of her identity. And with so many changes taking place in her surroundings, Radhika thought it was best to let her name remain unchanged. The name, perhaps, acted as an anchor that symbolized a semblance of stability in Julia’s life that had turned upside-down overnight.

Julia gelled quite well with both Radhika and Upasana. It seemed that she was thrilled to have a mother and a grandmother and an opportunity to have a normal childhood. Age-wise, Julia was supposed to be in the fifth standard. But soon Radhika discovered, to her horror, that she was still trying to learn how to read and write like a first-grader.

Even though she attended school at the orphanage, no one bothered to push kids like hers to learn. Radhika had a hard time getting admitted into a school and helping her cope with her studies.

But the real challenge proved to be the court hearings, which were like nightmares. Every time they went for court hearings and every time Julia saw her previous caregiver, she would get triggered. Her eyes would widen with fear. What would happen to her if her new mother left her with that caregiver?

She would have meltdowns. She would clasp Radhika’s hand tightly and weep bitterly. Radhika would try to pacify her.

“Shh… don’t cry, darling… I am your family now, and we will go back home together.”

But Julia was inconsolable.

She feared going into crowded areas such as shopping malls and airports, where her fears of abandonment surfaced. She threw tantrums whenever Radhika broached the topic of visiting shopping malls to buy her new dresses or boarding planes to go on vacations.

Radhika had a tough time convincing her to come out of her cocoon. Motherhood never came easy for her.

*****

Kolkata, 2022

In a cosy corner of ‘The Cinnamon Lounge’, the three women sat together, occupying a table. Three women of three generations. An array of delicious dishes were spread before them.

Upasana raised a toast first. “May you, my dearest Julia, live all the days of your life.”, she grinned.

Next was Radhika’s turn. “May you live to learn well and learn to live well.”, she beamed.

Julia was the last to raise a toast. “Here’s to being a family for eight years.”, she gave out a warm smile.

The three women clinked their glasses together.

Image source: Nikhil Patil, free and edited on CanvaPro


Note: Child adoption practices in India are not homogeneous. Among several personal preferences influencing the choice of the child to be adopted, is the desire for babies rather than older kids.

In 2015, the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) issued guidelines that approved single people adopting children: “A single female can adopt a child of any gender,” it said, making it easier for single people to adopt. This has now been replaced by the Adoption Regulations, 2017, which also allows this.

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About the Author

Swagata Tarafdar

An engineer by education, I am a civil servant by profession. A doting mother. An avid reader. I try my hand at writing as and when ideas tussle inside my head. read more...

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