Does India’s New Maternity Bill Ignore Adopted Children?

It is estimated that 1.8 million women will benefit from the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act that gives mothers 26 weeks off after childbirth. However, adoptive mothers get just 12 weeks, and that too, only if the child they adopt is less than 3 months old. Debkanya Dhar Vyavaharkar writes about how the Bill seems to have completely disregarded the needs of adopted children and made them secondary to those who are biological.

It’s been a pretty good week for working mothers across the country. With the much anticipated Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill finally getting a nod from the powers that be, new mommies and their babies can spend just a little bit more time getting to know each other before it’s time to head back to work.
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6 months of mandatory maternity leave is a wonderful thing. I laud it like any mother would. The venerable Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya even says this is his ‘gift’ to women on International Women’s Day. His patronizing, ‘throw-them- a-bone’ tone notwithstanding, I will take it. Thank you.

But I’m feeling left out. (Whataboutery alert).

The Bill says that mothers or commissioning mothers are entitled to 26 weeks to tend to their baby. But if you are an adoptive mother, you get nothing. I say nothing, because the Bill very ‘magnanimously’ says that if you are adopting a child below 3 months of age, you can get 12 weeks.

Here are some things that have not been considered:
1. There just aren’t enough infants available for adoption. By the time a child is legally declared ‘free’ for adoption and is listed, he/she is probably older than 3 months.

2. There are way too many children above the age of 2 years who are waiting to be adopted. Yes, it’s harder to adopt an older child, but getting paid leave to care for him/her could be an incentive, where currently none exist.

3. Adopted children, no matter what age, need as much, if not more time, with their new parents. They have no inkling as to what a family unit means, they have to work harder to start trusting people to stay.

As mother to a biological and an adopted child, I have been through both cycles. I carried our first daughter for 37 weeks before she was born, and after that I was fortunate enough to be able to take some time off to care for her. She has never ever had a doubt in her little mind that I am her mother.

Our adopted baby chose us when she was already 3 months old. For us she was our new daughter, and to her we were complete strangers. Just 3 months old, but she probably carries deep within her immense grief, a primal wound – pre-verbal memories of loss and abandonment, resulting in an innate fear of attachment and the inability to trust. Seems like a heavy, heavy load for such small shoulders.

After rigorous checks, we have been found fit to adopt this little baby and bring her home, to love and make our own, but are we parents then expected to immediately hand her over to another stranger in the form of a nanny or daycare worker, while we head back to the office as usual? It makes absolutely no sense!

Adoption agencies advise prospective adoptive parents to ensure that the adopted child meets and interacts with no one but her parents and siblings for the first 2-3 months in her new home. This will help her form a stronger attachment with her new parents, and prevents her from confusing her home to be just another orphanage where multiple caregivers take care of her needs.

It’s fair to say the amendments to the Maternity Benefit Bill have completely disregarded the needs of adopted children and made them secondary to those who are biological. They seem to have absolutely no idea what it means to adopt or be adopted. And that kind of ignorance is not acceptable, especially when another government body (www.cara.nic.in) is working with hundreds of adoption agencies to increase the number of adoptions in the country. Not surprisingly, government bodies aren’t talking to each other.

With our firstborn, my husband and I made a conscious decision that between us and the grandmothers, we would be the ones doing all the feeding, bathing, massaging without any help from nannies or Japa maids. Why should it be any different for our second child?

Even with our second, I took time off work so I can be there for her 24/7. I hired a hospital grade breast pump, to induce relactation so I can breastfeed her. I have spent afternoons lying skin-to- skin so she starts recognizing my touch and smell. I give her massages twice a day and hold her close as often as I can. And I’ve done this for four months now and I finally feel like she has accepted me as her mother. She wants me when she’s tired and sleepy. She places her head on my chest in complete abandonment and chews on my nose and pats my face as we play a staring game. Can someone please tell me, what makes an adoptive mother different from a biological one?

At the end of the day, the amendments to the Maternity Bill are meant to benefit mother and child, so that they can both be happier and healthier. I just wish someone had thought about it a bit more inclusively – and of those children who deserve to be given the time to learn to trust again, no matter what their age.

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NOTE: This post was originally titled ‘Step-motherly treatment for adopted children.’ A discerning reader wrote to us about how unfair that was to step-parents. We agree. It was a huge oversight on our part and we did not mean any disrespect to any parent. Parenting is a beautiful and challenging journey. The title of this blog-post has been changed since. 

Debkanya has been a working mom, work-from-home mom, part-time mom and is now a stay-at-home mom. Formerly a journalist and a communications and CSR professional, she’s led a marketing team in the wellness space in her most recent professional avatar. Her two precocious daughters inspire her to do more each day and show her that on some days, you really can have it all.

 

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