She stands at the busiest signal in the suburb. Her hair is a hay-like brown from undernourishment and her skin is tanned from standing in the sun all day. I see her every time my taxi stops at the signal—more than a couple of times every week. Almost always, she has a smile on her face, and she is generally entertaining one or more of the other beggar children at the signal. She’s,not more than seven or eight years old. When I’m traveling with Avanee, she comes to the window and makes funny faces so Avanee laughs. The two of them have their silent interaction for the few seconds that we’re there, and life goes on. I’ve always bought the bunches of ginger lilies she sells in season and wondered where this child finds the energy and enthusiasm to trot around the busy, dangerous crossroads day in, day out with a smile on her lips and a sparkle in her eye.
The other day, my car was waiting at the signal, a little distance away. I could see her at a car ahead, but she wasn’t her usual cheerful self. As she turned around, she hurt her shin on the mudguard of the car and her face writhed in pain. Her lips curled downward and her eyes moistened with tears. She looked exactly like Avanee does when she hurts herself. Except, Avanee always has someone to rush to her side and calm her down; to kiss her bau-bau good bye. She had no one. I saw her eyes search for someone who may have seen what happened, someone who’d come and tell her it’s going to be OK. Someone to simply hold her close. I sat there like a shameless, helpless spectator as the signal turned green and the car sped off.
This was more than a week ago. I have been traveling since then and haven’t seen her since that day but the image refuses to leave my mind. There are so many children out there, at signals, in orphanages, at temple steps, even garbage bins (god forbid) that need families. There are couples out there who have problems conceiving; families that could do with a little cheer, a little baby powder smell and the mess of toys around the house. Why are we not making the connection, then?
I had trouble conceiving, too. When I did, finally, conceive, I had a very difficult pregnancy and childbirth. MK and I had been trying to make a baby for a few years, but thanks to PCOS, we couldn’t. We went through a cycle of treatment, found it too stressful and depressing, and decided to stop trying too hard. We said we’d adopt in a while if we didn’t conceive naturally. As luck would have it, we discovered we were pregnant shortly thereafter. But it wasn’t a bed of roses. I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes in the early stages of pregnancy. I quit my job and got busy watching my calories and pricking myself nine times a day—thrice to take my insulin shots and six times (before and after every meal) to check sugar levels. In a condition that is rarely present in pregnant women with diabetes, the liquor levels in my sac dropped low and I had to be on medication. Somewhere around the fifth month, my BPlevels dropped (while I got stuck in an elevator!) and I had to be hospitalized. Avanee, on the other hand, was growing faster than normal, and I would need a pre-determined C-section delivery three weeks before my due date in order for her and me to be safe. When I was opened up, the OB/GYN found that the cord was wrapped around twice (not once as originally shown in the last scan) around Avanee’s neck and she had to be removed carefully and immediately. On the third day after her birth, Avanee developed infantile jaundice (common among children of diabetic mothers) but her bilirubin count touched dangerous 24 (normal is 14). She lay in a plastic case in the room, dressed only in a diaper and eye protection, exposed to light 24 hours a day. Two days later, when she didn’t show much improvement, the doctor indicated a possibility of exchange transfusion. The very thought of draining all the blood out of my 5-day old baby’s body and replacing it with a stranger’s and the complications around it all scared me and I feared the worst. With god’s grace, though, we walked out of the hospital on day 10, safe and healthy.
Avanee will soon be 3 years old. I am still struggling with diabetes and weight loss and live in the fear of inheriting breast cancer. MK and I would like Avanee to have a sibling (we’re sure she would, too) but the very idea of risking the life of another being just on the basis of my bad health scares me. Yes, I should be making more efforts; yes, I should be really pushing myself, but what if…? I think about adoption, I do all the time. I see posters promoting adoption, I read about social workers who’re doing a fab job, and I see pictures of helpless children with a gleam in the eyes, just wanting to be loved. I want to just go pick one of them up. But do I trust myself enough to always be fair to both—the biological and the adopted? Will society be fair? Will my love be seamless and undivided? Perhaps adoption is easier on parents who have no biological offspring. Perhaps I am thinking too much. Perhaps I should just concentrate on being a good mother to the one child I am blessed with. But what do I do about that image in my head—that lump in my throat that comes up every time I think of a little girl at the signal with a bleeding shin and nowhere to go?