Inspiring Icons Insights
Bridging birth to adoption.
by: Sangeeta Maheshwari
Sheela Adige is an unspoken angel for hundreds of hopeful parents who are beneficiaries of her compassion, sincerity, and empathy for the last thirty years.
She is the point of contact a birth mother would come to, to give up her child for own compelling reasons. From counseling the birth mother to feeling her pain and helplessness, Sheela goes through that pain herself each time she helps a new birth mother.
“Adoption is a beautiful process, however, with every adoption process, I go through the same pain of separation with the birth mother. You simply never get used to that separation pain. Even after facilitating over 500 adoptions myself, I go through the emotional rollercoaster with the birth mother. It is one of the worst situations to be in, to have to give up your own child. Being a mother of two daughters myself, I know it is not a situation anyone would choose to be in as it is heartbreaking. You cry with them and go through their pain.”
Although rare, some birthparents decide to put their past behind them and keep their child after Sheela’s counseling. However, majority of the birth mothers would be in a helpless situation and for the child’s future, decide the best solution is to let go of their child.
On the other hand, when she sees the adoptive parents yearning to have a child, her heart gets filled with euphoria, “Each adoption for me is a first-time adoption. Each child is unique and so are the parents. That makes this process so special.” The transition from regretful emotions of abandonment to the elation of uniting makes Sheela the link to many hearts, “We are the custodians of the child and the child is our top priority and not the parents.”
Sheela is astonished to see how a child is born somewhere and is destined to be somewhere else. The journey takes her as an interim guardian of the baby like a seed from the birth parent to be transported to germinate to another set of parents. The child is handed over with the hope to be nurtured with love, acceptance and patience by the adoptive parents. Feelings that arise when she hands over the child to the adoptive parents are beyond words, “Simply overwhelming and ecstatic!”
Social work came to Sheela by default. She used to work for a cardiac surgeon before marriage and wanted to be a doctor, like her father. Soon after she got married, she moved to Kolkata with her husband, Madhav, and met his cousin, who was working with Society of Indian Children’s Welfare (SICW).
Although Sheela was a loving mother of two young daughters, Akhila 3 years old and Divya 6 years old at that time, she wasn’t hugely crazy about doing more work with kids. “But when you go to SICW, the children just steal your heart”, Sheela confessed with a twinkle in her eyes and a wide smile that came from her heart.
She decided to spend a couple of hours at SICW and soon her time at SICW increased and became an addiction,
“It grows on you as you are involved with the children and work from your heart. Unlike a corporate job, here everything is from the heart.”
From the time a baby arrives to the time he/she is placed, there is so much to do. There is immense responsibility, all driven by sheer love and the best interest for the child.
When I asked Sheela of the challenges she faces, she particularly spoke about the special needs children at SICW and felt grateful to the parents who adopted them.
There are frustrating administrative challenges that make the transition for all concerned more arduous. For example, a mere spelling mistake costs them weeks to months of delay due to paperwork correction. It is imperative to sensitize the stakeholders not to delay the process of children uniting with their adoptive parents. Each day’s delay in the process costs further separation between the child and adoptive parents.
Sheela has personally gone through a full reversal of health. Yet she continued to carry on despite her deteriorating health. When I asked her how her health has impacted her work, she stated, “Thanks to SICW or else I would have long gone due to my health issues that I have faced in the past few years. Each morning I look forward to being with the children who give me wings to fly and rejuvenate my energy.”
She is grateful for this opportunity for being part of such a beautiful process but feels frustrated at not being able to do as much now due to her health. Never has she felt anger or resentment because of her limitations. On the contrary she feels blessed to have a chance to be part of transforming others’ lives. The satisfaction she has felt in her work is incomparable to any amount of money any other job would give her.
There is so much to learn from each adoptive parent and their journey. Sheela finds her internal growth exponential as compared to any other job with the deep, diverse and distinct experiences she has been a part of. She is flooded with messages from parents and children all over the world about their accomplishments and milestones and she beams with pride hearing from each one of them.
Look beyond material things. Of course, you need a comfortable life but look for deeper joy.
Build compassion, empathy and feel others pain to understand them.
Keep learning and growing.
Learn to give and not only ask in life.
Feel grateful for what you have and cherish it. Remember there is somebody who would die to be in your shoes.
Fears or Myths of people:
Q. Some people fear if they adopt and then have a biological child later, will they do justice as a parent?
A. The child is yours whether adopted or biological and a child is a child. Once you accept the child fully it doesn’t matter.
Q. What if the child wants to know his/her biological parents and leave us?
A. Security is so important, and curiosity is an essence of human being. So, while children sometimes want to know their roots, the power of love and transparency overrides all doubts. You cannot guarantee a biological child to stay anymore with you than an adoptive child will do.
Q. What if the child turns out different in his/her behavior or outlook?
A. When things go wrong people blame the genes. It is the parents’ insecurity to feel that way. The environment has a lot to play in shaping the child’s future. A child will grow as much as the parents provide stimulation, balance, and sensibilities.
Q. What will people say and how will society accept?
A. Adoption sadly still has a stigma attached to it, although a lot is now discussed openly. Fear of what will people say, societal pressures and wanting to move ahead still affects many. In truth, it is a divine process to be able to give and receive love unconditionally.
Sheela reminisces how they used to match the child with the adoptive parents many years ago and how it is different now as it is more official and misses the connection between the hearts.
The adoption process has become very stringent now with many more check-ups and follow-ups. There are still people not aware of the legal aspects and think it is not such a tedious process.
This mindset has to be shifted for a better understanding of how important and significant this process is and how it affects so many lives if it is not handled properly.
How has this role shaped Sheela’s life?
This field has evolved her to be more empathetic and also taught her to learn to draw boundaries. Being on the see-saw where she sees the pain of separation to the joy of acceptance has taught her to be more objective and supportive. Initially, she found it difficult to disconnect from the emotions, but she has gradually learnt to get into the two sets of parents’ shoes and come out wearing her own shoes of objectivity.
Sheela feels grateful towards the diverse sets of parents and her own family’s unconditional support through her journey of opening her heart and stretching her arms towards both pain and pleasure.
Society for Indian Children’s Welfare (SICW), is a non-profit welfare organization in Kolkata, India, serving the needs of destitute women and children and undertake inter-country adoptions for over three decades. They have placed more than 2,500 children in loving homes across the world.