I Adopted My Kids, Why Discriminate Me?: Lawyer Seeks Equal Maternity Benefits
Maternity Benefits Act discriminates between biological and adoptive mothers (like me), says lawyer Hamsaanandini.
Video Producer: Mythreyee Ramesh
Video Editor: Abhishek Sharma
Senior Editor: Shelly Walia
"As the law stands today, an adoptive mother gets a maternity benefit of 12 weeks if the child is less than three months old. And I felt that the six weeks I was getting, as an adoptive mother, were grossly inadequate – if not discriminatory."
I am Hamsaanandini Nanduri – a lawyer, daughter, wife, but most importantly – a mother of two wonderful children. But India's Maternity Benefits Act discriminates between biological mothers and adoptive mothers like me.
As someone who was discriminated against, purely on the basis of how I decided to start a family, I want to ask the government to amend the current law so that all mothers get equal maternity benefits.
While I am running a Change.org petition called 'Heart Moms Need Love,' I have also moved the Supreme Court, seeking basic maternity rights.
Just because an adoptive mother may not have gone through the process of labour, doesn't mean that the journey is easy. It comes with its own set of different challenges that need time, recognition, and support as well.
Our Adoption Journey
Our adoption journey started in 2016 when my husband and I came across the option to adopt siblings in the CARA (Central Adoption Resource Authority) procedure. The moment we saw it, we knew we wanted to do it.
While we were prepared for a two-year wait, we got a call from the agency within seven months. We were given the option to adopt a pair of siblings.
That day is still fresh in my mind. It will always be one of the favourite days of my life.
It did not sink in that we were going to be parents instantly, overnight – that too to a five-year-old and a two-year-old.
We were so nervous, so very anxious. But we put everything behind, and off we went to meet our children.
The Immediate Challenges
First, we struggled considerably with communication. My husband and I are south Indians but our children spoke only Hindi.
I had some basic exposure to Hindi but their dialect was completely different. And the kind of words that a five-year-old would use is not something that would have been in my Hindi textbooks.
Yes, it was a big change for us. But it was an even bigger change for children – at least we were back home, to a space we knew.
"Each child reacts differently to this. So between my daughter and son, their journeys were very different. My daughter initially used to not talk too much. All her communication used to be limited to food, sleep and basics like that. With my son, it was very different. For the first couple of weeks or so, he just would not sleep at all. He would expect that someone should carry him and walk around."
A Meagre Six Months
I was working in a reputed law firm when my adoption approval came through. While my immediate boss was extremely supportive, the workplace did not have a ready policy on adoption.
When I got my referral, I gave handover at work and proceeded on the break.
It was the first few days after the kids came home that I got to know that a policy was made and I would be entitled to six weeks of leave.
My employer granted me a meagre six weeks to adjust with my children – while a biological mother would have got four times the time with their newborn.
While I tried to reason with my employer, I realised that the law had no provision to protect adoptive mothers.
Adoptive Mothers Are No Less
The time that you spend as soon as the child comes home is very, very important for you to share a bond as a family – crucial to develop a sense of attachment.
"We must be mindful that in most of the cases when these children come home, they have already gone through some kind of massive trauma. It can be losing a loved one or parents or abandonment. They have had injuries, they have had to fend for themselves. They have been alone for a long time."
For my husband and me, it was love at first sight. But we had to work towards earning their trust.
"So much so that the first time my daughter threw a tantrum, we celebrated. Because she finally trusted us."
Amendment Will Help Normalise Adoption
Today, in India there is a huge need to normalise adoption as a concept. It comes with so much stigma and ignorance in our society.
And for the state to say that there will be no discrimination based on how somebody became a parent, I think is a huge step in sort of bringing about that kind of normalcy.
Because if today, there is a law that says that if you are an adoptive parent, you will not get any benefit, it actively propagates and encourages the kind of bias and stigma that already exists in society.
And I hope we can change that soon.
(As told to Mythreyee Ramesh.)
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