How adoption has brought fulfilment and an unmatchable joy to their lives.
By Aiden Jewelle Gonzales
When I met Tejeet Singh Sodhi and Dr. Parvinder Kaur Sodhi, they had only a few days prior welcomed the latest addition to their family, three-year-old Meera Pranchalee Sumnanon, the very day that they ended their 14-day quarantine at Fraser Suites Bangkok after flying in from Canada. Meera’s attachment to her parents is already clear, and she clings to her mother’s hand as she gives me a shy smile and greets me in Thai, at her dad’s urging. “It’s her birthday the day after tomorrow,” I’m told by Parvinder, who’s an anaesthesiologist and Assistant professor at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, “and guess what – that’s my date of birth too! I had tears in my eyes when I found out. It felt like it was meant to be.”
Both glowing with the joy of becoming new parents, Tejeet and Parvinder are eager to share the culmination of their five-year wait for Meera, and the happiness and fulfilment that adoption has already brought them, having previously adopted their two elder daughters from China, Manya Zimei and Misha Chuntao, who are now 13 and 11, respectively. “We’ve always wanted to raise a family through adoption,” Tejeet, who’s a professional engineer at Defence Construction Canada, recalls. “I broached the subject with my wife shortly after we got married, and she agreed in a heartbeat.”
“We didn’t ponder on it too much,” Parvinder concurs, “we thought, ‘there are a lot of children that need homes, and we can be a loving family to them,’ so we went ahead and started the process. The most important thing is that you and your partner are on the same page.” When I praise their decision to share a loving home with children who need it, however, they are quick to emphasise that they’ve gotten untold joys from the process as well. “It’s a misconception that only the children who are adopted benefit, but it goes both ways,” Parvinder says. “What these kids bring into our lives is something that can only be experienced. For example, Meera’s been with us for only 3-4 days, but she calls me mum, hugs me tight at night, and she goes wherever I go – the trust she puts in me is so humbling. And it’s been the same each time with all our girls. They learn from us, but we’ve learned so much from them: patience, perseverance, and resilience.” She and Tejeet speak candidly about the adoption processes, the realities of living in an inter-cultural household, and advice for those who are considering doing the same.
You’ve adopted three children so far, so you must be old hands at it by now. Can you walk us through the process?
Tejeet: There are inter-governmental agreements when you adopt from abroad, like the Hague Adoption Convention. Our first step was going to our local Department of Community Services, and once they’d given us the green light, we were given a list of private adoption agencies. In Meera’s case, after we’d filled in all the forms and filed our application, the package was sent to the Department of Children and Youth (DCY) in Bangkok. Once your application is approved, you’re in the queue, and the rest is wait time.
Parvinder: The process doesn’t actually get easier each time. First, a social worker conducts a rigorous home study of parents who wish to adopt, which goes on for at least a year. It involves multiple visits and interviews of each person separately, then together, about our family dynamics, our history, everything. The only thing easier is that by the third time, the social worker knew us well, so she could do the home study a little faster.
Tejeet: On average, the process takes 4-5 years. And we understand! They have to do their due diligence, there are other families in front of you in the queue, and they also need to find a child who fits into the parents’ preferences. We were open to a child aged 2-4, and one who may have some medical conditions, which made the process somewhat faster.
For example, our second daughter has a congenital heart disease, and we said that yes, we can adopt her, we can manage her condition. It’s important for adoptive presents to do an introspective before these decisions, to see if they can provide the child with the extra care that they need. Then after the kids are adopted, we have to do post-placement reports, for at least another year.
Why did you initially choose to adopt from China, and why did you choose Thailand after your first two adoptions?
Tejeet: In the beginning, the available agencies in Nova Scotia only had a limited number of countries where you could undergo the adoption process, and we had heard from sources that it was very streamlined in China.
As for why Thailand this time, honestly, it was because the Chinese programme had closed due to their changing government policies. The adoption agency told us that only the Thailand programme was open for folks living in Nova Scotia, so we said sure, let’s go for it. We were eventually matched with our Meera from Pakkred Babies’ Home in Nonthaburi, and in the end, the process here was similarly systematic and streamlined.
Was adopting someone from India not a big consideration for you?
Tejeet: We would have loved to, but it wasn’t the most important consideration for us; we just wanted to welcome children into our home. At that time, the process for an Indian adoption was very tedious and complex.
Parvinder: When we adopted our eldest, Manya, the process took 2.5 years. If we’d adopted from India, the process would have taken us around seven years, with a lot of red tape. And, honestly, we weren’t that young anymore that we could wait that long.
Any particular reason why you’ve chosen to only adopt daughters?
Tejeet: Yes. Girl power! [Laughs] It’s not that there’s a distinction between boys and girls, but within my heart, I’m slightly biased towards girls.
Parvinder: Honestly, Tejeet is the most feminist person you’ll ever meet – that’s it, that’s the answer. The girls are his best friends, they’ve tied him around their little fingers; they’re all Daddy’s girls! To be honest, I love girls too. Little girls are awesome.
What has it been like raising your daughters in such an inter-cultural household, and integrating them into a completely new life?
Tejeet: We have consistently made it a point to connect our daughters with their roots. We’re from an Indian background, we’ve Chinese daughters and now a Thai daughter, and we live in Canada. Our daughters shouldn’t have to adapt to our culture solely, it has to be an equal effort from us to embrace their cultures, their traditions, and their values; to raise strong independent women who are proud of where they’re from. We talk to our eldest daughters about Chinese traditions, we celebrate Chinese festivals, and while they go to Gurudwara with us, we also take them to other temples, and it will be the same with Meera. We don’t expect them to just embrace Sikhism because we’re Sikh; all religions are equally important.
Parvinder: It becomes more important in inter-country adoptions. You do have to instil values from their birth country, because that’s their identity. They need to be proud of themselves, they need to be clear in their mind that yes, my parents are Indian, but this is who I am.
What’s interesting is that, for example, their food habits don’t change. My daughters have such a Chinese palate! I’m sure Meera will have a very Thai palate; there are just some things that you cannot and should not take from them.
What advice would you give to those considering adopting children, not just in terms of the process, but in terms of how to talk to their kids about it?
Tejeet: It’ll take time, and you’ll need patience, and sometimes the wait can be painful. And as these children grow up, you need to be very honest with them. We’ve talked to our elder daughters about the adoption process, and it’s a painful and emotional discussion at times. You should also instil in them respect for their birth parents. We don’t know what situation they were in to make the decision to give up their child, and you are not in their shoes to judge them. Every Mother’s Day, we celebrate both their heart mother, Parvinder, and their birth mum, without whom we wouldn’t have been able to share all our joys with them.
As for our message to adoptive parents, go with an open mind and an open heart, and we’d strongly encourage it. Like any journey, you must dive into it to feel the joy of it.
Parvinder: I’m not sure the reasons people hesitate to adopt, but our journey has been incredible, and I wouldn’t do it any other way.
All pictures were taken at Charcoal Tandoor Grill & Mixology, Fraser Suites Sukhumvit