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Calcutta is My Mother: Reshma McClintock’s Adoption Story

Apr 11, 2019

In this episode of ADOPTION NOW, we are joined by writer, speaker, and adoptee advocate Reshma McClintock, as she shares her powerful story.

As a testament to just how small the world is, Reshma and April’s husband Noah go back a few years because both of them had the same friends that Noah had in high school! How’s that for an icebreaker?

High school connections aside, Reshma starts her story in the early ’80s, with her parents' decision to adopt:

“They had just always talked about adoption, that it was something on their heart they wanted to do.”

When asked by host April Fallon about the story her adoptive parents told her, Reshma states that they were really transparent about the adoption. From a young age, she understood that she was adopted just by noticing racial differences.

But there’s much more to this adoption story. As an infant, she was found in Calcutta, weighing just one pound:

“I was taken to an orphanage, where they didn’t expect me to survive, but I did survive. And so I left Calcutta and was adopted at three months old. I weighed about six-to-seven pounds.”

To add another dimension to this story, Reshma’s name wasn’t on the first set of adoption papers that her parents received. They were originally matched to a girl named Ruby, but soon the paperwork changed from Ruby to Reshma. They were told that Ruby had died.

“How did your parents react to this?” April asked Reshma. She states that there were large gaps in communication during the adoption process. At that time, her parents had minimal contact with their adoption agency, so unannounced changes were the norm.

On top of this, most communication was done via snail mail back then.

April likens this to her and Noah’s pre-internet adoption experience when they were adopting. She talks about how difficult it was to bring home their child when the agency they used was still using typewriters and snail mail as the only point of contact.

Knowing how difficult it must have been to hear that a child had died in an Indian orphanage before her, April asked Reshma how she felt about it.

Reshma says that she had such a storybook childhood, her parents were loving, the family relationships were great, but she always had conflicting feelings about taking Ruby’s place. 

April points out the importance of listening to adoptees, the grief that can accompany adoption, and why communication is so important.

Reshma admits it had always bothered her that her parents told her story so openly to seemingly everyone they met. But she also makes sure to stress that there wasn’t a lot of information out there for an adoption frame of reference.

“There were very few families that were adopting at the time, especially internationally, and they just weren’t well connected to each other.”

With this in mind, her parents were ill-equipped to understand Reshma’s difficulty with the invasive questions she faced from strangers. She states, “I wasn’t able to articulate to my parents that this bothered me, that it made me feel really disconnected from them.”

She describes the very difficult time she had identifying as part of a white family, that even though it was the ‘90s when she was a teenager, that most people couldn’t seem to grasp she was a part of the family. This, in turn, led to her own doubts about belonging and led to an identity crisis.

Reshma states that even at social functions and Indian picnics, “I couldn’t figure out how to be an Indian person and their daughter, the daughter of a white family. It was very confusing to me.”

As host April Fallon reminds listeners, learning how to communicate with your child about their adoption is so important. 

Reshma agrees, stating that it’s hard for kids to communicate about adoption. Even as an adult she still struggles with it. But this reaches another, even deeper aspect of the adoption experience that is still very difficult to deal with.

She talks about the heritage she lost in India when she was adopted, that despite adoption being such a great provider of opportunity and giving her an amazing family, she still has a challenging relationship with it.

These feelings toward adoption are definitely normal for most adoptees. As April points out, adoption is filled with so many different traumas and emotions that blend together in a thousand different ways. Adoption is complex, and stories like Reshma's help further our understanding.

But this is far from all of Reshma’s incredibly important story! For more on her return trip to Calcutta, the documentary Calcutta is my Mother that visually chronicles her story, and information on where to catch the film, listen along!