When Koushumi Chakraborti first spotted Shanaya on the listing of 'special needs children' up for adoption, she knew what she was going to be signing up for. The description said he is 'transgender'.
After thinking over it for a few days, she spoke to her mother who didn't agree with her idea. "She was quite worried, she said I will not be able to cope with the child's needs emotionally". Her brother, too, although was encouraging, warned her of the emotional toil that she would face.
But, Koushumi had made up her mind. "At the age of 40, if you are a single working woman, motherhood can be quite challenging. But I knew I wanted to be a mother and for me, procreating was not a necessity." Koushumi, who is based out of Bangalore, works in Infosys.
Chakraborti adopted Shanaya, who was born with reproductive and sexual anatomy that does not fit the typical definitions of male or female. "The strange part is even the adoption centre called her transgender, instead of intersex," she said.
She finally met Shanaya and immediately fell in love. "We bonded as soon as we met," she said. Shanaya was listed on the site for two years, but no one was adopting him. Koushumi knew mothering a 'special needs child' is not going to be easy. "I researched so much but there was absolutely no literature on parenting an intersex child in India" she said. Although she didn't have too many books to fall back on, she was already a part of several online communities that helped her understand the needs of an intersex child.
"I treat her in a gender neutral way," Koushumi said. Constantly switching between the pronouns, she said, "I let him wear frocks, or shirts, whatever he wants to. For my child, I don't have to stick to a gender," she said.
Although the adoption centre named the four-year-old differently, Koushumi said her child likes being called Shanaya more, a name that Koushumi chose for her. "Every time she meets new people she says her name is Shanaya Chakraborti." Along with all the advice that came with adopting an intersex child, Koushumi also faced plenty of obstacles, especially from the medical community.
"They wanted to do a gender normalization / assignment surgery on her. The doctors wanted her to surgically look like a girl if I want to raise her as a girl," she added. The 40-year-old added that doctors across the world use this procedure to get rid of any sort of confusion, so the child is able to socialise normally. But like everything else, Koushumi did her research on this as well. "Intersex people don't want to go through this surgery" she said. Koushumi had to convince the doctors that she wants her child to hit puberty and then decide for herself. "I can't decide her gender, she will," she added.
When a Facebook page recently shared Koushumi's story, she became an instant social media star.
Immediately, she was called 'brave' and she was bestowed the 'hero' title in no time. "These accolades are very heavy. Why call me brave? I am just being a mother. It's difficult to be a single mother, but I don't think there's bravery in being a mother to an intersex child. We should call biological mothers brave too if I am brave," she said.
It's been four months since Koushumi became a mother. And like every mother she faces her every day challenges. There are days when the four-year-old becomes inconsolable, but there are also days when she is overjoyed. "My child has gone through a lot of institutionalised trauma, so it's sometimes hard for her. As for me, I am a new mother and a working, single woman. This is a big challenge and it was a sudden transition. But we are learning from each other every day," she said.
Koushumi is now preparing Shanaya for school. "I know she will face a lot of battles, but I want to teach her how not to get bogged down by it and respond the right way," she said.