By Sonya Rehman
Adeel was 26-years-old when he met Hijab through common friends in 2006. There was just something extra special about her which caught his attention.
“She wasn’t your typical ‘haan jee’ girl,” he recalls, “I had just come out of a relationship and I didn’t want it to be a rebound so I said; ‘God if it’s meant to be, please give me a sign.’”
A few days later, one of their common friend’s asked Adeel if he ever considered Hijab as a romantic potential. Adeel was taken aback. “It was so completely out of the blue,” he says, “That was just the sign I needed, so I told my parents about her and asked her out for dinner.”
And so, over a Chinese meal, Adeel popped the question. “She kept drinking soup and I was like, aren’t you going to say anything? And she goes, if I wasn’t interested I wouldn’t be sitting here drinking soup with you.”
For Hijab, Adeel had a warm and nurturing vibe about him, she felt immediately drawn in. “I remember he handed me this flimsy little rose in the restaurant and then on our way out, he opened the door for me and oh my God,” Hijab chuckles, “The bells in my heart just started clanging away!”
Fast forward three years and the young couple were finally ready to have a baby. The prospect of growing their little family unit thrilled them to no end. However, after a few tests, Adeel and Hijab found out they couldn’t conceive. “We didn’t cry, nor did we have a huge emotional outburst about the devastating news,” Fatima states candidly, mentioning that it was then that they decided another alternative: to go down the IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) route.
But after two failed procedures which resulted in serious side affects for Hijab, Adeel knew he had to put his foot down. The treatment wasn’t worth the pain his wife was going through.
“I couldn’t bear seeing her in so much agony; it wasn’t an easy time in our lives. That’s when we sat down and mutually agreed to adopt a baby.”
It was 2010 and Hijab worried incessantly. It was uncharted territory after all. What if the baby wouldn’t be able to connect with her and her husband? What if she wouldn’t be able to love the child like she should as a mother? But speaking with her friends at length about the prospect of adopting a newborn baby, Hijab’s self-assurance grew with each passing day. She had suffered the worst through her IVF treatments and couldn’t bear the thought of encountering more hurt; her heart ached. She wanted a baby. Desperately. But was she strong enough to endure another test in this new chapter in her life?
Based in Dubai at the time, where Adeel was working as a Brand Manager in an FMCG company, the couple took Adeel’s close friend, Faizaan, into confidence about their adoption plans and asked him to file their papers at the Edhi centre in Karachi.
“During the adoption process you have to be very upfront about your financial stability, your background and your medical records – which clearly state that you can’t conceive from a medical standpoint,” Adeel says, “[Hijab] and I included our photographs in the forms and wrote about ourselves at length. So when my friend submitted our documents, he advised us to stay in constant touch with Bilquis Edhi.”
During a trip to Karachi, a few weeks later in 2011, the couple decided to visit the centre before flying back to Dubai. While the adoption process can take many agonizing months, sometimes even stretching on to a year, Adeel and Hijab got the shock of their lives when the centre called Hijab’s mother (the very next day after their departure) to inform them that they had a little newborn girl.
“Later that night when we caught the next flight back to Pakistan, we were able to hold Inaya in our arms for the first time,” Adeel says, his voice thick with emotion, “At that moment, everything faded, all the pain we’d gone through…everything…it was nothing less than magical. The connection was so strong, it didn’t feel artificial or forced. It felt as if it was meant to happen, at that time, with her, on that very day.”
Reminiscing about her baby’s tiny hands, button nose and big, shiny eyes, Hijab is moved to tears. “It was an experience that can’t be put into words. It was so pure, I felt like her mother. I learned how to wrap her up and stayed up all night to watch her. I felt like I experienced nine months of pregnancy in those few days.”
Grabbing onto his finger as he touched her little face, Adeel says he knew then that Inaya recognized him as her dad. “The amount of love that you begin experiencing in that moment is so powerful that if you don’t live it yourself, you won’t be able to grasp the magnitude of the emotion that passes through you. It’s unbelievable.”
Currently 7-years-old, Inaya has grown up into a soft-hearted little girl who dotes on her baby sister, 22-month-old Zenia (adopted in 2017), to no end.
Given that Adeel and Hijab wanted Inaya to experience the bond shared between siblings, and not raise her as an only child, they didn’t think twice about adopting another baby.
“Zenia is a complete hyper monkey with a storm stuck inside of her,” Adeel laughs, mentioning that the younger one is the perfect partner for Inaya to fuss over and indulge in.
“It’s very strange when people we know have asked us over the years how it’s possible to love someone’s else’s child,” Hijab states with exasperation, “I can’t relate to this mindset at all. When you hold a child, how can you not feel any love in your heart?”
Considered a social taboo within Pakistan due to an innate fear of being judged and the bizarre ‘log kya kahenge’ (what will people say) mindset which leads a majority of families to keep their adoptions a secret, Adeel thinks it’s about time society let go of its self-created inhibitions and encouraged others to consider the journey of adoption minus any fears and apprehensions.
However, speaking about Pakistan’s complicated adoption laws; Adeel reveals that the state doesn’t make it easy to adopt orphans. “There’s no law related to adoption, apart from The Guardians and Wards Act, 1890 which stipulates that you can only become a child’s guardian,” Adeel says, “But at the same time, people need to openly discuss adoption without pseudo religious knowledge and the so-called cultural ‘issues.’ It’s a pity that even the educated in our society don’t get it.”
Hoping to raise Inaya and Zenia to be confident and self-assured women in the years to come, Adeel and Hijab want their daughters to stand as role models for other children, and at the same time, inspire families to consider providing a loving and nurturing home to a child who truly needs it.
“Adopting a baby requires both partners to be on the same page…it’s a question of someone’s life at the end of the day,” Hijab says earnestly.
Currently based in Düsseldorf, Germany, Adeel and Hijab have their hands full. And they wouldn’t have it any other way. After all, it took months of tears and uncertainty to get to where they are today; a close-knit cocoon of love, tenderness and so much life yet to be lived.
The Friday Times