Being married for eight years, Kakoli Hafiz, 30, and Nasim Hafiz, 40, were trying to have a baby. That sits on top of their priority list. But a few years ago, Kakoli's gynecological report narrowed down the maternity window for her. Undergoing infertility treatment has become a routine for them since then.
After going through diagnoses, visiting doctors, dealing with hormonal stresses, expensive bills, medicines, reports, she got pregnant. But for a while. She had early miscarriage.
When they found no progress in treatment in Bangladesh, they went to a well-known fertility centre in India for greater hopes. But Kakoli's last hope was also shattered after the second miscarriage.
It took eight years to accept their unattainable reality to become biological parents.
"Watching my embryo being flushed down the toilet every time was the most terrifying and helpless feeling in the world," said Kakoli.
According to sociologists, the number of infertile couples, such as Kakoli and Nasim, is increasing. They go through grueling years of infertility treatment and yet want to have a taste of parenthood.
About 15 percent of relatively elderly couples seeking children have infertility, according to Dr MA Bashed, an embryologist at Bangladesh Institute of Medical Science.
"The reasons for infertility in the country are linked to late marriage, hygiene standards, inadequate medication and random use of oral contraceptives," informed Dr Bashed.
The offspring is viewed as an essential part of completing a family picture, in addition to the personal desire for motherhood. Infertile couples also suffer communal prejudice, cultural stigma and social exclusion in South Asia.
Dr Bashed thanked the advanced diagnostic tools like hormonal analysis, laparoscopy, intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilisation (IVF) to treat infertility.
"Affordability is still a major concern as these treatments are very expensive and cannot guarantee fertility," he added.
Infertility treatment is also a long-term process. Couples undergo lengthy medical procedure, rounds of miscarriage, stillbirths, depression, and endless waiting for a silent womb to respond.
"I was not ready to endure the torment. I wanted to be a mother, was it impossible? For that, we were ready to do anything, and we did," said Kakoli.
Nasim and Kakoli measured their possibilities right away. They called for local agencies to adopt a child.
On a Sunday morning — after much searching, matching and proceedings — the couple found a month-old cuddly little girl, ready to go with them and become their long-desired daughter. And they became guardians.
"When I went through my second ordeal with pregnancy, I told my gynecologist that I had to go for adoption. She was supporting me. Holding the baby on my lap, I realize it was the best choice," Kakoli smiled.
Couples like Kakoli and Nasim are on the rise in society who do not want to pursue an endless path of anxiety and pity. Rather, they bravely emerge from the social stigma of blood ties and try to find alternative parenthood.
"This new parenthood can be read as a positive statement to the community," said Sociologist Manosh Chowdhury.
Mentioning the recent incident of abandoned infants at Dhaka Shishu Hospital, he said, "The image is shifting now. Every time we hear an abandoned child's story, we see couples sprinkling to adopt an orphan child."
Tilottama Hasan, a 39-year-old teacher, has been married for 12 years and is still childless. Since they got married, she and her husband have looked forward to a son.
"After all the affordable treatments, IVF was our only option left. We weren't able to manage money for that. One day, a random elderly doctor I met at the hospital gave a new worldview," recalled Tilottoma.
"He told me, instead of spending quality time with my partner, I spent the crucial period of our marital life in infertility clinics. But is being a biological mom the only thing that can complete my family?"
"I went home that day with a long awaited epiphany and began looking at resources for adoption. Two names were suggested by my colleagues. Missionaries of Charity in old Dhaka and Shishumoni Nibash."
Tilottoma visited the Missionaries of Charity and registered herself. "I go there almost every week. My husband still doesn't know about it. I am working on it," she added.
Prof Aditya Bharadwaj, writer and anthropologist commented, "For the majority of South Asian couples, child adoption is seen as a last resort. It's like making a private agony into a public acknowledgement of failure."
Kakoli and Nasim shared the difficulty they faced in getting their adoption decision accepted by their in-laws and relatives.
Nasim, also a university teacher, explained, "Not everyone agrees with a different family model. This normative definition of the family is determined by the society, the state and its agencies. We followed this trend for decades. Good thing is that there was no hesitation between the two of us. The relatives had all the hesitations."
"Even the extended family member, who has never helped us in our decision making, is now trying to demoralize us with his values and disdains. As if we were committing a major social crime," sighed Nasim.
"My parents were not enthusiastic about it at first. They said you are young and can try to conceive again," added Kakoli.
Nasim believes that nobody is illegitimate while considering the adoption. "Being guardian of an abandoned child should not need any kind of socio-legal verification other than love and empathy," he said.
Barrister Sabrina Zarin, an experienced family lawyer, has been providing legal services in the field of adoption and guardianship in Bangladesh.
"Aspiring couples can contact specialised agencies, orphanages or individuals who are willing to give children for adoption," she said.
According to Sabrina, the work of a family lawyer runs on a very smooth note when there is no issue of illegality on the documents of the adopter.
Kakoli and Nasim heard about the Missionaries of Charity from their friends. The staff of the organisation suggested that they should continue their visits following a registration.
"We went to the missionary for three months. Sisters told us that as soon as there was a child they would let us know. In a month, we met our would-be daughter. We started to visit her every week and asked the sisters to start the process of adoption. They provided us with legal support and it took us a month to settle in the family court," recalled Kakoli.
Kakoli's mother wrapped the conversation, "True, I didn't agree with their decision at the outset. But later I started to realise, this is the baby that could bring happiness to my daughter's life. What else could be the reason for me complaining?"
Aspiring mothers, such as Kakoli and Tilottoma, echoed the notion that physical issues cannot restrict parenthood while so many children in the world are deprived of their families.
The question is whether we really need genetic affinity to create a bond with another human child, or whether just being human is enough.
The names of the characters are changed in the article for privacy purpose.