Two upcoming events

April 16th, 2014

I will be reading at Listen to Your Mother on Saturday, May 3 at 7 PM. The location is the wonderful Brava Theater in San Francisco’s Mission district. You can buy tickets here. This is a very fun event. Please join us!


My writing group, the Write On Mamas, is hosting a series of launches for our new anthology, Mamas Write. I will be reading with the group at Book Passage in Corte Madera on Sunday, May 4 at 7 PM. Admission is free and refreshments will be served. It would be lovely to see you there! ~


1 Comment

Judge suspended in Guatemala

April 10th, 2014

Judge Jassmin Barrios, who presided for 18 years in Guatemala, in cases that include the murders of Bishop Juan Gerardi and Myrna Mack, the Dos Erres massacre, and the mystery of Rodrigo Rosenberg, is suspended for a year for her role in the Efrain Rios Montt trial. An interview with Judge Barrios, translated into English, can be read here on Upside Down World.



“Mamas Write” Anthology

April 7th, 2014

I belong to a writing group called the Write On Mamas, and we have self-published our first anthology, titled Mamas Write. The essay I contributed, “The Mother in the Square,” is set in Antigua, Guatemala.

This article in the North Bay Bohemian, about the group and anthology, features a beautiful piece of writing by my friend and fellow adoptive mom to a son from Guatemala, Teri Stevens. Read through to the end of the article for Teri’s very moving piece, “There Was a Before.”

Mamas Write is now available in England, apparently, on Amazon, and soon at bookstores and on Amazon in the US. Exciting!



New book about surrogacy

March 28th, 2014

A new book about gestational surrogacy, The Baby Chase, sounds fascinating. From an interview on NPR with the author, Leslie Morgan Steiner, which you can listen to here:

Well, you know, for centuries, infertility meant you couldn’t have your own biological children. But today, because of advances in surrogacy and IVF, anyone can have a baby. So two openly gay men who want to raise their own biological children together or a woman who had cancer in her 20s and had her uterus removed or a 50-year-old law firm partner who was decided after menopause that she wants to have her own child – because of surrogacy, all of those people can have their own babies today.

And this video from the New York Times recaps the story of perhaps the most famous surrogate, Mary Beth Whitehead, who gave birth to the child known as Baby M. The case took place in New Jersey in the 1980s and I remember it vividly. Here’s a link to an article about it by Clyde Haberman in the New York Times.





March 26th, 2014

Today I’m going to post links to several articles about adoption you may have missed–or not, depending on your level of engagement with the subject. First, from Good Housekeeping about a disrupted adoption. Here’s how I introduced the article when I posted the link on Facebook:

An article at Good Housekeeping about a former attorney, Stacey Conner, and her husband, who adopted a 5-year-old boy, J, from Haiti in 2006 and disrupted the adoption 8 months later. As expected, the story is complicated, and elicited more than 6,000 comments on the GH site. As I read the piece, I remember the words of the adoptive dad in the PBS documentary, “Girl, Adopted,” who said, “I used to think love was enough. Now I know better. Adoption is not for everyone.” Or words to that effect. No judgment from me on Stacey Conner and her situation, just hope and prayers that seven years later, the little boy J and his families, permanent and temporary, have found peace.

Also, the Joplin (Missouri) Globe reports that Encarnacion Bail Romero will appeal her adoption case to the Supreme Court:

The U.S. Supreme Court is being asked to hear an appeal on behalf of a Guatemalan woman seeking to overturn the adoption of her biological child by a Carthage couple.

Attorneys for Encarnacion Romero filed the request on Monday. The action represents the court of last resort, after the Missouri Supreme Court late last year refused to hear the woman’s appeal. That action unsuccessfully challenged a Missouri Court of Appeals ruling that terminated her parental rights.

“We’ve asked, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll take it,” said Joplin lawyer Bill Fleischaker, one of several volunteer attorneys representing the biological mother. “They hear very few of the cases filed,” he said.

According to information on the Supreme Court’s website, about 10,000 cases are filed annually, and fewer than 80 — less than 1 percent — are accepted for hearings by the court.

Joe Hensley, attorney for adoptive parents Seth and Melinda Moser, said he was notified Monday of the filing. The Mosers have been caring for the child — now 7 — since he was about a year old. Hensley said he has not yet met with the Mosers to discuss a response, noting that he, until Monday, was uncertain if an appeal would be filed. “But nothing surprises me about this case anymore,” he said.


Romero was arrested in May 2007 in an immigration raid while she was working at a Barry County poultry processing plant. She left the child with her brother, who turned him over to a sister. She then left the baby with a Carthage couple who agreed to the adoption by the Mosers.

The mother’s parental rights were terminated based on arguments that the child had been abandoned because the mother made no attempt to provide for the boy during the two years when she was in jail, even though she had the means to do so. The court also found that the mother left the child in the hospital after giving birth, that she failed to keep doctor appointments or obtain baby formula or other help available for the child, and that she made no arrangements to ensure that the infant would be cared for in case she was arrested.

IMMIGRANTS WHO ARE IN THE U.S. without proper documentation and are jailed in violation of immigration law normally are deported, but Encarnacion Romero has been allowed to stay in the country while her case is being appealed.

In Foreign Adoptions by Americans Decline Sharply, David Crary of the Associated Press reports that calendar year 2013 reported the lowest number of international adoptions to the US since 1992, for a total of 7,074. Everyone agrees that reform was needed, no question. But instead of repairing systems, the implementation of the Hague seems simply to have shut them down.

Finally, a program at UCLA to help families with children adopted internationally, called the International Adoption and Travel Clinic. With adoptions sharply declining, I wonder about the clinic’s timing, but better late than never, I suppose. Friends report other clinics in Philadelphia, the Children’s Hospital International Adoption Clinic in Oakland, California (Dr. Nancy Curtis), and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital (Dr. Mary Staat).

That’s it for now.




March 19th, 2014

Yesterday I found out I was rejected from a writing workshop I applied to, and the news has got me flattened. Not that I expect to get accepted to everything I apply to–I don’t! But I liked the piece I submitted (or did at the time. Now, I hate it, see every glaring flaw), and looked forward to being in a writing environment again. It feels like forever that I’ve been in that luxurious space, of listening and learning, and thinking of what I might create. I’ve been trying to write something new–something long that requires focus and time and quiet and solitude–and life keeps happening, leaving me sidelined and distracted. For every small step I manage forward, ten backward paces follow.

The rejection reminds me that nothing is easy or guaranteed. This particular workshop, clearly, wasn’t the right place for me at this moment. That’s how it goes sometimes, as I remind my children daily. We try, we fail, and we try again.

For me, with writing, I know what I have to do. I have to keep writing. There is no other way. I need to redouble my efforts and not get discouraged. To keep moving forward.~






Lost dog

March 13th, 2014

A lost dog wandered into our front yard a few evenings ago as Mateo and I were on the driveway jumping rope. As we waited for the owner to retrieve the pup, Mateo said, “If I were President, I’d build a hotel with a special room just for dogs. But I can’t be President, because I wasn’t born in the United States.” Then, without another word, he flipped his rope over his head, and resumed jumping. Another day in the life of an adoptive family with kids born in Guatemala.

I’m also sharing this article from the Moscow Times, about Paralympians adopted from orphanages in Russia and Ukraine, and the athletes’ reflections on how adoption changed the trajectory of their lives. Forgotten, often, in the debate over international adoption, is the reality of what “not being adopted” can mean–a childhood lived in an orphanage, followed by a young adulthood navigated on one’s own. ~



One of the Guatemala900

March 6th, 2014

Literally for almost a decade, on various Guatemalan adoption listserves, I have been following the saga of Audra and Les Rice and their quest to finalize the adoption of their daughter Isabella. Today on my Google alert, I see Isabella finally is at her new home! Congratulations to Audra and Les and their family! Wow. WOW! Such good news!

On that note, here’s Antigua Guatemala’s version of Pharrell Williams tune, Happy.

Hoping the remaining families of the Guatemala 900 can sing the happy song, soon. ~



NPR on children’s brain development

February 25th, 2014

Like many (some?) adoptive parents, I’m interested in the long-term effects on children by early institutionalized care. If you’re also interested, check out this NPR piece “Orphans’ Lonely Beginnings Reveal How Parents Shape a Child’s Brain.” (Although, for the record, the word “orphans” in this context is not accurate. Most children in care–in this case, a boy in Romania who contracted polio–have one or both living parents, but for a variety of reasons, the parents cannot or choose not to parent the child. Thus the child, although abandoned, technically is not an orphan. )

In any event, I’m delighted research is being done and reported in this important field, which I’ve heard discussed anecdotally among adoptive parents for years. Here are the first two paragraphs:

“Parents do a lot more than make sure a child has food and shelter, researchers say. They play a critical role in brain development.”

“More than a decade of research on children raised in institutions shows that ‘neglect is awful for the brain,’ says Charles Nelson, a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital. Without someone who is a reliable source of attention, affection and stimulation, he says, ‘the wiring of the brain goes awry.’ The result can be long-term mental and emotional problems.”

In discussions of international adoption, where the dialogue largely centers on finding fault with systems, it seems as though this basic biological need by infants and children—for a “reliable source of attention, affection and stimulation”—often is overlooked. Kudos to NPR for focusing on the impact of neglect on the physical and emotional well-being of children. May policy-makers take note.



My niece, the swimmer

February 19th, 2014

As a person who cannot execute a single stroke of Butterfly much less 100 yards of it, I’m wildly impressed with my sister Deanna’s three daughters, superb swimmers all. But today I brag about the one in the middle, Astrid Swensen, who successfully defended her title of Division 1 Massachusetts State Champion in 100 Fly with a new meet record of :55.4. Congratulations, Astrid! And congratulations to my sister and her husband, David, too!

Two summers ago, Astrid competed in the Olympic Trials, a thrilling experience for our entire family. Because I’d like to remember those days myself, I’m reposting two blogs I wrote about my sisters’ family and their dedication to swimming. Thanks for reading, and GO ASTRID!

Post 1:

Each of my nieces and nephews is unique, special, and talented in her or his own way, and I love and adore them all. But this blog post tells a little story about my sister Deanna’s middle child, Astrid.

In December 2010, I stayed for a week with Deanna and her family–Astrid and her two sisters, Mackenzie and Mia, and De’s husband David–in Boston, where they live, while I was touring New England for my Mamalita Book Tour. I probably don’t have to tell you that Boston in winter is cold, and I mean frigid. Even after piling on multiple layers of down and fleece, including gloves and hat, I never stopped shivering.

But every morning at 5 AM, in the bedroom next to mine, an alarm would go off. As I burrowed more deeply under my covers, I could hear my niece Astrid rustle around quietly before tiptoeing down the stairs to the kitchen, where her father David clutched two mugs of steaming hot tea. David was waiting to drive his daughter to swim practice, and had already warmed up the car.

Off they’d go, so Astrid could swim a few thousand yards, with David, himself a former collegiate swimmer, helping coach the team. A full day at high school for Astrid followed, and afterwards, for good measure, another two hours in the pool.

As any parent with a child knows, you can’t “make” someone practice like that. That kind of fierce determination comes from inside. A child either wants to, or she doesn’t. And ever since she was a little girl, Astrid has wanted to. She still does.

I find that utterly, impressively amazing.

As I write this, Astrid and her family are in Omaha, Nebraska for the Olympic Swimming Trials. Astrid’s event, the 200 Fly, will take place on Thursday, June 28, around 10 AM Central Standard Time.

Sending best wishes to Astrid, her family, and her teammates.  You’ve earned this.   ~

Post 2:

Thank you to everyone who sent positive thoughts to my niece as she competed in the 200 Butterfly at the Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska this morning.

Astrid didn’t qualify, but she swam hard and finished strong. Competition is tough in the 200 Fly and my niece is young–15 years old this month. Just to swim in the same water with that elite crop of competitors was an honor in itself.

Yesterday I wrote about Astrid’s dedication–the elements braved, the miles swum–and after watching my niece today, I realized something else: We work hard, but we don’t always win. Some of us will drop out; some of us will go back and try even harder.

You don’t have to wonder to which group Astrid belongs.

Tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that, Astrid will dive in the water, and log her yardage. She’ll give her all. She won’t give up.

I look at Astrid, and am inspired.