Archive for October, 2011

You have been boo’d!

Monday, October 31st, 2011

I live in a house in Marin County, California, the first “house” I’ve lived in since leaving my parents’ home in New Jersey after graduating from college. So I don’t know what it’s like in other “neighborhoods,” because I’ve never lived in one. Apartment buildings, yes, many of them. Seven different flats in New York City, two in Los Angeles, and one in San Diego.

But the suburbs are different, at least it feels to me, and never so much as around Halloween. For the past week,  in our house, we have thought of, discussed, and dreamed about, nothing besides this: Costumes, trick-or-treat strategies to maximize the candy haul, and the order in which the eventual loot will be consumed.

This year, again, we have been “boo’d” and are “boo-ing” others. If “boo’ing” is not a tradition in your neighborhood, you might want to consider introducing it. Last night, I laughed as hard as I ever have in my life, as Olivia, Mateo, and I, under cover of night, “boo’d” a friend who lives a few blocks away, and  then “got away clean.” To “boo” someone, you need only a small bag full of goodies, a ghost of any kind, and a copy of this poem. Happy Halloween!

You have been Boo’d!

The Phantom Ghost has come to call.

To leave the goodies, sweets and all.

To avoid falling under the Curse,

You must follow this Halloween verse.

First, post the ghost where easily seen

And leave it up til Halloween.

This will keep haunting ghosts away.

Be sure to hang it, don’t delay.

Make two treats, two ghosts and two notes like this.

Deliver them to neighbors who have been missed.

Don’t let them see you, get away clean.

And then they’ll have Boo’ed Ghosts to be seen.

You will only  have one day to prevent the spell.

Make sure there are no Ghosts when you ring the bell.

Deliver it when dark, when there is no light

Ring the doorbell and run, stay out of sight.

And last, but not least, mind the condition

Don’t break this age-old neighborhood tradition.

Have fun, be sneaky, and don’t be seen

And spread the joy of Halloween.


In Guatemala, 2 women sentenced in adoption case

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

From the Associated Press on October 25, 2011, Guatemala Court Sentences 2 in Adoption Case, an update on the contested adoption of Anyeli Liseth Hernandez Rodriguez:

A Guatemalan court sentenced two women to 16 and 21 years in prison on Monday for trafficking a stolen baby who was given for adoption to a U.S. family.

Special prosecutor Lorena Maldonado said the sentences handed down to a lawyer and the legal representative of an adoption agency will reinforce the birth mother’s bid to get her daughter returned from the United States.

“Even though the criminal proceedings are separate from the adoption process, these sentences help, and confirm the argument of the mother, Loyda Rodriguez, that this girl is her daughter and was stolen from in front of her house, and that there is a criminal structure in Guatemala that steals children,” said Maldonado.

Guatemalan authorities have asked that Anyeli, now named Karen Abigail, be removed from her adoptive family in Missouri and returned to Guatemala. Such an occurrence would be a first in any international adoption case. Adoptions from Guatemala to the United States closed in December 2007, with some 300+ cases still pending. Read the article here.


View from a dinosaur

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

My family and issues of adoption are the twin passions of my life. But coming in at a close second is education, and, specifically, the way children learn. That’s why I was so thrilled to read A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute, in the New York Times on Sunday, October 23, 2011. The article discusses the number of Silicon Valley computer executives who are sending their own children to non-computer-driven schools such as Waldorf, to learn skills the old-fashioned way.

The chief technology officer of eBay sends his children to a nine-classroom school here. So do employees of Silicon Valley giants like Google, Apple, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard.

But the school’s chief teaching tools are anything but high-tech: pens and paper, knitting needles and, occasionally, mud. Not a computer to be found. No screens at all. They are not allowed in the classroom, and the school even frowns on their use at home.

Schools nationwide have rushed to supply their classrooms with computers, and many policy makers say it is foolish to do otherwise. But the contrarian point of view can be found at the epicenter of the tech economy, where some parents and educators have a message: computers and schools don’t mix.

My daughter, Olivia, calls me a “dinosaur,” because I refuse to buy either of my children an electronic hand-held game or i-anything. My own ancient cell phone is viewed as a museum piece. Nevertheless, I stand by my belief that, for children, a book is better than a screen, and a crayon preferable to a mouse.

Today, a blog titled “Tech Execs Send Kids to Anti-Computer School” by Amy Graff appeared in “The Mommy Files” on, the online version of the San Francisco Chronicle. Graff asks:

Is there irony in all of this? These tech execs don’t want their kids on computers yet they’re working for companies that are encouraging our children and schools to adopt technology? The Silicon Valley giants have long sold schools on the future generation of technology, and now many schools feel that a computer lab is necessary, even if they can hardly afford to pay for books.

And here I will add, “Books? Do schools still use books?” My children attend our local public school and never once has either brought home a textbook. Photocopied pages from a math workbook that exists somewhere, perhaps on a teacher’s desk, and books to satisfy a computerized “reading goal.” But textbooks? None that I’ve seen.

In a world where so many people have so little, ranting against computers in school sounds ungrateful, I realize. But I hate to think that “public school kids” like mine aren’t given the same opportunity to learn as the kids of execs at Apple and Google—with real pencils, real paper, and real textbooks.


An adoptive mom who is adopted reviews Mamalita and writes about searching

Saturday, October 22nd, 2011

I encounter many people involved in adoption, but rarely do I meet an adoptive mother who is herself adopted. Meika Rouda writes from that unique perspective. Her review of Mamalita appeared this week on Here’s a short excerpt:

I usually don’t relate to adoption books because the narrators come off as whiny or like victims or the point of view is from some doctor or professor who studies adoption but has no first-hand experience. I rarely find someone I am rooting for. But I am happy to say Jessica’s book is of a different breed. The book is moving and smart and reads more like a thriller than a memoir.

Meika loved the book, and I’m grateful for the review. But I’m also posting the link because I enjoy Meika’s incredibly engaging writing style, and think you will, too.

Scroll through all of Meika’s postings for insight into her experience as an adoptive mom and adoptee. My favorite is dated May 31, 2011, where she discusses finding her birth mother through Google. As Meika writes, the process of searching for birth family has become simple, but the emotional impact of reunion remains.

I found my birthmom on Google the other day. It was not the first time I had Googled her but it was the first time anything came up. It was her wedding announcement published in a Pittsburgh paper 35 years ago, a few years after I had been born and given up for adoption.

The more I looked the more I discovered, including the names of her four children – my half siblings. So I Googled them and found their profiles on Facebook, their smiling faces posing with friends, their eyes the same as mine. I realized I could “friend” them and wondered what it would feel like to get an invitation from someone you don’t know but who looks like you. I was pretty sure I was a secret to them.


I had just exposed the majority of her life in one 10-minute Google binge. It was the first time in my life that she became a very real person with a job, a family, a home –and not some romantic character whose narrative I had composed in my mind. She became someone I could know.

Read the entire post to discover Meika’s response to her discovery. It may surprise you.


A maligned subset

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

I know many people would disagree with me, but I sometimes feel as though no group in the world is more maligned than adoptive parents in the United States. We are criticized whether we adopt internationally or domestically; through private adoptions or foster care. Instead of being viewed as adults who, like millions of others, simply are trying to create a family, we are said to behave as though we are “entitled” or “privileged.” If we’re not “real” parents” what are we? Unreal? Some days, the negativity gets me down.

And then this. An editorial by James Collins in the New York Times, Mea (Totally Sincere if Overdue) Culpa, which I assume is intended to be tongue-in-cheek. Mr. Collins, as an adoptive parent to two children, I’m not laughing. An excerpt:

I have learned from the reports surrounding the death of Steve Jobs, at much too young an age, that he was adopted and that while he knew the identity of his real dad, the two never met. This has saddened me, and I feel that I can no longer justify denying you that same opportunity.

Mark, I have some news that will come as a shock: Edward and Karen Zuckerberg, two wonderful people, are your adoptive parents, and I, Jim Collins, am your biological father.


I want you to know at the outset that in no way do I wish to force a relationship on you. You already have a “father,” in the sense that he provided you shelter and basically adequate nutrition while you were growing up, if not in the sense that you are his authentic, natural child.

While, in a few short paragraphs, Collins impressively lands multiple zingers– “real dad,” “a ‘father’ [who] provided…basically adequate nutrition,” “not…that you are his authentic, natural child”–I have to wonder, at what cost? Maybe Collins isn’t one of the 6 out of 10 Americans who identifies as being touched in some way by adoption. Could it be that he really doesn’t know any adoptive parents, or children who were adopted, or anyone who relinquished a child through adoption? How else could he be so insensitive?

What bothers me most about essays like this one is the effect it may have on our children: That they, too, are somehow “less than.” Adoption is no joke, whether you are Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, my kid, or a child growing up in an orphanage in Guatemala.


Four moms

Friday, October 14th, 2011

One of the questions I get asked most often when I talk about my book, Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir, is “How did your daughter, Olivia, respond to meeting her birth mother?” For many parents who adopted children internationally, a birth mother-and-child relationship is uncharted territory. No one knows what to expect.

Each reunion experience is different. What is true for us may not be true for you; what is true for us today may not be true for us tomorrow, or next year. Our relationship with Olivia’s birth mother continues to evolve. The over-arching element is love. And relief. Relief for “Ana,” knowing the baby she gave up is a growing, nine-year-old girl, healthy and happy and loved. Relief for me, knowing that Ana placed Olivia for adoption—not without sorrow and loss—but with free will. For Ana, adoption to a family in the United States was the best choice.

To connect with Ana, I hired a professional “searcher,” a Guatemalan woman I found through an online adoption group to which I belong. The searcher approached Ana with discretion, under the guise of delivering an express mail envelope. Afterward, the searcher gave us photos and a detailed report outlining Ana’s reaction to hearing from the couple in California who adopted her baby—a welcomed and unexpected surprise—as well as a description of Ana’s current living situation.

In addition, the searcher facilitated our initial meeting in Guatemala, which I recommend. Reunions between birth and adoptive families can be awkward for everyone. Our relationship with Ana now feels secure enough that I navigate the logistics myself. Like most people in Guatemala, Ana owns a cellphone. She does not, however, own a computer; her home lacks electricity. I call from the U.S. to arrange our meeting time and place.

Language remains a challenge: Ana is an indigenous Maya K’iche widow, who lives with her two older teen children, “Luis” and “Dulce,” and her own mother, Abuela, in a highland town north of Lake Atitlan. Ana’s s first language is K’iche, with some Spanish. Luis and Dulce are bilingual K’iche and Spanish, while Abuela speaks only K’iche. My Spanish is rudimentary at best, and Olivia’s skill is developing.

We hug a lot. We gesture. We hold hands. A very effective way to communicate is via sketch pads. Like Olivia, her birth mother and half-siblings draw very well. Everyone depicts scenes from their lives, and passes them around. Favorite subjects for our Guatemalan family include birds, and trees, and the facades and interiors of churches. Luis and Dulce call me their “American mom.” Ana refers to me as “little mommy.”

Since our first reunion in 2008, we visit Olivia’s birth family at least once a year, sometimes twice. To protect Ana’s privacy, we meet in a relatively large town on Lake Atitlan, instead of her small village. Someday, we hope to visit Ana’s home, but we will wait for Ana’s invitation, and respect her timetable. Relinquishing a child is often viewed with shame in Guatemala, and we wouldn’t want to compromise Ana’s safety or reputation by making ourselves visible in her community.

Meeting Olivia’s birth mother has answered many questions for Olivia. From visiting Guatemala, Olivia has witnessed firsthand the hardships faced by many in the country, especially poor indigenous women. At the same time, she has sat on her birth mother’s lap and felt her mother’s embrace. She knows that she is loved. Even from a distance, Ana feels like a real and familiar part of our family. “Your beautiful smile is just like Ana’s,” I tell Olivia. “You’re both artists.”

This past Saturday at home in California, I drove the minivan into our garage with Olivia and her brother, Mateo, in the back seat. Seemingly out of nowhere, Olivia piped up and said, “I have four moms.”

I put the car in in park and turned off the engine. “Do tell, Olivia.”

“I have you, Mom, and Mama Ana. And I have Mateo’s birth mom, because he’s my brother so she’s my mother, too. And I have Mary, the mother of God.” (We’re Catholic.)

“Four moms,” I said, “and we all love you.”

Reaching over the back seat, I squeezed my daughter’s hand.


YouTube video, Abandoned in Guatemala

Saturday, October 8th, 2011

If you care about adoption from Guatemala, please watch this powerful YouTube video, Abandoned in Guatemala: The Failure of International Adoption Policies. The video examines the aftermath of the December 2007 shutdown, and its effects on children sentenced to spend their lives in orphanages.

Every line in the film is telling and significant, but for me, one in particular resonates. It’s spoken close to the end, by a man who helped institute the new regulations:

“As a Guatemalan, I’m very proud that… our image of being the number one exporter of children has changed. The children have dignity. Guatemalans have dignity.”

How does a child sentenced to 18 years in an orphanage retain more dignity than a child adopted to a family who will love him? That is logic I don’t understand. As I’ve written on this blog in previous posts, I believe the issue of dignity–and its corollary, shame–is central to the debate of international adoption. Quite simply, countries are “ashamed” they cannot “take care of their own.” Instead of enforcing existing adoption laws and prosecuting those who break them, countries shut adoption systems down.

Certainly, in-country adoption by Guatemalans in Guatemala must be encouraged. Women in Guatemala must be empowered through access to family planning, education, and equal opportunity. In the meantime, what happens to the children who are abandoned every day, in Guatemala and around the world?

This video depicts the very bleak reality.


Mamalita reviewed on “Open Adoption Examiner”

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

To continue the recent theme of open adoption, here is a review of Mamalita on Lori Holden’s’s Open Adoption column. Guest reviewer Laura-Lynne Powell is a California journalist, and, like Lori and me, a mother through adoption. I’m grateful to both women for recognizing Mamalita and highlighting the subject of openness. Read an excerpt below:

As O’Dwyer’s heart opens to Guatemala and its people, she courageously faces the option of openness in foreign adoption. Guatemala is one of the rare countries that provides biographical information on birth parents, thus allowing for the possibility of contact.

In some of the most poignant passages of the book, O’Dwyer embarks on a second, equally dangerous journey, to connect to the very woman who brought her daughter into the world.

Mamalita is a suspenseful page-turner, a poetic tribute to all the tribulations that brought her daughter into her life, and an exploration on the impact of openness even in foreign adoption.

Continue reading on AdoptLit: Mamalita by Jessica O’Dwyer – National open adoption |