Four moms

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.


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17 Responses to “Four moms”

  1. Tia Cookie says:

    Beautiful! Olivia gets right to the point.
    love to all.

  2. Jessica says:

    Thanks for reading, TC. Love to you and yours.

  3. Sharon says:

    You’re making me cry, Mamlita! Going to link this from my blog.

  4. Paula schuck says:

    Hi! This is beautiful. Just wanted to let you know. I love how well integrated her story is for her.


  5. heather says:

    thank you for sharing this.

    and i love Olivia’s thoughts on her moms…beautiful!

  6. Susan C (MOGUATE) says:

    What a smart, intuitive young lady you are raising.

    Susan C

  7. Jessica says:

    Every day, I learn something else from my children. We’re all doing our best, you know? Thanks for reading.

  8. What an amazing girl Olivia is (thanks in good part to her moms!) Beautifully written.

  9. Sveta says:

    Ok, this made me tear up. I just want to hug you all.
    Beautiful story, beautifully written.

  10. jennifer says:

    4 moms, how fitting, i can expect our Claudia to say something like that perhaps one day, especially in that we have her attending Catholic School…and her brother’s birth mother is not her birth mother; Olivia has a beautiful reflection in what she spoke, you are so lucky. happy tears.

  11. Jessica says:

    Thanks, Paula. Just clicked on your blog, too. Great work!
    Sveta: You’ve been with us since the beginning. As always, thank you.

    great to hear from a mom of a family who parallels ours. the circle gets larger in so many ways. thanks for writing.

  12. Tia says:

    an many Tia’s….

  13. cynthia rovero says:

    I understand the deep connection of love between our children and thier birth mom/parents is so special when it can be nurtured. You all are doing wonderfully at manuevering territory that is for the most part uncharted and you are doing a wonderful service to those who wish to foster a very vital part of the adoption triad too. thank you for writing for sure

  14. Well written! And you only have to be a Christian to have Mary as your mother :)

  15. Deanna Swensen says:

    Hand me the tissues! Such a beautiful girl inside and out! I love the picture.

  16. Judi H says:

    What a wonderful post. Thank you for sharing!!

  17. Jessica says:

    There can never be too much love. That’s what I’ve learned. For us, connecting with birth family has been positive and powerful and healing. Thanks for reading and relating, everyone.

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