Archive for December, 2011

An article about a Guatemalan midwife

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

Here’s a link to Guatemala’s Golden Midwife, a fascinating and informative article by Catherine Porter of the Toronto Star, mostly about traditional birthing practices among indigenous women in a rural area in Guatemala, but also about the complexity of modern life for many Guatemalans.

SAN JUAN OSTUNCALCO, GUATEMALA—Another woman arrived early this morning at Ruth Ana Maria Perez’s house, across from a small corn field on the very edge of town.

She lies now in Perez’s concrete, purple front room, on a green plastic mattress tucked into a turquoise wooden bed. It is cold and damp; the rain pours down every afternoon. Perez checks her pulse, pulls a needle from a box in the glass cabinet near the bed and, after filling it with rociverine (a muscle relaxant), she pokes it into the woman’s exposed haunch.

“She’s five centimetres dilated,” Perez says. “This will help open her faster.”

Dona Ana, as she is known, is the most successful midwife in town. She delivered her first baby at age 11, when her mother — a midwife — was too ill to get out of bed. Since then, she has ushered 11,000 souls into the world, up to 10 a week during a full moon.

Her success glows from her mouth — a row of gold stars embedded in her top teeth. Her butter-coloured two-level house is grand by local standards. There are two cars parked out back. And she can afford the cabinet of swabs, medication, surgical scissors and latex gloves.

She has never been trained to use any of it. Nor was she trained, formally or informally, to attend births. Like most Mayan midwives, Perez considers her midwifery a “don” — a skill she was born with.


Almost 500 years since the Spanish infantry conquered the Mayan K’iche’, Guatemala remains a divided country. There are the Spanish-speaking Ladinos, with their jeans, light skin and briefcases, who live in the southern cities. And there are the Mayan descendants, who live in the north and western highlands, tilling the milpa — corn fields — in their skirts and huipels. They speak their own languages — 21 Mayan languages are used in Guatemala — and retain many of their customs and beliefs, including those of medicine.

For Mayans, illness results from imbalance, often between hot and cold. Their main curative is the tuj — steam bath. They are behind most houses: waist-high, made of mud bricks or cement, with just enough room inside for a bench and fire. The tuj is considered especially important after birth, when a woman has lost much “hot” blood.

It doesn’t matter how well-equipped or even beautiful a hospital is — the regional San Juan de Dios hospital in Quezaltenango is sheltered by whispering pine trees — for many Mayans, it is a symbol of colonial oppression.

Even Mayan doctors I spoke with say they feel degraded in Ladino hospitals when they arrive as patients. They are made to change into thin hospital gowns, showered, and then taken to a sterile birthing room to deliver their babies alone, without the support of family.

That’s standard practice, the obstetricians at San Juan de Dios told me. But, the Mayan women don’t understand. Despite the prominent sign declaring every pregnant woman will be treated in her own language, doctors acknowledge none of their colleagues speak Mam, the predominant language of San Juan Ostuncalco. The sign is written only in Spanish.


[Dona Ana's] current patient lies corpse-quiet in the turquoise bed. She whispers that her name is Lorenza Augustin. She’s 33. She is from Las Barrancas, the canyons — a rural village two hours away by twisting dirt road. Her family farms corn and squash. She has never been to school. She speaks only Mam.

This is her fourth baby. Her three daughters were born in her bed at home. A urinary tract infection early in this pregnancy spooked her family. They decided going to Dona Ana, with her Western medical supplies, would be safer.

They are hoping for a boy.

“Aye,” Augustin says softly, as Dona Ana massages her hips to ease the pain and get her to dilate faster. It’s her version of an epidural — her glass cabinet contains no pain medications.

Dona Ana pulls a chair beside the bed and waits. The room is quiet. A wall clock ticks. Augustin’s breath quickens to a pant during a contraction and then falls silent again.

“She’s very brave,” Dona Ana says.


Two days later, Augustin is back in her own bedroom, resting beside her baby in one of two double beds. Her mother-in-law and nieces flit around, bringing cups of hot chocolate and bowls of beef broth. These are considered “hot” foods by Mayans, unlike green vegetables and white meat. For 40 days, while she recovers, Augustin will only eat hot food.

She will stay in bed for that entire time.

The house, which overlooks a lush green valley of trees, is as big as Dona Ana’s. Husband Rogelio Delgado built it with his brother five years ago, using money they had saved while working construction jobs illegally in the United States.

It took him a year to pay off the debt to his smuggler after his first clandestine trip to California eight years ago. Since then, he has snuck across the Arizona desert twice more, sending money home every month. He shows off a large American fridge in the kitchen — a real luxury here — and a bathroom shower, both of which he shipped from California.

Both came at a price.

“My third girl, Sandra Valeria, she was 5 weeks old when I left the last time. When I came back, she was more than 5 years old. She just knew me by my picture. She didn’t come close to me for 15 days,” Delgado says.

The family tuj is next to the driveway. Augustin’s mother lit a fire in it last night, and boiled a giant pot of water for her newest granddaughter’s first sauna. Then, Augustin and her baby went inside together.

The baby still hasn’t been named.

“We are thinking about either Kimberly or Lorenza, like her mother,” Delgado says. The extended family will decide together.

Two things are certain. Her life will be much more comfortable than her mother’s. A school has been built down the valley. Her sisters walk there every day. Her world will expand beyond the milpa, where her mother started working at age 5.

Second, she will grow up in a household of women. Delgado is planning to return to California soon.


Merry Christmas and Season’s Greetings~

Saturday, December 24th, 2011


Christmas is still a magical time for my children, and I hope it always stays that way. We’re lucky to be spending the holiday with family in San Diego–my parents, all five of us siblings, nieces, nephews, friends, and significant others.

I’m enough of a realist to know that days like these don’t come often, so I’m cherishing each and every moment.

Sending you warm wishes for a joyful winter season. ~


Adoptive dad Gil Michelini’s book, “Daddy, Come & Get Me”

Friday, December 16th, 2011

As a first-time author, I know how difficult it can be to convince the world to notice a new book by an unknown writer. Thus, when my fellow adoptive parent and Facebook friend, Gil Michelini, asked me to read his personal account of adoption from Guatemala and post about it, I quickly agreed. Gil and his wife, Fran, were biological parents to three daughters when Gil felt his calling to adopt. The book Gil wrote about the experience, Daddy, Come & Get Me (Emiliani Publishing), traces the couple’s journey to become parents to the girl they named Gemma. Gil describes Daddy, Come & Get Me as “the first memoir of an American dad’s adventure following his calling to adopt a daughter from Guatemala.”

Daddy, Come & Get Me is available as a physical book ($14.95) as well as in the Kindle ($2.99) and Nook ($2.99) formats.  For details, visit Gil’s website and select a vendor from the ones listed across the top of the page, or order through your local bookstore. Please note: Daddy, Come & Get Me contains strong religious themes.

Recently, I caught up with Gil to ask him a few questions about his story and the writing process.

What gave you the idea to write your book?

I knew when we brought Gemma home that this was a story that had to be told. The only problem was that the Gil I was at the time was not a person who could tell it through this medium. I had to be humbled and clear out a lot of my baggage I had been carrying around. Five and a half years after bringing Gemma home, I was finally the right person to start this project.

Holding Daddy, Come & Get Me is a thrill because I struggled with the basics of the American language while in school. Writing a book was a lifelong dream. (more…)


Article from India discusses relationship between surrogacy and adoption

Monday, December 12th, 2011

I believe family-making is an intensely personal choice. What’s right for me may not be right for you, and vice-versa. For some people, IVF, embryo or sperm donation, or surrogacy makes sense. For others, private adoption where a birth mother chooses the adoptive parents is the right choice.  Some 114,000 children are available for adoption through US foster care. That process best-suits many. It’s crucial that individuals know what makes sense for them, so they are able to be the best parents they can be to their children. If international adoption feels like the right choice, as it did for my husband and me, so be it.

Having stated that caveat, I’m posting a link to “Why Surrogacy Doesn’t Need a Celebrity Role Model,” by Lakshmi Chaudhry on the India-based website Firstpost. Chaudhry discusses the actions of Aamir Khan and his wife, who opted to discuss publicly their choice to add a child to their family through surrogacy.

The article interests me because it touches on the relationship between surrogacy and adoption, and how the increasing numbers of the former correlate to the decreasing numbers of the latter. In no way am I advocating for one method of family-making over another; nor am I excusing corrupt practices in either. I’m simply noting the relationship between the two.

Chaudhry writes:

Surrogacy satisfies the natural urge for a biological child that is genetically our own. Medical science now offers surrogacy as a last resort option for couples who may have remained childless. More importantly, it is also becoming a choice for couples who would have otherwise chosen to adopt. The number of surrogacy-assisted births are growing worldwide even as the numbers for adoption are on the decline.

In recent years, responding to cases of child trafficking and kidnapping, governments across the world have cracked down on inter-country adoptions. This laudable effort, however, has had an unintended effect, as reproductive health expert Karen Smith Rotabi notes:

With this new system, combined with problems like the recent adoption scandals in Russia and other nations, inter-country adoption has undergone radical decline and it is no longer the opportunity it once was for building families. In the US, the practice peaked in 2004 with 22,990 children sent to the nation as adoptees as compared to only 12,753 in 2009. As adoption has become more difficult, the global surrogacy industry has begun to surge to meet the fertility demands of individuals and couples seeking to secure healthy infants.

As a result, nations like India and Guatemala are instead becoming surrogacy destinations, where it is now far easier to rent a womb than to adopt a child.

Add to this the strict adoption procedures in the West, and you have increasing numbers of foreigners turning toward surrogacy as a quicker, less burdensome option. (more…)


Podcast on “Corruption in International Adoption”

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently posted a podcast on “Corruption in International Adoption.” The segment, produced by Amy Costello, featured an interview with Jennifer Hemsley, an adoptive mother who was so concerned that her intended daughter had been kidnapped from her Guatemalan birth mother that she halted the adoption. Hemsley later discovered the girl had not been kidnapped; the child was moved to an orphanage, and ultimately placed in permanent foster care in Guatemala. Amy Costello also interviewed Erin Siegal, author of Finding Fernanda, a new book about corrupt practices in adoptions from Guatemala.

Unlike some of the reportage I read about international adoption, I found Costello’s interview to be thoughtful and well-researched. At the same time, I felt she was presenting only one side of a very complex issue. Thus, I engaged with Costello in a dialogue on yet another blog, China Adoption Talk. You can listen to the original podcast and read our conversation by clicking on the China Adoption Talk link.

Below are excerpts from my comments:

As everyone agrees, corruption in international adoption must be identified and weeded out, a monumental task to be sure.

But I think it’s important to view the subject of “money” in international adoption within the context of all adoptions, as well as within the context of the often-overlooked but related fertility “industry.”

I’ve spent the past year speaking to groups of parents about a book I wrote about adoption from Guatemala. Many folks tell me our international adoption was “cheap” compared with their private domestic adoption, and/or fertility treatments, and/or payments to donors and surrogates, both here and abroad.

One physician said he thought the high cost of international adoption could be linked to the high cost of fertility treatments in the US. Something to consider.

None of which excuses corrupt practices in international adoption. But it seems as though international adoption often is reported in a vacuum, when in fact it’s part of a wide spectrum of ways to create a family, most involving money that changes hands.


As a fellow adoptive mom with children from Guatemala, I feel deep empathy for Jennifer and her family’s struggles. Her responses definitely resonate for me, as they probably do for others who have adopted from Guatemala and spent any time there. As my lawyer once told me, “This is not Paris. This is not Argentina. This is Guatemala. Things are different here.”

Enough said.

A number of adoptive parents have shared with me their nightmare paperwork stories, including false names or addresses, or a boilerplate social worker report. This is especially hard because many APs with children from Guatemala want to connect with birth parents, and inaccurate information makes that impossible: children will never be able to trace their biological roots, and birth mothers are unable to be found. I consider that a tragedy.

However, for me, false paperwork is a far cry from kidnapping or coercion, although they are often all lumped together as “corrupt adoption.” (In California, where I live, for example, tens of thousands of residents are undocumented and use fake ID, but we don’t consider them “criminals.” Again, my opinion only.) Jennifer’s experience is a case in point: although the date on the DNA was wrong, the baby was not kidnapped. Yet the adoption is labeled “corrupt.”


Like you and others, including “orphan doctor” Jane Aronson, I absolutely support the idea of family preservation in-country. In addition to funds donated by “ordinary families around the world,” it would be great if governments of countries could step up efforts to assist their citizens by earmarking funds for family planning services, food, housing, and education.

That said, there will always be situations where a woman cannot or chooses not to parent her child. In those instances, international adoption can be viewed as one option.

Will international adoption ever be fully transparent? Maybe if enough people make enough noise, it will. In a country such as Guatemala, adoption of non-blood-related children is rare, so without international adoption, the alternative is a lifetime spent in institutional care. Jennifer’s account of her daughter’s orphanage experience was chilling, and unfortunately, not unique.

I’m grateful to Amy Costello for caring about international adoption, and for listening to what I had to say. Thanks, too, to Malinda at China Adoption Talk for giving us the space to air our thoughts.

If you have an opinion you’d like to share, please comment here or on either of the other two websites.