Posts Tagged ‘adoption from Guatemala’

Kallie and Maya

Monday, December 4th, 2017

We met Kallie and her daughter Maya in 2003, as we like to say “on the calle” in Antigua, when Maya and my daughter Olivia were babies in arms and Kallie and I each had moved to Guatemala to finish their adoptions.

Now teenagers, Maya and Olivia remain close friends–”oldest” friends, in fact–and Kallie and I share a bond that’s forever. Our families met up this weekend and remembered those days, and our other dear friends who fostered. xoxo


Ruth Sheehan of the Guatemala 900

Sunday, August 6th, 2017

Over the years, I’ve posted many times about the waiting families of the Guatemala900, whose cases were stalled when adoptions between the US and Guatemala stopped in December 2007. Ruth Sheehan’s son, “Paco,” was two months old when she filed her first adoption document in 2007. Paco is now ten, and his adoption still isn’t final. I rarely share fundraising pleas–there are so many worthy causes!–but this one feels close to my heart. I’m sure any amount will help.

Even if you can’t donate, please read Ruth’s story to understand her struggle and dedication. If you’re a person who prays, please pray for continued strength for Ruth and her son. If you’re a person who sends positive thoughts, please send those, too.


30 Adoption Portraits essay

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016

I’m thrilled that my essay is included in the sixth annual “30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days,” a November series that features posts by people who are adopted, birth parents, adoptive parents, waiting adoptive parents, and foster parents-turned-adoptive parents.

My first sentence: “The Guatemalan searcher I hired to find my daughter’s birth mother, Ana, told us to meet in Panajachel, the town guidebooks refer to as Gringotenango. ‘In the village where Ana lives, San Luis, they don’t see a lot of white people,’ the searcher explained, referring to me, the white adoptive mother. ‘Better to meet someplace else.’”

Thank you for reading!



Mother’s Day

Sunday, May 8th, 2016

Feeling blessed on Mother’s Day and thinking of my children’s mothers in Guatemala. I’m happy we know both women, and are able to cultivate relationships that my children may (or may not) continue as adults. The way the relationships ultimately unfold will be my kids’ and their mothers’ decision to make, but I’m grateful the foundation has been laid.

Also: When my friend Jennifer Grant was asked by the editor of the spiritual website, Aleteia, to compile a list of five books about parenting, she suggested the list include a book about families formed by adoption. Thank you, Jennifer, thank you! (And for including Mamalita). Jennifer is a writer, speaker, and editor in the Chicago area. Among her many books, Jennifer authored a terrific one about her own adoption experience, Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter.

Happy Mother’s Day!


Letter from Kahleah to her birthmother, on the event of Kahleah’s 25th birthday

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016


On her 25th birthday, Kahleah Chisholm Guibault wrote this letter to her birth mother. Kahleah was born in Guatemala and grew up in Canada. Some two years ago, she moved back to Guatemala, where she works in an orphanage. The opinions expressed in the letter belong to Kahleah, and I’m grateful to her for allowing me to share. ~


Kahleah Chisholm Guibault feeling blessed.

February 28 at 4:48pm ·

Dear birthmother,

Did you know I never really liked my birthday? I can imagine you don’t much like my birthday either. I always loved the idea of a birthday; the parties, the gifts, the friends and family. And man did I every get the best ones growing up! I like that part of it. But the actual day itself, meh. I could go without. I think its because more than anything for me, for 5-year old me, for 10-year old me, for 25-year old me it marks loss. I know that 25 years ago, in a little clinic at the foot of a volcano, there was no family patiently waiting in the waiting room for the exciting news that I was born. There were no grandparents excited about my arrival. From what I can tell there was no father waiting impatiently to hold me. I know there was no baby shower or celebration during the months I was in your belly. I know there was probably panic and stress and sadness during your pregnancy. I know there was no joy as they cleaned me and dressed me and took me away. I know that there is a probable chance that we never laid eyes on one another.

Did you know that I spent a lot of years being mad? And sad. And hurt. I spent a lot of time thinking that you should have tried. You should have kept me for better or for worst because that’s what moms do. They fight for their children and give the best they can. That’s what I thought I would do so why shouldn’t you? And that wasn’t fair. It took 25 years for me to realize but you did do what is best for me. I think part of it is a perspective I gained form living here. Life is so miserable here sometimes. This beautiful country that I love so much is lacking in almost every social service. Medical care is something that most people cannot afford. Feeding your children is something that is a daily struggle. Malnutrition is rampant in this country and children die every day. The school system is decent at best, and if you are a girl, you are the last priority. Life here can be so so miserable and I realize that that’s exactly what you didn’t want for me. I think the pain of loss overshadowed that for me for so long. The pain of not being wanted. Or at least of thinking I was not wanted by you.

But here’s the bottom line, the truth and the realization that I have come to accept and realize and be thankful for in my quarter century of life: you gave me life and then gave me the chance to live it, to really fully live it. You gave me a father and mother, together. You gave me a brother. You gave me wonderful aunts and uncles, and later cousins. You gave me the ability to speak three different languages. You gave me education. You gave me a full stomach every single day. You gave me a chance at university. You gave me away because that’s what mothers do: what’s best for their kids.

And I thank you. As I sit here in my comfortable home, with a job I love, friends and family who are incredible, I thank you. I thank you for doing the most unselfish loving thing a mother can do. Something that requires so much strength that just thinking about having to do the same hurts my heart so deeply. So happy my birthday to you. The last time we were together was 25 years ago today, but that’s the great thing about love. You carry those you love in your heart every single day.

All my love, xo


Guatemala 900 at Eight Years

Friday, January 1st, 2016

I’ve been trying to find out how many families of the original Guatemala 900 remain waiting, eight years later. If you’re reading this, you know that  adoptions between the US and Guatemala ended in December 2007, with hundreds of cases stalled in the pipeline. One by one, the cases trickled out, until, to my knowledge, only a small group remains.

Each of those cases represents a child, and a family waiting for that child. And eight years of days, equaling 2,920 days.

My hope as a mother and as a writer is that someday one of those children grows up to write the story of what that experience feels like. How it feels to visit in a hotel with American parents and then be returned to the orphanage, or to appear in court and listen to adults discuss reasons why you can’t or won’t be reunited with your biological family, while knowing you won’t be allowed to leave with your American parents, either.

Eight years is a long time in anyone’s life. The photos below show my children in 2007, and in December 2015, eight years later.

To the remaining members of the Guatemala 900: You are amazing. ~



Certificate of Citizenship

Friday, September 4th, 2015

Every few years on various Guatemalan adoption listserves, someone will post questions about the Certificate of Citizenship:

“Do we need one?  How do we get it? My child is now 15. Am I too late????”

A recent flurry of such posts prompted adoptive father Tom Rawson to put in one place everything he knows about the Certificate of Citizenship (aka the CoC), which is a lot.  He posted his compendium on The Big List, and with his permission, I’m reprinting it verbatim here. Thank you again, Tom. ~

Please note: The errors in spacing are mine, occurring somehow in the process of copying and pasting Tom’s notes. Apologies!


Here is a guide to US citizenship and citizenship documents.  This applies
to international adoptees to the US from Guatemala who have at least one
parent who is a US citizen.

[Note that I am not an immigration lawyer nor do I play one on TV -- but I
have been explaining this for years, and I re-researched it before posting
this message.  In other words, if you need legal advice ask a lawyer but
if you want the general lay of the land, I think this is it.

Please do NOT re-post this elsewhere without permission.]

(1) If the adoption was finalized in Guatemala AND both parents (or the
parent for a single-parent adoption) visited the child prior to the
finalization, then the child was issued an IR-3 visa (the type of visa is
shown in the entry stamp in the Guatemalan passport, and on the “green
card” if your child got one).  These children MAY be readopted in the US,
but readoption is not generally required.  For these children:

    * If the child was born prior to February 28, 1983 s/he must apply
    for citizenship (naturalization) using form N-400.  Citizenship is
    not automatic.

    * If the child was born on or after February 28, 1983, AND entered
    the US on or before February 26, 2001, AND resided in the US with
    his/her parents on February 27, 2001, AND had not previously applied
    for citizenship, then s/he automatically became a citizen on February
    27, 2001.  This provision was retroactive for all children who met
    these conditions.  To obtain a Certificate of Citizenship (CoC) the
    parents (or the child if now over 18) must apply using form N-600.

    * If the child entered the US between February 27, 2001 and December
    31, 2003 then citizenship was automatic upon the child’s arrival in
    the US.  To obtain a CoC the parents (or the child if now over 18)
    must apply using form N-600.

    * If the child entered the US between January 1, 2004 and the present
    then citizenship was automatic upon the child’s arrival in the US,
    and the CoC was sent automatically to the parents. (Incidentally, for
    these children there is a useful USCIS page at explaining what to do about various
    kinds of errors in the automatically-created CoC.)

(2) If the adoption was finalized in Guatemala BUT both parents (or the
parent for a single-parent adoption) did NOT visit the child prior to the
finalization, then the child was issued an IR-4 visa.  These children MUST
be readopted in the US because, under the definitions used by US Customs
and Immigration Services, the adoption is not considered final in the US
because the parents did not “see and observe” the child prior to
finalization of the adoption in Guatemala.  For these children: 

    * If the child was born prior to February 28, 1983 s/he must apply
    for citizenship (naturalization) using form N-400.  Citizenship is
    not automatic.

    * If the child was born on or after February 28, 1983, AND the US
    readoption was completed on or before February 26, 2001, AND s/he
    resided in the US with his/her parent(s) on February 27, 2001, AND
    s/he had not previously applied for citizenship, then s/he
    automatically became a citizen on February 27, 2001.  This provision
    was retroactive for all children who met these conditions. To obtain a
    Certificate of Citizenship (CoC) the parents (or the child if now
    over 18) must apply using form N-600.

    * If the US readoption was completed between February 27, 2001 and the
    present, then citizenship was automatic upon completion of the
    readoption.  To obtain a CoC the parents (or the child if now over
    18) must apply using form N-600.

Additional notes:

    – *Whether your child is a citizen* and *whether you have a CoC to
    prove it* are not the same thing.

    – Passports:  A child who is a citizen can get a passport without
    getting a CoC. They just have to prove citizenship to the passport
    office. The documents required are similar to, but not exactly the
    same as, those required for obtaining a CoC with form N-600. Once a
    passport is acquired, it can be used as proof of citizenship in almost
    all cases.  However, as others have noted, the passport expires
    whereas a CoC does not.

    – Social Security:

            For a child who is issued a Social Security card AFTER
            becoming a citizen, the Social Security Administration (SSA)
            records should show that child as a citizen, and no further
            action should be required related to SSA and citizenship.

            For a child who is issued a Social Security card BEFORE
            becoming a citizen, SSA records will show that child as a
            non-citizen.  This can affect their ability to get work once
            they turn 18, if not before.  This status can ONLY be changed
            by providing proof of citizenship to the Social Security
            office. It is NOT affected automatically by later events such
            as a readoption that triggers automatic citizenship,
            application for a CoC, etc. — it is a separate record from
            all that.  Usually a passport suffices to prove citizenship
            to SSA, but they have been known to interpret the rules
            differently from office to office so some might require a CoC
            (or if you have the option you can just try going to a
            different office).






Guest blogger Lisa S.

Monday, February 9th, 2015

I’m one adoptive mother among thousands, with a particular point of view. Today, I’m posting a blog by my friend, Lisa S., adoptive mother to a tween daughter born in Guatemala. For years, Lisa communicated with her daughter’s birth mom in Guatemala via an intermediary. Recently, that dynamic changed. Thanks, L, for sharing your thoughts.

Open Adoption is a Pandora Box

A few months ago, I was afforded the option of having regular contact with my adopted daughter’s biological mother rather than information traveling through a third party, once a year at best. I jumped on this opportunity enthusiastically, relieved that we would always know her whereabouts, and if my daughter chose to meet her one day, it will be possible.

My daughter took this new development in stride, and her curiosity waned quickly. I realized that I was far more interested in her biological mother than she was. This probably doesn’t surprise readers who are adoptive mothers. We are motivated to get information about our child’s birth family for multiple reasons, not the least being genetic health issues. But in reality, most of our children’s birth families in developing countries have never seen a doctor in their life and probably never will.

But fast forwarding 20-30 years when I may very well have left this world (I’m already 61), I can’t help but wonder what will happen when I am no longer alive and my daughter is an adult. As her birth mother ages, it will be harder for her to provide for herself and her family. Will my daughter feel that she has a moral obligation to help her biological mother and keep in contact? And how tragic will it be for the birth mother if my daughter decides that she doesn’t want contact?

When I first searched for the birth mother I had one thought in mind: I want to give my daughter the option to meet her birth mother one day if she so chooses. But this decision is accompanied by a plethora of complications. I have opened the Pandora box.

–By Lisa S.


19 adoptions still pending

Saturday, December 27th, 2014

For reasons we all know, adoptions between the US and Guatemala closed as of December 31, 2007. That means hundreds of adoptions in process at that time were stalled. In the intervening seven years, thankfully, the majority of those cases have been resolved.

However, as of December 1, 2014, nineteen of the original cases have not been resolved. Nineteen of the original cases still are pending.

Last year, the Associated Press stated that the Guatemalan government had created a task force to finish all adoptions by calendar-end 2013. That didn’t happen. I found the post I wrote about it then, dated September 27, 2013. Here’s an excerpt, pasted.

Sometimes, I’ll take out a calculator and estimate the number of work hours that have transpired since the shutdown began, and try to imagine how it’s even possible to drag out a process for so long. Say a person works 30 hours a week, for 40 weeks per year. (I’m estimating generous vacation and legal holidays.) That’s 1,200 hours annually, which over five years, equals 6,000 hours. For one person, one single employee working on a case. And surely many more than one are assigned to process adoptions.

Anyway, you can see how crazy-making it becomes, for me who simply is observing, much less for families trapped in the never-ending Mobius strip of changing rules and requirements…  Then, yesterday, the Associated Press unleashed onto the world this bold announcement:

“Guatemala’s ambassador to the United States says a task force recently created in his country will help expedite the pending adoptions of 115 Guatemalan babies.

Ambassador Julio Ligorria says in a letter that the goal is to complete the pending adoptions by U.S. couples by year’s end.


When I think about this situation, I think of my own children, adopted from Guatemala. One of things they crave most is stability, routine, predictability, a world they can trust. What must it be like for the children whose lives have been on hold for seven years? Here, but not here. There, but for now. These people, for a few days. This place, although not forever. Somewhere else. Someday. Maybe.

Here’s hoping that 2015 will be the year the remaining 19 adoptions are resolved, permanency is granted to the children whose lives are in limbo, and the ordeal ends for the waiting families.




SF Chronicle on Adoption and the Border Surge

Monday, October 6th, 2014

I’m always honored to be included in any dialogue about adoption from Guatemala, including this article by Kevin Fagan in the SF Chronicle, Halt in Guatemalan Adoptions May Be Fueling Border Surge. The reporters did a thorough job, with quotes from Elizabeth Bartholet, David Smolin, Nancy Bailey, Bay Area adoptive parents, and two young men who grew up in orphanages in Guatemala.

Thanks for reading. ~