Posts Tagged ‘adoption from Guatemala’

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. ~


Mamalita at Literary Mama

Monday, November 12th, 2012

Me again. There’s so much happening in Guatemala lately–a terrible earthquake and a monster aftershock, the shooting of unarmed protestors by the military in Totonicapan. But, at the moment, I’m not here to write about that.

Right now, I’m posting a link to A Conversation with Jessica O’Dwyer, published this week at Literary Mama by my friend and writing colleague, Marianne Lonsdale. 

Thank you, Marianne and Literary Mama. I’m honored!


Guatemalan judge rules US couple must return child

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

A Guatemalan judge has ruled that a Missouri couple must return their adopted daughter to Guatemala, Associated Press writer Sonia Perez reported in the Wednesday, August 3 edition of the Kansas City Star.

A Guatemalan judge has ordered a U.S. couple to return their adopted daughter to her birth mother, siding with a human rights group that says the girl was stolen by a child trafficking ring and put up for adoption.

Judge Angelica Noemi Tellez Hernandez confirmed Wednesday that she ruled in favor of the mother, who is represented by the Survivors’ Foundation.

The rights group, which released a copy of the ruling Tuesday night, claims the girl was kidnapped in 2006 and taken out of the country under a new name two years later and was last known to be living in Missouri.

Tellez’s ruling also says Guatemala’s government must cancel the passport used to take the girl out of the country. It further orders that if the girl is not returned within two months, Guatemalan authorities should solicit help locating the girl from Interpol, the international police organization.

Read more:

It goes without saying that this is the worst nightmare of any adoptive parent. The U.S. Embassy has not yet responded to the ruling.


A day in the life

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

The kids and I have been in San Diego for the past few weeks, with many of our days spent tromping happily through the vast acreage of Sea World San Diego. The highlight for the kids, always, is Blue Horizons. To visualize, think Broadway spectacular crossed with Cirque de Soleil,  and throw in a cast of peppy dolphins and an array of trained birds.  Cue the music.  Add flags. That’s Blue Horizons.

I admit it. I also love the show.  

But for my purposes here, I’ll tell you what happened right after our latest foray. The kids and I were browsing in the gift shop—of course–when a little girl about Olivia’s age walked up and began this conversation.

Little girl: “Are you their mother?”

Me: “Yes, I am. Why do you ask?”

Little girl: ”Because you don’t look like them.”

Me: “You’re right. We don’t look alike. But I’m their mother.”

The little girl stared at me.  Olivia picked at her fingernails. Mateo wandered away. Then, because I always feel an obligation to educate people, especially children who approach me with curiosity, I said, “I’m their mother through adoption. They were born in Guatemala.”

“Oh,” said the little girl. “Are they really brother and sister?”

“They are now,” I answered. And I took my kids’ hands and steered them toward the Forbidden Reef.

I have to tell you, as an adoptive mother, I always forget my children are adopted. And then, what do you know—someone comes up and reminds me.


Why I wrote Mamalita

Monday, July 11th, 2011

During public readings from Mamalita, I’ve met many people who harbor strong opinions on the subject of adoption, pro and con. Now, before I read from the book, I talk about why I was compelled to write it. I’d like to share those thoughts here.

Eight years ago, I was living in Antigua, Guatemala with my then-fifteen-month old daughter, Olivia, whom my husband and I were trying to adopt. We had been enmeshed in the process for more than a year, ever since I first saw a photo of Olivia on an adoption website and had fallen in love.

I wasn’t the only American would-be mother living in Guatemala who was trying to sort out a stalled adoption. We were a group of eight, with nothing in common except our overwhelming desire to become mothers and the belief that our bureaucratic nightmares should not be allowed to happen to anyone else. That year, more than 3,000 Americans adopted children from Guatemala. Each one of those families had a story, no two the same.

Soon after I returned home with Olivia in January 2004, international adoption became headline news, none of it good. The private adoption system in Guatemala was singled out as particularly corrupt. Front-page stories described payments made to birth mothers, coercion of women to become pregnant, and the trawling of countrysides by “finders” to trick young girls into relinquishing their newborns. Adoptive parents like me were depicted as privileged Americans who swooped in to snatch kidnapped infants. Even UNICEF pronounced that it was better for a child to remain in his country of origin than it was to be adopted by foreign parents. The news got so bad it was impossible not to feel under attack.

But that was only a part of the story. The story I experienced was that of adoptive parents who felt great love for their children, pushing back against a system that seemed designed to manipulate emotions at every turn.

When I lived in Antigua, the others mothers used to say, “Somebody needs to write a book about this.” My entire life I’d been searching for the one story I had to tell. Even as I was living the experience, I knew Olivia’s adoption saga was it.