Posts Tagged ‘adoption from Guatemala’

Melissa Fay Greene article in February 2011 Good Housekeeping

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

This month’s February issue of Good Housekeeping includes an article by Melissa Fay Greene that left me almost gasping. Never before have I read an article in a mainstream publication that addresses so honestly the challenges faced by some adoptive families.  Greene wrote ”Love Medicine” in response to the case of the Russian boy who was “sent back” to Moscow by his overwhelmed adoptive mother, Torry Hansen.  In the article, Greene profiles two sets of adoptive parents whose children exhibited similar attachment issues and violence. But the adoptive parents in Greene’s article sought help and fought through to better outcomes. Their families remain intact.

Greene begins “Love Medicine” by explaining:

In the universal condemnation of [adoptive mother Torry] Hansen, one population remained mostly quiet. Adoptive and foster parents of neglected, abused, or traumatized children …

Greene goes on to say:

Adoption literature brims with upbeat slogans… Roughly two million adopted children living in American households prove there’s truth in those phrases. But “A Match Made in Heaven” fails to capture the commitment and resilience demanded of adoptive parents, and the courage traumatized children need to attach to new caregivers.

Here I will add that Guatemala was often held up as the gold standard of foster care, but those of us who adopted from Guatemala know that foster and orphanage situations varied widely. Greene writes:

For infants, there really are only two continents: the land of well-being, and the land of lack.


[W]hat if, on top of physical or neurological damage, love, kindess, and delight don’t envelop the baby? If she is fed from a bottle that is propped against the bars of a crib, or lies in soiled diapers for long hours; if no one burbles baby talk to her and no one rejoices when she rolls over and no one comes when she cries, the baby stops reaching out. As the infant withdraws and shuts down, her brain fails to develop key pathways, the elemental approaches to love. Love is a duet, not a solo.

Greene outlines ways in which the two adoptive families in “Love Medicine” coped. “Theraplay’ saved one family whose children from Ethiopia struggled. The other family, with a daughter from China, reached out to fellow adoptive parents and their own parenting abilities (the father is a mental health clinician). As the article stresses, there is hope for families who are struggling, and for parents who wonder if they can get through another day. Imagine what life is like for your child: new faces, new food, new smells, new clothes, new language. Even for children who haven’t suffered neglect, everything familiar has disappeared. As the families in Greene’s profile demonstrate, the key is love and commitment. Get help. Don’t give up.

Greene concludes:

[E]very year, a fraction of adoptive parents will be unnerved by a new child’s issues. Finding a way to love a traumatized child, and helping that child learn to love, takes years, say battle-weary parents. Those parents who survive and thrive often say that it was the hardest and most satisfying work of their lifetimes, and that it unlocked the door to their greatest treasures: their own beloved children.

In my opinion, this article should be required reading for every adoptive parent and every person who is considering adoption. But you’ll have to buy it on the newsstand; I couldn’t find a link on the Good Housekeeping website. Sorry~!


Reading at The Regulator and dinner at Sharon’s

Friday, January 21st, 2011

Wednesday night I had an amazing reading at The Regulator Bookshop in Durham, North Carolina. Amazing, first, because The Regulator is such a charming, friendly independent bookstore, with a huge inventory of books for readers of all ages. And second, because the audience was so insightful about adoption. Nearly everyone contributed at least one question or comment–on subjects ranging from the politics of name-changing, to media coverage about international adoption and how it affects our children, to the possibility of our children wanting to return to Guatemala permanently.

I’m grateful to my husband’s colleague, Neil Prose, and his wife, who invited me to Durham, and to fellow adoptive mother, Marcie Pachino and her daughter, for making me feel so welcome.

Last evening, Sharon McCarthy hosted a dinner for me with her book group at her home in Washington, DC. Sharon and I met the first day of high school, in homeroom, and have been friends ever since. The members of her book group are as fabulous as she is. Here are a few photos. Thank you, Sharon!

I just arrived in 30th Station Philadelphia via Amtrak. Tonight, I read at the Borders in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. The Mamalita Book Tour has turned out to be a great opportunity to reconnect with friends. What a bonus! More later~


NY Times article and State Department announcement about adoption from Brazil

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

A fascinating article about assisted reproduction ran in Sunday’s New York Times. Melanie Thernstrom and her husband, Michael, formed their family by using the services of an egg donor and two surrogates. Their two children, Violet and Kieran, were born five days apart. The Thernstroms call them “twiblings.”

Much has been said and written about the article, but most interesting to me is what Ms. Thernstrom writes about adoption. She and her husband considered adopting–after four failed rounds of IVF– but felt the process was too expensive and unpredictable.

I had friends who spent all of their money trying to adopt, only to have things fall through again and again — birth mothers who changed their minds, foreign programs that were discontinued. I researched adoption in China but discovered that the criteria excluded us. When Michael’s parents adopted his sister in the 1970s, there was an abundance of babies in the United States in need of homes, but the widespread use of birth control and abortion, among other factors, has caused the supply of infants available for adoption in the subsequent three decades to plummet to a fraction of what it was then. Knowing that, I was still taken aback by how discouraging one adoption agency was about our prospects for “competing” against other couples. “Most birth mothers do prefer younger women,” the woman informed me. “But you’ll get a letter from your doctor, certifying you are in excellent health for the social worker anyway.”

“Right,” I said, thinking about the arthritic condition that caused the chronic pain I had been struggling with for many years.

This is not the first time I’ve heard or read about prospective parents discouraged from adopting because the process takes too long, is unpredictable, and can be expensive.  Not to mention the lifetime of intrusive questions adoptive parents often endure from observers–”Have you met her ‘real’ mother?” “Are they ‘really’ brother and sister?” ”What do you know about her health history?”–and the challenges that may accompany children who have endured the rigors of institutional or foster care for extended periods.  

Adoption is not for everyone. We know that. But wouldn’t it be nice if the “system” didn’t discourage prospective adoptive parents at every turn? Yesterday, I posted a perfect example of this. Families of the Guatemala900 have been waiting four years for their children, who are housed in orphanages. Upon hearing such stories, who can blame someone for deciding adoption is too big a risk? (more…)


Stalled more than 4 years in Guatemala. One family’s adoption story

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

When I read this story in the Washington Times, my reaction alternated between sorrow and outrage.  Andrea Poe writes:

Anthony Gatto, an attorney, and his wife Megan live outside Albany, New York.  They have been waiting to finalize the adoption of their son Anderson since he was born in October of 2006.  More than four years later, they continue to fight to gain custody of their little boy. 

They are one of the nearly 1,000 American families who have children stranded in Guatemala due to bureaucratic snafus, inter-country glitches and adoption laws that shift like sand beneath their feet.

The Gattos have visited Anderson in Guatemala. The child’s birth mother has gone on record stating her wish that the Gattos adopt him. Back in the States, the couple has done everything in their power to finalize  Anderson’s adoption. They pay $500 per month to an orphanage for his care. Four years later, they are still stuck.  Anthony Gatto writes:

Last May, we attended a Congressional Briefing on the issue that was attended by staff people from over twenty members of Congress.  We are part of a group of parents waiting to adopt children from Guatemala since the new law passed in 2007.  The group is called Guatemala 900 ( We currently have over 20 Senators (including New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirstin Gillibrand) and 10 Representatives (including Rep. Scott Murphy) fighting for the 400 families who have been waiting since January 2008 to adopt a child from Guatemala with stories similar to ours. 

All of these children have been in orphanages for over 2 1/2 years.  These children do not know the joy of a loving family and unless something is done, they will spend the rest of their lives in an orphanage.

Gatto supplies a vivid illustration of what waiting for Anderson since 2006 looks like:  

We have had his nursery fully furnished for almost three years and it only serves as a reminder that we must continue to fight for him because he is our son.  Every day we look down the hall at his room.  His crib is still assembled even though he’s too old and too big to fit in a crib. 

We refuse to take it down until we get him home.  Each year for his birthday and Christmas we buy him presents and wrap them for him when he gets home.  My wife and I celebrate his birthday each year and his closet is now full of presents, waiting for him.

I share the Gattos’ final plea:

We need to bring national attention to this matter in order to bring all of these children home.



State Dept. Announcement

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Below is the press release issued by U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Children’s Issues, regarding adoption cases pending in Guatemala. The release is dated December 20, 2010.

The Office of Children’s Issues is asking U.S. citizens with active grandfathered adoption cases in Guatemala to send a brief email to including the name(s) of the adopting parent(s), the name and date of birth of the child and the date that your I-600A and/or I-600 petition was filed with USCIS.  Please give your email the subject line: “Guatemala Master List” so that it may be properly directed.

 Sending us this information will ensure that your case information is included on a master list of pending grandfathered cases that the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala is compiling.  We will use this list in regular meetings with a newly formed working group for grandfathered adoptions in Guatemala.  This working group is being formed pursuant to directive of the President of Guatemala following his December meeting with Ambassador Susan Jacobs, the U.S. Department of State’s Special Advisor for Children’s Issues, and Adoption Division Chief Alison Dilworth.  The working group will consist of representatives of the various Guatemalan government agencies that play a role in Guatemala adoptions, as well as other important stakeholders in the adoption process in Guatemala.


Violence in Guatemala

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Violence on public buses in Guatemala has increased as reported by Reuters photographer Daniel LeClair in this BBC post. In the past few years, some 450 bus drivers have been killed. LeClair writes:

“The scenes were chaotic and similar. A driver would be on his route, his bus full of passengers. Suddenly a young man would stand up, approach the driver shooting him at close range in the head, then jump off the moving bus to a waiting motorcycle.” …

“Gangs began to take hold in the 1990s, attracting impoverished and uneducated young men and women. Now they’ve become organized money-making enterprises, extorting businesses, including bus companies, for regular payments and assaulting people on the streets for cash. Narco traffickers have cemented their presence in Guatemala, taking advantage of the authorities’ inability to cope.” …

LeClair ends the article with this:

“I’ve been covering Central America for a decade – coups, riots, hurricanes and so on – but never seen violence like this. I have never seen so many innocent people caught in the middle. The tragedy is that Guatemala has so much to offer. It’s so beautiful and so full of wonderful people. As much as I love this place… the future here is very uncertain.”

Again, please read the entire article here.


Up next, Boston; and a book giveaway

Monday, December 6th, 2010

I just got the kids off to the bus stop and in a few minutes leave for SFO to fly to Boston. Luckily, my sister Deanna and her husband, David, and their three girls will be waiting for me on the other side. This means I can pack light, as Deanna will lend me anything I need to wear. One of the many, many benefits of having sisters.

In case you live in Boston or Fairfield, Connecticut and can join me at a reading, please click on the EVENTS tab above to check my schedule.

Mamalita is the subject of another book giveaway. This one is on Marjolein’s Book Blog. Click here for Marjolein’s review of the book, an interview with me, and details on how to enter. My fingers are crossed that you will win! 

Here’s a small excerpt from the review to entice you to read more.
Off to Boston!

Tell us a bit about how Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir was started. When did you know you wanted to write down your story about adoption? Seven years ago, I was living in Antigua, Guatemala with my then fifteen-month-old daughter, Olivia, whom my husband I and had been trying to adopt for a year. I wasn’t the only American would-be mother living there. We were a group of eight. And every day, as we sat around obsessing over our cases and a bureaucracy we couldn’t seem to navigate, the other 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.

During the book, the reader gets a real good inside look on the adoption process in Guatemala. What surprised you the most about the adoption process, what turned out differently than you expected? What surprised me most about the adoption process is how varied it can be for different people. The paperwork is daunting for everybody, but if you’ve signed on with a good agency, the process is straightforward and relatively easy. If, on the other hand, you get involved with one that’s like ours, you better brace yourself for a bumpy ride.

I never expected to quit my job and move to Antigua and finish the adoption myself. I never dreamed I’d get an insider’s look at what goes on behind closed doors. What outraged me most was the degree to which the welfare of children is ignored, by allowing cases to go on and on for months or years on end. Every day that a child languishes in an orphanage or foster care, without one-on-one love and attention, is a day he will pay for later, physically and emotionally.

What have you enjoyed most about the adoption? My children—Olivia, now eight and Mateo, six. They are my reasons for living. I’ve also enjoyed being captivated by the country of Guatemala. It’s a complicated place, with a fascinating history. I’ve loved learning about it.

Can we expect more books by you in the future? I hope so. That’s the first step. Thank you for thinking positive!


Birthday Boy

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

This month, my baby boy Mateo turned six. Our celebration was small–just family and my sister, Patrice, and another adoptive mom and her two girls who stopped by later for cake. Lucky for me, we’ve never had gigantic parties for either of our children, so their expectations aren’t too grand. (Although, I have to admit, with my book launch this month, and readings scheduled back-to-back, I focused less on organizing a birthday than usual. I promised Mateo we’d celebrate again after the holidays.)

His favorite present? A ream of clean, white, copy paper. You have to understand, in our house, unless absolutely necessary, we only use paper that is recycled–and by that I mean paper that has been printed already, with type on one side. Especially after living in Guatemala, I am careful about not wasting anything, and paper is high on my list. So a sheet of clean, white, unblemished paper is a rare item in these parts. Mateo was jubilant.

My friend, the other adoptive mom who stopped by, noted how her girls don’t know the actual dates of their births. For birth certificates and celebrations, they must rely on best guesses. Her comment made me realize, again, how birth stories are different for children who are adopted. Mateo’s story with us, like Olivia’s story, begins in a hotel lobby in Guatemala City. But he carries a history with him that we don’t yet know, that maybe only his birth mother remembers. I thought of his other mom often on Mateo’s big day. My greatest hope is that she knows her son is happy and healthy, and loved.

A few months ago, I wrote a blog about Mateo. He was only five then–a baby! In case you missed it, I’m posting it again here. Happy birthday, Mateo. My beautiful son.

About Mateo, I say “He wakes up happy.” He’s always been that way, ever since we first met him as a baby in Guatemala City. If we each have an essence, Mateo’s is “joy.” He radiates positive energy and goodwill and exuberance. My friend Julia recently called him “merry.” The label fits.

Why is that? What makes a person who he is? So far, I know very little about Mateo’s biological family. Does he inherit his temperament from his other mother? Is his biological father a humorous man? Does Mateo’s approach to life have anything to do with my behavior, or the influence of my husband and daughter? What makes Mateo, Mateo?

In a little while, I’ll go over to my son’s bottom bunk and whisper that it’s time to get up. He’ll stir and sigh, pull the covers over his head. “Five more minutes,” he’ll say. And five minutes later, he’ll get up, groggy but already thinking positive. “Is today show-and-tell? Is tomorrow the weekend?”

“Show-and-tell is Monday,” I’ll say. “Tomorrow starts the weekend.”

“Can we have pancakes?” He’ll clasp his hands together to show me he’s pleading.

“We can.”

He’ll jump out of bed and run around in a circle. “Pancakes! Pancakes!”

And I’ll say, as I always do, “Mateo, may you always be this happy.”


Why we won’t be trick-or-treating for UNICEF this year

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

Like a lot of people, I used to regard UNICEF as an organization founded to protect and advocate for children. Not anymore. Not after everything I’ve learned about UNICEF’s role in shutting down adoptions in countries such as Guatemala. That’s why I’m sharing  this article by attorney Candace O’Brien, posted by friends on Facebook, and encouraging you to do the same.

In this post, I’ve included only the parts specific to Guatemala; to read the entire article, click on the link here

“UNICEF has been waging war against international adoption for many years contrary to popular understanding… UNICEF’s premise that parents in underdeveloped countries should be provided the means to keep their children is not arguable.  Neither is UNICEF’s stance that international adoption should only be a last resort.”…

“Let’s take the example of Guatemala.  After intense pressure from UNICEF, Guatemala finally closed its doors to international adoption on December 31, 200[7].  Prior to that time, foreign nationals adopted approximately 5,000 Guatemalan children per year.   Oscar Avila, ‘Guatemala Seeks Domestic Fix to Troubled Overseas Adoptions,’ Chicago Tribune, October 26, 2008 indicated that ‘Guatemala has launched an ambitious campaign to recruit foster parents and even adoptive parents at home.’  So far, the program is failing miserably.  Avila reports, ‘Only about 45 families in a nation of 13 million currently have taken in foster children since the program began this year.’”

“The approach that Guatemala is taking by attempting to gain domestic attention to the problem is certainly meritorious; however, this approach could and should have been implemented concomitant with an international program which would ensure that thousands of children will find homes rather than waste away in institutions that are often underfunded, understaffed and unable to provide for the needs of these children.”… (more…)


How a California garden is like adoption

Friday, September 17th, 2010

In September, all the work we’ve put into the garden during the past year finally pays off. Tomatoes, strawberries, Meyer lemons, basil. In sauces and gazpacho, smoothies and pies. Sliced onto cereal, on ice cream, broiled with parmesan cheese. Meyer lemons, Meyer lemonade. And Pesto! Pesto by the quart. On pasta and bread. Pesto for lunch and for dinner. Buckets of pesto. 

Summer comes to Northern California not in July or August, but in September. The days are warm enough, at last, to turn our tomatoes red, our lemons yellow. Before breakfast, Tim goes out with a basket, and by the time I wake up the kids, a bowl on the table is filled. 

Because I am who I am and my husband is married to me, we see parallels between our garden and adoption. Tim noticed it first. In Texas, where he once lived, there are four seasons. Everyone, he says, plants tomatoes the same week; gardeners can predict their harvest to the day. But here in California, we plant in February, March, April, or May. Our tomatoes come in, variably: maybe in August, or else in September. Some years, we eat tomatoes off the vine at Thanksgiving. 

How is a California garden like adoption? As Tim pointed out, a normal pregnancy takes nine months. With a pretty good degree of accuracy, expectant parents know when their baby will arrive. There is no such calendar with adoption. Maybe it will take six months, unless it takes two years. For the families still waiting for their children in Guatemala–whose cases have been stalled since adoptions closed in January 2008–it must feel as if it will take forever. 

Guatemala 900, we’re thinking of you as another season passes.