Posts Tagged ‘adoption memoirs’

Adoption memoir by Anna Maria DiDio

Thursday, March 19th, 2020

It’s hard to think about anything right now except staying safe and keeping loved ones close. But if you’re looking to distract yourself by reading, I suggest Love at the Border: An Adoption Memoir from Mexico, by adoptive mother Anna Maria DiDio.

When DiDio asked me to read her memoir a few weeks ago, I was happy to oblige. Adoption is my obsession, and I always learn from other people’s stories.

A quick summary: DiDio and her husband were parents to an eight-year-old biological daughter when they adopted seven-year-old Priscilla from an orphanage in Mexico. (To my knowledge, few children are adopted from Mexico today; this story began in the early 2000s.) Priscilla had spent her entire life in the orphanage before the DiDio family brought her to Pennsylvania. Challenges ensued. As DiDio observes about herself as an adoptive parent: “[H]ow much did I really know about Mexico and her experience?” (72). The answer, of course, for DiDio and every adoptive parent in the beginning, is “very little.” We learn as we go, with no preparation.

DiDio’s voice as a writer is candid. I finished her memoir with deep empathy toward Priscilla. DiDio makes clear that Priscilla never asked to be relinquished by her biological mother or separated from her orphanage caregivers–her only family for seven years. Priscilla never asked to be adopted. Throughout the book, Priscilla struggles while adjusting to the new life she never chose for herself. DiDio notes on page 217: “I think [Priscilla] wanted to love us, but still felt disloyal to Mexico.”

The narrative fascinated me, and two things stood out:

First, the added complexity of blending a family with biological and adopted children. This may not add complexity for every family, but it added complexity for the DiDios.

Second, the emotional impact of learning a new language. Priscilla resisted learning English and often asked her parents why they adopted her if they didn’t speak Spanish. The reason this stood out for me is because my kids have visceral, mostly negative responses to learning and speaking Spanish. The language seems weighted with meaning. In some ways, Spanish seems to symbolize something they have lost, or else symbolizes a skill they are expected (by the world) to have mastered. In any case, for children adopted across borders, language represents more than simply saying words.

Love at the Border is a thought-provoking addition to the canon of adoption memoirs. Nancy Verrier, author of The Primal Wound, writes in the book’s introduction,

“This is an honest account…of how important it is for the parents to try to understand the experience from the baby/child’s point of view…. These children, whether from a different country or not, are apt to be very different from the parents and it is important for the parents to notice, make room, and celebrate those differences” (v).

Verrier’s observations are true, and worth remembering.




Book by Jeanette Winterson, “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?”

Monday, February 11th, 2013

Two recent posts focusing on essays by people who are adopted—On Being a Super Adoptee and Learning by Listening: What is Adoption Savior Syndrome?—got me remembering Jeanette Winterson’s outstanding memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Winterson was born in Manchester, England in 1959, and adopted soon after by a zealously religious and bigger-than-life mother she refers to as “Mrs. Winterson.” (There’s a Mr. Winterson, as well, but it’s the Mrs. who looms large.)  I first learned about Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? when the New York Times Book Review featured it on the front cover. Since then, the book has won several major literary awards and been featured on countless “Top Ten” lists.

I’ll be honest: for me as an adoptive parent, the book started as a tough read.  Here are the opening paragraphs: 

When my mother was angry with me, which was often, she said, ‘The Devil led us to the wrong crib.’

The image of Satan taking time off from the Cold War and McCarthyism to visit Manchester in 1960 – purpose of visit: to deceive Mrs Winterson – has a flamboyant theatricality to it. She was a flamboyant depressive; a woman who kept a revolver in the duster drawer, and the bullets in a tin of Pledge. A woman who stayed up all night baking cakes to avoid sleeping in the same bed as my father. A woman with a prolapse, a thyroid condition, an enlarged heart, an ulcerated leg that never healed, and two sets of false teeth – matt for everyday, and a pearlised set for ‘best’.

I do not know why she didn’t/couldn’t have children. I know that she adopted me because she wanted a friend (she had none), and because I was like a flare sent out into the world – a way of saying that she was here – a kind of X Marks the Spot.

She hated being a nobody, and like all children, adopted or not, I have had to live out some of her unlived life. We do that for our parents – we don’t really have any choice.

She was alive when my first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, was published in 1985. It is semiautobiographical, in that it tells the story of a young girl adopted by Pentecostal parents. The girl is supposed to grow up and be a missionary. Instead she falls in love with a woman. Disaster. The girl leaves home, gets herself to Oxford University, returns home to find her mother has built a broadcast radio and is beaming out the Gospel to the heathen. The mother has a handle – she’s called ‘Kindly Light’.

I wondered “Is every adoptive parent wacky? Or only the ones we hear about?” But I kept reading, adhering to my mantra of What can I learn from this?. I’m so glad I did, because I learned a lot. While the book jacket says, ”This memoir is the chronicle of a life’s work to find happiness,” and most reviewers focused on the conflict between an identity-seeking Jeanette and the overbearing Mrs. Winterson, in fact, the story reveals volumes about the complexity of adoption, a theme evident perhaps only to those of us involved in the subject.

Without giving away too much, I’ll say that Jeanette searches for and finds her biological mother, Ann. Afterwards, she makes an observation that strikes me as utterly profound, among her many profound observations:

I think she would like me to let her be my mother. I think she would like me to be in touch regularly. But whatever adoption is, it isn’t an instant family—not with the adoptive parents, and not with the rediscovered parents.

Again, not an easy read (for me, anyway), but a worthwhile one. Gorgeously written, too.


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…)


Four moms

Friday, October 14th, 2011

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.