Posts Tagged ‘birth family visits’

August 2018 visit

Saturday, September 1st, 2018


In August, we met with Olivia’s birth family in Panajachel. As usual, we began our visit with prayers in the Catholic church. Olivia’s mother brings candles and blesses each of us. This year, she said special prayers for my father, who had died in July.
(I post photos of my children’s families “from the back” to protect their privacy.)


Birth family visit 2016

Thursday, July 28th, 2016

Realize I never posted a photo from our visit this summer with Olivia’s birth mother in Guatemala. In the photo above, they’re walking into the church in Panajachel, where every year we pray together and light candles.
And in the photo below, from their first reunion, when Olivia was age seven, with Abuela.



Birth family visit 2015

Sunday, December 13th, 2015

I’ve written a few times about Olivia’s ongoing visits with her birth family. To recap: Olivia reunited with her birth mother “Ana”–a middle-aged widow–when she was seven years old. A year later, at age 8, Olivia met her birth grandmother, Abuela, and her siblings “Dulce” and “Santiago.” Over the next several years, we continued to visit the family, always in a neutral place, not Ana’s small village, because I worried about drawing unwanted attention to Ana and her family. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: In Guatemala, we stand out.

I knew our visit this year would be extra special because in 2015 our family experienced three important milestones. Olivia turned 13 and became a “senorita.” Dulce married her sweetheart and gave birth to her first baby. And Santiago moved away. Big changes, all.

On a Tuesday last June, Ana arrived by chicken bus at the appointed spot at the appointed time, as usual. But instead of clambering down the steps with Dulce and Abuela, she climbed out the back door alone. In my limited Spanish, I asked “Where is everybody?” and Ana answered that this year, we were coming to her house because the baby was too young to travel and the trip wasn’t easy for Abuela, either.

My attitude toward chicken buses is “Don’t ride them,” but what could I do? Nothing except run back to the hotel for our suitcase of gifts. Olivia and I hopped with Ana onto the next chicken bus for the return journey.

One chicken bus, one microbus, one taxi ride, and one uphill hike later, we stood in the lane at the gate in front of Ana’s adobe house, where Olivia’s family has lived for generations–possibly before the arrival of the conquistadors. A sumptuous lunch of fried chicken and squash and rice was served. The blue corn tortillas were handmade that morning from Ana’s own crop, the best we’ve ever eaten. Thirteen felt like the perfect age for Olivia to transition to a new setting. Abuela gave her a rosary necklace and Dulce’s new baby was beautiful.

As we finished lunch, Ana jumped up without notice and disappeared, and Dulce shrugged when I asked her why. A minute later, from the lane in front of the gate, a hundred firecrackers ignited and lit the sky, the snapping racket loud enough for every person in town to hear.

Ana’s daughter Olivia had come home.


Semana Santa 2013. A visit with Olivia’s birth family

Friday, April 5th, 2013


This week, we met with Olivia’s birth family in Panajachel, a town on Lake Atitlan about three hours northwest of Antigua. The family—Olivia’s birth mother, “Ana”; her grandmother, Abuela, and her older brother and sister, now 18 and 16—traveled to Pana by bus from where they live in Totonicapan. Opinions around the subject of international adoption are mixed in Guatemala, ranging from supportive to very negative, so to protect Ana’s privacy we always meet in Pana, two hours from her town. (In small villages such as the one where they live, outsiders never pass unnoticed.) As you can see from the photo, Olivia is almost as tall as Ana, and about the same height as Abuela. Olivia had just turned seven the first year she met her family; next month she will be 11.

This meeting was a little different from our previous ones for two reasons: first, because my sister Patrice usually accompanies us on birth family visits and couldn’t this time. (We missed you, Tia!) And second, because Abuela’s shoulder was bothering her so much she couldn’t move her arm to do anything, including lift a fork to eat. The lightest touch caused her to wince with pain. Bear in mind, this is a woman who for decades has chopped firewood, hauled water, made tortillas, and washed thousands of loads of laundry by hand.

Olivia wanted to take a boat ride to another village on Lake Atitlan—she doesn’t like to feel conspicuous in “our” town of Panajachel—so we did. As usual, our first stop was to pray together in the town’s Catholic church, and may I just say that the faith and goodness of Olivia’s birth family absolutely humbles me.

Afterwards, we ate a nice lunch, over which we perused the photo albums from last year’s visit that I had assembled and brought. But none of us could ignore Abuela’s obvious suffering. Trying to ascertain the exact nature of the problem, I could make out the Spanish word for “bone,” although nothing about a fall or injury. As far as I could determine, a visit to their local clinic in Toto hadn’t revealed a root cause.

Long story short, I called Nancy Hoffman, my fellow adoptive mom who owns a travel agency in Antigua, and she said the desk clerk at our hotel knows a good doctor. Turned out he does: Dr. Luis de Pena, the physician who runs the clinic at Mayan Families, the NGO many of us adoptive families support, and where, in fact, I had been last month with Mateo, dropping off shoes donated by Olivia’s Girl Scout troop.

Our group clambered onto the next boat to Pana, piled off and into two tuk-tuks, and zipped up to Mayan Families.

After a physical exam, Dr. de Pena made a diagnosis: bursitis. If the injection he administered doesn’t work—he sent me out to buy the syringe from an NGO-subsidized pharmacy around the corner and two blocks down, “Fe, Salud y Vida”—and other causes are ruled out, Abuela may need surgery. This only can be performed in a hospital by an orthopedic surgeon, and in Guatemala, apparently, orthopedic surgeons’ numbers are few. If necessary, Abuela must travel to Guatemala City or Quetzaltenango.

Today’s report is that the pain has subsided somewhat. We’ll see.

What I appreciated most about this visit was how natural it felt. Abuela was in pain, and we did our best to help her feel better. That’s what family does, and we’re family.