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A library reading in Santee, San Diego

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

Today, I read from Mamalita at the Santee Library in San Diego. In the audience were library patrons, museum friends, and adoptive moms (and one dad) whom I met through blogging and the Mamalita page on Facebook. A woman named Paty told me she found Mamalita browsing through the shelves at Upstart Crow, the indie bookstore where I read a week or two earlier.  Paty’s comment made me realize–again–the importance of one’s book being on an actual shelf in a bookstore. I’m learning that’s a hallowed position difficult to achieve, especially for an unknown, first-time author with no track record, such as yours truly.

I read the opening chapter of Mamalita, “The Hotel Lobby.” The story begins during our first visit to Guatemala. Our adoption facilitator brings us the wrong baby, and I describe the scene sitting on a sofa in the lobby awaiting the arrival of the right one. As I got to the part where I spot a bundle of pink blankets across the room that I recognize as Olivia and say “That’s her,” my voice broke and I started to cry.  Reading in public, that’s never happened to me before. But there was something about being in San Diego, among close friends who have known me for so long and shared some of our adoption journey. Everything came back.

It was an emotional beginning to an hour that included thoughtful questions from the audience about Guatemala, adoption, our story, and the process of writing memoir. Afterwards, I shared a delicious lunch with Library Manager Penny Taylor, who wrote a short book review that ran in the San Diego Union-Tribune on Sunday, November 28. My friend Tomoko took photos of the memorable day, with her snazzy red camera.  Someday soon, I’ll post a few. In the meantime, here’s Penny’s review.

Recommended Reads by San Diego Union-Tribune
Reviewed by: Penny Taylor
Job: Manager at the Santee branch, San Diego County Library.

She recommends: “Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir” by Jessica O’Dwyer (Seal Press: $16.95)

Why: Jessica O’Dwyer and husband Tim Berger knew that adopting their daughter from Guatemala would not be easy. They had done their research, though, and meticulously prepared the required paperwork. When the adoption was delayed, O’Dwyer moved to Antigua to complete the process and to protect her daughter from returning to foster care. Working through the numbing bureaucracy while dealing with greedy adoption agents, the stay stretched to half a year. Despite the strain, the story is told with an obvious respect for indigenous Guatemalan people, arts, and culture and includes descriptions of her travels in Guatemala. I really like the intimacy of this narrative: O’Dwyer shares her personal fears, not only questioning who to trust in this foreign country, but expressing the terror and the joy of being a new mother caring for her baby alone. This is not a maudlin family drama, but a crisply told adventure with a cliff-hanging conclusion.


“Mamalita” now in a bookstore near you

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Yesterday morning I heard from my friend Paula that my book, Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir, was in stock and on the shelf at our favorite local indie bookstore, Book Passage in Corte Madera, California. As soon as I got the kids off to school and did everything else that needed to get done before I could do anything as self-indulgent as go look, I grabbed my car keys and drove over.

The bookseller at the store was very nice and pointed me to the table in front where the appealing cover of Mamalita might catch the eye of someone standing in line on the way to the cash register. (Thank you, Book Passage!) After that, he directed me to the “Parenting” section, where my book was shelved with other books about adoption: Susan Caughman’s You Can Adopt, Janis Cooke Newman’s The Russian Word for Snow, and Scott Simon’s recent Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other. Very good company, I’d say.

One of my goals in writing Mamalita was to tell a real story about adoption, and in doing so, to contribute something lasting to the conversation about the subject. The thought was subconscious, but strong:  “This is what happened to us. What does our experience tell us about the experience of international adoption?” My book existing on the shelf is the first step to our story, and the story of others like us, being heard.

Please forgive me if I’m a little too excited to see Mamalita, finally, out in the world. It’s my first book, and I’m not a young writer bursting onto the scene. As the Book Passage bookseller said, when he saw me tearing up, “Publishing your first book is like giving birth.”

So I’ve heard. Or, for many of us, adopting your first baby.


Who am I?

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

This morning, for the second time this week, Mateo asked me “Are you my real mom?” Despite how attached I know my son is to me, he continues to wonder about this key issue. As an adoptive mother—or at least as the adoptive mother to my two particular children—I’m used to this and other family-related questions. (more…)


Brad Pitt and Me

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

I just learned about a new group on Facebook called “It’s none of your business why we didn’t ‘just’ adopt from here.” 

While the group’s name might be seen as a little strident, I understand the sentiment. How many times have my husband and I been asked why we “didn’t just adopt from the United States?” So many that I’ve lost count. I’m not alone in this. Every adoptive parent I know who has adopted internationally has faced the same question. 

When we first started the adoption process with Olivia, I never dreamed I would one day be quoting Brad Pitt. But a few years ago I read an interview with him, and (predictably), he was asked “Why did you adopt from another country? There are so many children here who need homes.” Brad Pitt’s response rang so true that I remember it still: “Our children find us, wherever they are.”  (more…)