Posts Tagged ‘Guatemalan adoption’

Be prepared.

Friday, September 6th, 2019
This morning, as I gave Mateo bus and lunch money, I noticed his wallet was stuffed with Qs. (Qs=Guatemalan currency, quetzales.)
“Why so many Qs?” I asked.
“In case I get deported,” he said.
This is the world we live in, people. For kids like mine, US citizens with brown skin.
Crazy, except that it’s real.

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Love Never Quits by Gina Heumann

Thursday, September 5th, 2019

I love reading memoirs about adopting from Guatemala, so when I saw my friend Gina Heumann post on FB about a book she’d written, I bought it immediately. Love Never Quits tells the story of Gina and her husband, the two boys they adopted from Guatemala, and the challenges they faced and overcame as a family. The younger boy suffered early trauma which manifested as behavior diagnosed by mental health professionals as Reactive Attachment Disorder. But this diagnosis did not come quickly. Gina tried for years to find help for her son, until, finally, she did.

The biggest takeaway for me in reading the book was how little is understood about adoption by mental health professionals, still, after so many years. And by adoption, I mean being relinquished by your mother; possibly living with multiple caregivers, in an orphanage, or on the street; and/or possibly being neglected or abused before landing in a secure, loving home; and, after all that, being required to adjust–as a young, frightened child–to an entirely new life. Reading the book also reminded me how ill-prepared *we* were as adoptive parents: how no one told us what we might face, how alone and misunderstood we would feel while facing it, and how difficult it was to find trained professionals qualified to counsel and guide us.

I met Gina Heumann at Heritage Camp for Adoptive Families (something else many of us do in our attempts to build bonds with our children) and was impressed with her dynamism and energy. Brava to her for writing about her family’s struggles and how they overcame them. May Gina’s story deepen the understanding of adoption’s complexity.

For more information about Gina Heumann, visit her website.

 

 

 

 

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Our front door

Friday, August 30th, 2019

Every summer when we visit Antigua, Guatemala, I make Olivia pose with me at the door of the charming little house where we lived together while waiting for her adoption to be finalized, back in 2003. Here we are in August 2019. Mateo snapped the picture. xoxo

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Adoption as universe

Saturday, August 24th, 2019
I’m catching up on my reading, including back issues of the New York Times. In this July 19 Modern Love column, “Don’t Put All Your (Frozen) Eggs in One Basket,” author Ruthie Ackerman writes about her yearning for a baby while married to a man who doesn’t want children. The plot thickens and ultimately Ackerman freezes her eggs, hoping someday to create her longed-for child. She writes movingly and eloquently of her feelings of disappointment and profound loss when, as the article subhead explains: “With ‘fertility preservation,’ I thought I could have children on my own timeline. I was wrong.” There’s much to relate to in her essay, and I encourage you to read it.
But the ending stopped me. The part where Ackerman writes: “Donor eggs are an option. Adoption too.”
After reading those lines, I wanted to sit down with Ackerman and say, “Oh, honey. It’s not that simple. Adoption, I mean. Not the process itself–that’s procedural stuff you’ll get through. But the very fact of adoption. Talk about complicated. For your child, every day of her or his life. For your child’s birth family. For you and your extended family. For every single person involved.”
Mind you: My children came to me through adoption, and my children are the best things, the very best things, in my life. I would not trade a single decision or action that led me to them. I’m a huge advocate for adoption.
At the same time, the person I am now–17 years as an adoptive mother–would say to the person I was then–naïve, as Ackerman is necessarily naïve, how can she not be?–
“Please, please understand: Adoption is bigger than an offhand, two-word sentence.
Adoption is a universe–ever-expanding, infinite. You need to know that going in.”

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English and Spanish

Tuesday, July 16th, 2019

All around the world, people speak more than one language, but in the U.S., increasingly, speaking Spanish or anything besides English feels like a political act. We live in California, where my Guatemalan-born children frequently are assumed to speak Spanish. My daughter Olivia, who speaks quite well, describes this assumption as “triggering.” The other day, Olivia and I were chatting to each other in English while waiting to make a purchase at Macy’s. The cashier, a bilingual speaker, addressed Olivia directly and asked, “Hablas español?”

Olivia responded in Spanish, “Yes, a little,” and engaged in a short conversation to prove her cred. But the exchange bothered her. Later Olivia said, “The cashier wanted to see if I was one of ‘you’ or one of them ‘them.’ Why can’t I be both?” This happens to Olivia all the time: At her new large public high school, where teachers and students assume she’s fluent; in restaurants, where staff will speak to her in Spanish and me in English; in the aisles of the grocery store and Target, where strangers approach and ask her questions in Spanish. (“Do I look like I work here?” Olivia sometimes wonders.) For our kids from Guatemala, as for the politicians and other Latinos profiled in this excellent Washington Post article, Why Don’t You Speak Spanish?: For Julian Castro and Millions of Latinos, the Answer Is Not So Simple, speaking Spanish is considered a litmus test, a mark of authenticity. At the same time, in the United States, being bilingual often is viewed with suspicion and contempt.
Witness these sentences: “You’re in America. Speak English.”

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Gemma Givens

Friday, July 12th, 2019

 

I’m posting a link to an excellent profile of 28-year-old Gemma Givens in UCBerkeley News, Staffer’s search for birth mom reveals dark history of Guatemalan adoption. Adopted in 1990 at four months of age, Gemma Givens is founder of Next Generation Guatemala, an international community of people adopted from Guatemala.

So much of what Givens says in the article resonates, especially this: “I felt like I was foundationless, or that I was floating, or I was a ghost, or I was a genetic isolate, which, in a way, I was… Whose face do I have? Why am I so short? Why is my hair so thick? … On good days, I felt super proud and entitled and arrogant about that, like, ‘There’s no one like me.’ And on the worst days, I felt crippling depressed because I’m all alone in the world. Of course, I’m surrounded by love and family and friends, but in a really existential way, I’m completely alone.”

For more information on Gemma Givens or Next Generation Guatemala, see FB, the Next Generation webpage, or contact nextgenguate@gmail.com.

Photo credit: UC Berkeley photo by Brittany Hosea-Small

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Harper’s article

Monday, March 18th, 2019

I’m posting the link to an article by Rachel Nolan in April 2019 Harper’s, “Destined for Export: The Troubled Legacy of Guatemalan Adoptions.” The piece focuses on a 27-year-old man from Belgium, Jean-Sebastien Hertsens Zune, who searches for his birth parents and discovers falsified paperwork. (Zune’s adoption occurred pre-DNA days.) In addition to telling Zune’s story, the article includes an interview with Susana Luarca (from the Guatemala City women’s prison), references “The Embassy Files” by Erin Siegal McIntyre, and quotes Harvard professor and adoptive mother Elizabeth Bartholet and an unnamed searcher.

None of the information is surprising. I just wish they’d included input from one of the thousands of adoptive and birth families who have reunited in a healthy way. But this is the legacy we must live with. We make sense of it as we can.

The photo above shows my daughter at age seven, reunited with her birth mother and grandmother.

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Mateo’s Confirmation

Tuesday, March 5th, 2019

On Saturday, Mateo received his Confirmation. For his Confirmation name, he chose “Miguel” (as in the Archangel), and for his sponsor, Olivia.

I’m proud of my son for reaching this milestone, and of his sister for guiding him through his faith journey.

Like siblings everywhere, my kids fight. But when it matters, they stand up for each other, and have from the beginning.

Here they are at Confirmation, and meeting for the first time in the lobby of the Guatemala City Marriott (now Barcelo), when Mateo was six months old and Olivia three.

Not only blood makes a family.

xoxo

 

 

 

 

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DNA

Sunday, February 3rd, 2019

DNA kits are affordable and easy. Millions of people are taking tests and discovering blood relatives may not be who they were led to believe. We in the adoption community have dealt with family complexity for years, but for many people, the information comes as a shock.

In this Wall Street Journal article by Amy Dockser Marcus, a DNA counselor says, “I have become of the mind-set it is not a matter of if the secrets will come out…It is a matter of when the secrets will come out.”

After meeting her 90-year-old biological father, a woman says, “Every child has the right to know her origins. We missed 65 years together.”

I keep these observations in mind as an adoptive parent.

Finally: At least three families in my adoption circle have found biological siblings and cousins of their children, through DNA kits; the sibs and cousins were also adopted to the United States. The discovery has been amazing for these families: a miracle.

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“The Long Up” by Kay Ryan

Sunday, December 30th, 2018

I’d never heard of poet Kay Ryan when I picked up a copy of “The New Yorker” and read her poem “The Long Up” while sitting in a waiting room for one of our seemingly never-ending therapy appointments. This was 2011, when Ryan already had been named the sixteenth United States Poet Laureate and awarded the Pulitzer Prize. In those years, I didn’t know of Ryan’s accomplishments, and how could I, when my days and months were consumed with searching for whatever it was that would help peace descend on my house, my family, my kids. I couldn’t dedicate energy or time to anything except placing one foot in front of another to get through another day.

Everyone says teenage years are the hardest, but for us, it was the beginning: those early years when I didn’t understand my children or their internal journeys, so unlike anything I’d ever seen or experienced or heard of.

On that afternoon in the waiting room when I picked up the magazine, Kay Ryan’s simple, vivid lines soared off the page and landed straight in my soul. I dug out my journal from my purse—the journal in which my most constant refrain was a scratched and repeated “I can’t do this!! Help me!!!,” underline, underline—and copied the poem in its entirety. Her words gave me hope.

On the eve of 2019, Ryan’s poem may resonate in your soul, too. I’m with you in spirit. Xoxoxo

“The Long Up”

By Kay Ryan

You can see the
land flattening out
near the top. The
long up you’ve faced
is going to stop.
Your eyes feast
on space instead
of pitch as though
you’d been released.
The measured pace
you’ve kept corrupts
with fifty yards
to do—fifty
times as hard
against the blue.

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