Posts Tagged ‘hardships of international adoption’

Why I wrote Mamalita

Monday, July 11th, 2011

During public readings from Mamalita, I’ve met many people who harbor strong opinions on the subject of adoption, pro and con. Now, before I read from the book, I talk about why I was compelled to write it. I’d like to share those thoughts here.

Eight years ago, I was living in Antigua, Guatemala with my then-fifteen-month old daughter, Olivia, whom my husband and I were trying to adopt. We had been enmeshed in the process for more than a year, ever since I first saw a photo of Olivia on an adoption website and had fallen in love.

I wasn’t the only American would-be mother living in Guatemala who was trying to sort out a stalled adoption. We were a group of eight, with nothing in common except our overwhelming desire to become mothers and the belief that our bureaucratic nightmares should not be allowed to happen to anyone else. That year, more than 3,000 Americans adopted children from Guatemala. Each one of those families had a story, no two the same.

Soon after I returned home with Olivia in January 2004, international adoption became headline news, none of it good. The private adoption system in Guatemala was singled out as particularly corrupt. Front-page stories described payments made to birth mothers, coercion of women to become pregnant, and the trawling of countrysides by “finders” to trick young girls into relinquishing their newborns. Adoptive parents like me were depicted as privileged Americans who swooped in to snatch kidnapped infants. Even UNICEF pronounced that it was better for a child to remain in his country of origin than it was to be adopted by foreign parents. The news got so bad it was impossible not to feel under attack.

But that was only a part of the story. The story I experienced was that of adoptive parents who felt great love for their children, pushing back against a system that seemed designed to manipulate emotions at every turn.

When I lived in Antigua, the others 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.


Mamalita on the Marshall Institute Blog

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

Here’s an excerpt from an interview with questions asked by playwright Allan Havis, provost of Thurgood Marshall College at UC San Diego. A Look at the Hardships of International Adoption: A Conversation with Jessica O’Dwyer, was posted on the Marshall Institute Blog on February 14, 2011.

Click here to read the interview in its entirety.

Mamalita, your new well reviewed book, shows an American woman’s quest to adopt a baby girl despite an amazing series of hurdles in Guatemala.  Was it cathartic to put this personal story down on paper?

Very much so. When I came home from Guatemala, my husband was convinced I was suffering from a form of post-traumatic stress. I panicked at unexpected things—for example, seeing my address listed in a directory—because I was afraid someone bad was after me. Writing allowed me to get the story out of myself. It gave me perspective and distance.

You actively correspond with the birth mother of your child.  How does that impact your parenting and your dialogue with your child?

Since searching for and meeting Olivia’s birth mother, “Ana,” a Maya widow who speaks K’iche and some Spanish, I have much greater insight into my daughter’s cultural and genetic personality traits. Olivia’s stillness and self-containment, for example—I recognize those traits as coming from Ana, and from her Maya roots. Meeting Ana has given a new calmness to Olivia. There’s no longer a mystery at her core. She knows who she is, and where she comes from. I describe it as a circle being closed. We talk by cell phone and visit once a year. Every family is different, but for us, an international, open adoption works. I recommend it.

The 2003 film by John Sayles, Casa de los Babys, depicts several American women waiting out their residency requirements in order to adopt in an unnamed Latin American nation.  Did the film accurately convey the world of what you experienced firsthand?

The emotions of longing, and fear, and helplessness felt very familiar. The details were different—we had no residency requirement although I lived in Antigua for six months, and the solution was not as simple as the one depicted—but the passion felt the same. I loved that movie.

How do celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Madonna misdirect the perception about international adoptions?

They make it look so easy! And, I assure you, it’s not. That aside, I applaud both women for raising awareness of international adoption, and keeping it on the front page. Today, in the world, there are some100 million children living without permanent families or homes. If Angelina Jolie and Madonna inspire people to care about the fate of those children, more power to them.