Posts Tagged ‘memoir’

Whose story is it? AP article on adopting HIV-positive children

Monday, April 4th, 2011

During the five years I wrote Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir, I grappled daily with the question of how much of the story I was entitled to tell. After all, the book’s subject is the adoption of my daughter, Olivia, from Guatemala. Ultimately, I decided the story belonged to me, too, at least partially. As long as I kept the narrative from my point of view, I believed her privacy would be maintained. Foremost in my mind was the question, “When my daughter’s in high school, will she be okay reading this?” I can say with confidence that I believe she will.

That said, I also wanted to write the truth of intercountry adoption as I experienced it. A baby strapped in a stroller in front of a television set or kicking me away because I was her fourth mother-figure aren’t the ideal visuals to communicate, but that was what happened. Change can never be made if no one talks about reality, including the impact on children of prolonged foster or institutional care, or multiple caregiver placements.

I was reminded of the struggle between privacy and truth-telling as I read this Associated Press article by David Crary, More families adopting HIV-positive children. One of the children discussed was born in Guatemala. Do parents have the right to reveal their minor children’s HIV-positive status via an Associated Press article? Although there is absolutely nothing shameful about the disease, it might not be information a person necessarily wishes to share with the world at large.

I don’t know the answer, but my guess is that, like me, the parents in question hoped to normalize their family’s situation by being honest about it. Time will tell if our children feel the same.


Arrest of suspect in 1982 Guatemalan civil war massacre

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

This Associated Press article from January 24, 2011 reports that a Southern California martial arts instructor suspected of involvement in a 1982 massacre during Guatemala’s civil war was arrested in Canada while visiting his parents and is awaiting extradition to the U.S. 

[Suspect Jorge] Sosa, 52, was indicted in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana [California] in September after authorities said he lied about his role in the civil war when he applied for U.S. citizenship in 2008.

Sosa was granted citizenship, but it was revoked after the grand jury indictment. He lives in Moreno Valley.

In Guatemala, Sosa was a member of a special military unit called the “Kaibiles” and was the commanding officer of a unit assigned to find and arrest guerrillas who had stolen military weapons, according to court documents.

On Dec. 7, 1982, he and several dozen soldiers stormed the village of Dos Erres, near Las Cruces, and systematically killed the men, women and children, the government claims in the indictment. The unit is accused of slaughtering villagers with sledgehammers and throwing people into a well.


The civil war in Guatemala claimed at least 200,000 lives before it ended in 1996.

In 1982, the “Kaibiles” were tracking an armed insurgency by guerrillas opposed to the military government. The killings cited in the indictment were investigated by the Guatemalan government 12 years later, when a judge ordered the excavation of the site and 162 skeletons were recovered.

The killings qualified under the law as perverse brutality, Guatemalan authorities said, and a judge in that country ordered the arrest of the Kaibiles in 2000.

In September, another former Guatemalan soldier who came to the U.S. was sentenced in Florida to 10 years in U.S. prison for lying on citizenship forms about his military service and role in the incident.

Read the Associated Press article, titled “Guatemala massacre suspect faces charges in California,” here. For more information on the civil war, including information about declassified CIA documents that reveal U.S. involvement in the 1954 coup that set off decades of destabilization in Guatemala, read the Wikipedia entry for Guatemalan Civil War. To learn more, check out Daniel Wilkinson’s excellent book, Silence on the Mountain: Stories of Terror, Betrayal, and Forgetting in Guatemala.


Adoption Today: “Inside Guatemalan Orphanages” by Leceta Chisholm Guibault

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

When I was asked to get a back-cover endorsement for Mamalita from someone prominent in the adoption field, I didn’t think twice before approaching Leceta Chisholm Guibault. Leceta is a person admired and respected by me and many others in the Guatemalan adoption community and beyond: the adoptive mother to two teens born in Central America, a former board member of the Adoption Council of Canada, an Adoption Activist award- winner, and a staff member of the TIES program (Adoptive Families Homeland Journeys).  During the years I’ve been involved in adoption myself, I have read and benefited from Leceta’s magazine articles and postings in which she shares her experiences and insights.

Leceta is currently a Canadian regional partner for Orphan Resources International, an American nonprofit organization that supports some 55 orphanages in Guatemala. During the past two years, she has led more than 150 Canadian volunteers on six separate service trips. In  an article titled “A View from the Trenches: Inside Guatemalan Orphanages,” in the December issue of Adoption Today, Leceta shares her impressions of what she has seen and felt. Or as she says in the article’s introduction, “what keeps me awake at night and why I continue to provide aid to children in Guatemala.” As usual, she tells her story with compassion, honesty, and bravery.  

Adoption Today is published online only. The $12 subscription fee is money well-spent for anyone interested in the current state of international and transracial adoption. Leceta writes:

Most homes share the same issues– overcrowding. Many are filled with abandoned infants, as well as children in care due to severe abuse and neglect. Infants were arriving if not daily, weekly. At Fundaninos orphanage, the infants we met in 2009 are now toddlers. Another home we volunteer for is a baby home with 50-60 children, the majority being infants and young toddlers. Every time I visit, bassinets are full with newborn to 5-month-olds…

In May, I walked into one of the three overcrowded nurseries and fell to my knees… I sobbed. There were babies everywhere being fed by propped bottles. Don’t get me wrong — it was a beautiful, clean and loving home. The home receives a lot of clothing donations… The problem is, it’s overcrowded. There are not enough caregivers — during one visit there were 37 infants with two nannies. It was an assembly line of diaper changes and bottle propping… The children were craving attention and happy just to be held. I brought 23 volunteers and even holding two children each there were little ones waiting for their turn. These children need parents… (more…)


Observations by Jane Aronson, MD, the “orphan doctor”

Monday, December 27th, 2010

Pediatrician and adoptive mother Jane Aronson’s New York City medical practice focuses on childen who are adopted. By her own estimate, she has examined more than 10,000 children as patients. This article, posted on, includes thoughtful insights by Aronson, based on years of her professional observations. Two that resonate for me are:

…Aronson says that for every three months a child spends in an orphanage, he loses one month of developmental skills, causing, for example, language delays or learning issues.

“If you don’t have one adult who loves you,” says Aronson, you “don’t end up healthy.”

And the second:

Most important quality for parents to have: “To be focused on who the child is and make every effort to accept the child for who they are. (Whether) you give birth to a child, you adopt a child, you have to accept the child with unconditional love and acceptance.”

Aronson is founder of the Worldwide Orphans Foundation.

Her Worldwide Orphans Foundation [WWO], with its headquarters in Maplewood [New Jersey], provides various programs and facilities to orphans in Ethiopia, Vietnam, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria and Serbia. In Ethiopia, for instance, some of WWO’s programs include a school whose curriculum includes global arts, such as theater, dance and music; a family health care clinic, which counts among its services the treatment of orphans with HIV and AIDS; and an orphan soccer league.

The idea for the foundation came to her in the late 1980s when she looked at the staggering number of orphans who are never adopted. Approximately 20,000 children are adopted annually; the total number of orphans worldwide is now estimated to be about 163 million, according to UNICEF.

“It became clear that the vast majority of orphans would not have permanency,” says Aronson.

Through WWO, one-to-one early intervention programs — known as granny programs — in Vietnam, Azerbaijan and Bulgaria match retired women from the community with orphans to provide the children with individual attention and education.

International adoption can never provide homes for the millions of children in need of permanency. Last year, families in the United States adopted 13,000 from around the world, and that number is dropping. My hope for the new year is the development of more one-to-one early intervention programs in the orphanages of my children’s birth country, Guatemala. Every child deserves a chance to grow up healthy.


Season’s Greetings!

Friday, December 24th, 2010

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

Three generations.

Tia Lolly and Mateo.

My Mom and Dad.

Happy New Year, too!~


Holiday mode

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

The last day of school before winter break meant holiday parties in classrooms around the country, including those of Mateo and Olivia. I attended both.

Mateo was proud of his gingerbread house, made from graham crackers, candy canes, and chocolate, held together by cupcake frosting sprayed out of a can. Later, he constructed a reindeer ornament from popsicle sticks, and drew a  picture of a snowman wearing a colorful striped scarf.

After Mateo’s party was over, I made my way to Olivia’s school. In her classroom, each student had been asked to make a presentation on his or her ethnic heritage, followed by a potluck lunch comprising food from each child’s background. The meal demonstrated the great diversity of California’s population, with dishes from Ireland, Norway,  Mexico, Italy, Wales, Cuba, and Iran. Olivia spoke with confidence about being indigenous Maya and Guatemalan, and explained how tortillas are made. Her fellow students enjoyed seeing the Guatemalan flag and a picture of the country’s official bird, the beautiful and elusive quetzal, depicted in the flag’s central field as well as on the cover of Olivia’s Guatemala ABC’s book. Below, Olivia is holding her favorite hackysack ball, a common sight in Guatemala, shaped like a frog.

The next morning, we set off on a road trip to visit grandparents and family in San Diego. With pit stops and delays because of rain, the drive took nearly eleven hours. But with my sister Patrice along and Shakira’s music blasting from the CD player, nobody seemed to mind. We arrived in San Diego in holiday mode, ready to sleep late and slow down.


Borders Reading in Fairfield, CT

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

Yesterday, my sister Deanna and I drove from her home near Boston to the Borders Bookstore in Fairfield, Connecticut, where I did a Mamalita reading last evening. A big thank you to Borders store manager, Craig Kennedy, shown above, and his fantastic staff, as well as to everyone who attended.

The prize for farthest distance driven goes to the women from my building on Christopher Street, in Greenwich Village, NYC, where we lived during our early twenties. Heidi, Laura, Lisa, and Jenny: Thank you for making the evening so special. Afterwards, the group treated Deanna and me to a lovely dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant. We spent the hours laughing and catching up on our lives since the last time we’ve been together–a trip to New York in 2004, soon after Olivia first arrived in the U.S. 

Here I am with Janet Brogan, my sister Patrice’s college roommate, who also happens to be an adoptive mom. Janet suggested I read at the Borders in Fairfield and I’m so grateful she did: it was great to see her again, meet her book group friends in the audience (a few adoptive moms to daughters from China), and to spend some time in the warm atmosphere of the Borders Books in Fairfield.

Tonight, Thursday, at 7:30 p.m., I’m reading at the Beverly Public Library in Beverly, Massachusetts, and on Sunday, at 6 p.m., at the Borders Bookstore on Boylston Street in Boston. I’m loving my time spent on the East coast.


Up next, Boston; and a book giveaway

Monday, December 6th, 2010

I just got the kids off to the bus stop and in a few minutes leave for SFO to fly to Boston. Luckily, my sister Deanna and her husband, David, and their three girls will be waiting for me on the other side. This means I can pack light, as Deanna will lend me anything I need to wear. One of the many, many benefits of having sisters.

In case you live in Boston or Fairfield, Connecticut and can join me at a reading, please click on the EVENTS tab above to check my schedule.

Mamalita is the subject of another book giveaway. This one is on Marjolein’s Book Blog. Click here for Marjolein’s review of the book, an interview with me, and details on how to enter. My fingers are crossed that you will win! 

Here’s a small excerpt from the review to entice you to read more.
Off to Boston!

Tell us a bit about how Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir was started. When did you know you wanted to write down your story about adoption? Seven years ago, I was living in Antigua, Guatemala with my then fifteen-month-old daughter, Olivia, whom my husband I and had been trying to adopt for a year. I wasn’t the only American would-be mother living there. We were a group of eight. And every day, as we sat around obsessing over our cases and a bureaucracy we couldn’t seem to navigate, the other 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.

During the book, the reader gets a real good inside look on the adoption process in Guatemala. What surprised you the most about the adoption process, what turned out differently than you expected? What surprised me most about the adoption process is how varied it can be for different people. The paperwork is daunting for everybody, but if you’ve signed on with a good agency, the process is straightforward and relatively easy. If, on the other hand, you get involved with one that’s like ours, you better brace yourself for a bumpy ride.

I never expected to quit my job and move to Antigua and finish the adoption myself. I never dreamed I’d get an insider’s look at what goes on behind closed doors. What outraged me most was the degree to which the welfare of children is ignored, by allowing cases to go on and on for months or years on end. Every day that a child languishes in an orphanage or foster care, without one-on-one love and attention, is a day he will pay for later, physically and emotionally.

What have you enjoyed most about the adoption? My children—Olivia, now eight and Mateo, six. They are my reasons for living. I’ve also enjoyed being captivated by the country of Guatemala. It’s a complicated place, with a fascinating history. I’ve loved learning about it.

Can we expect more books by you in the future? I hope so. That’s the first step. Thank you for thinking positive!


A hotel lobby story

Sunday, July 25th, 2010

Like many adoptive parents of children born in Guatemala, I have my own “hotel lobby story.” Why a hotel lobby story? Because a hotel lobby is where I held each of my babies in my arms for the very first time.

In 2006, deep in the struggle to write Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir, I attended a writing workshop led by Joyce Maynard at her home in San Marcos, Guatemala. I knew the arc of my story. I had lived it. But what was my point of entry? Was it the moment my doctor informed me I’d never have children? Or did it happen during the five-day, 400-mile bicycle trip I took over Christmas 1998, when my now-husband Tim said he was open to the idea of parenthood through adoption? At Joyce’s workshop, another writer, Andi Sciacci, who also teaches writing, asked me a very simple question. She said, “Where does the story start for you?”

I had found my opening scene. (more…)


Showing up

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

I once heard someone say that 90% of life is showing up. I think about that line every time I go to my daughter’s class room to volunteer during Math Centers or Story Time, or to watch the Halloween Parade or the Fall Concert. “Showing up” is part of my job as a parent. My kids are still young enough that they look for me in the audience, and when they locate my face, they wave. But these last few weeks have been more overloaded than usual, and no matter how early in the morning I wake up, I always feel behind. Some things I’ve had to let slide.

Tuesday was Olivia’s Spring Sing, an annual school-wide event for grades K through 2. For the past two years, faithfully, I’ve gone. But this year, on Tuesday, I simply had too much to do. I knew that if I went to Spring Sing, the ten others tasks I needed to accomplish before nightfall would not get done. My best and only choice was to opt out. But all morning, I felt terrible. (more…)