TITLE: Love, Mom
“The love of a family is life’s greatest blessing.”
I write this letter today, one month from your ninth birthday, and I can’t believe how fast the years are going by. It seems like just yesterday that our social worker was calling me to let me know that I was going to be a mom to a three-month-old baby boy in Guatemala.
I’ll never forget that day and the following one when she handed me and Dad a photo of a dark-haired, smiling baby with bright brown eyes. I was in love instantly and am forever thankful beyond measure to your birth mother for making the ultimate sacrifice when she decided to place you with us.
I’m truly grateful for your life, how you’ve changed mine in so many amazing ways, and the beautiful country that made me a mother so many years ago. I can’t wait for our return trip together as a family this summer. Get ready for an adventure!
It’s hard to believe that I wrote that letter six years ago and that my “baby” is turning 15 this year. Wasn’t I just in high school yesterday? Sometimes I can’t get over the fact that I’m even a mom. There were times when I didn’t think it would happen because of the rollercoaster ride my husband and I took to become parents.
My earliest memory of adoption was meeting my best friend in elementary school. She was one of six children that were adopted both domestically and internationally. Brianna was born in Korea. I was fascinated with her diverse family and the baby photos on the wall in her home of Brianna and her brothers in their birth country’s traditional clothes. I loved spending my after-school time and having weekend sleepovers at her house getting to try the assortment of cultural foods and meals that her mom and older brother would prepare. I couldn’t handle the spice like Brianna could, but I sure did give it a try.
During my middle school and high school years, my mom’s youngest sister, my aunt Fran, was in the process of adopting my cousins from Guatemala. I’m not sure if I had heard much about this country before but I’d soon learn and eventually begin to share more and more about my findings. Studying Spanish helped me lend a hand at translating paperwork and updates that my aunt Fran and uncle John would receive from their adoption agency. I was the oldest cousin, and I had something special to offer in addition to an open invitation to babysit.
I remember gathering at the airport on the days of their homecomings. Our family made posters and had pom-poms in hand to celebrate and welcome my cousins to the United States! I spent lots of time hanging out with them when they were babies and toddlers and volunteered to attend the adoption agency’s cultural picnic one year. I even recall that I’d ask to read the agency newsletter they’d get in the mail. Every single time I had to choose a country to do a school report on or when I was applying to speak at high school graduation and leadership events and ceremonies, I’d always choose Guatemala and adoption.
I feel like somehow the universe had to be preparing me for my own family’s adoption. I always knew that there would be a chance due to endometriosis and numerous other female surgery-related surgeries and experiences that began from a very young age that I might not be able to carry a child. Years later, when the time came for my husband and I to build a family, we knew Guatemala was the right choice for us. Adoption was never a question. It was a gift.
“Life is a journey that must be traveled, no matter how bad the roads and accommodations.”
One of the many parts that was required to become a parent through adoption was an all-day training class. I didn’t understand why we had to take a class after such an extensive home study and letters of support from people close to us. Wasn’t that enough? But my husband and I went and took in all the information provided from our adoption agency’s social workers. During the lunch break, we met another couple that only lived fifteen minutes from us. The mom and I thought it would be a good idea to exchange email addresses to keep in touch during the long days of waiting that had just been explained to us in the conference room. In fact, in one of the monthly email updates about how our children were doing, we learned that their son and our son Luis were in the same foster home. We were overjoyed to know that these baby boys were being cared for by the same foster couple in Guatemala. They actually got to meet Luis in Guatemala before we did!
When the class ended, we headed to my hometown of Troy, New York. Celebrations are a big deal in my family, and we had one that evening for my grandmother’s 80th birthday. Upon arrival at my parent’s house, my mom and dad sat my younger brother and I down in the living room and she shared that when she was nineteen, she became pregnant with her boyfriend’s baby and that her parents forced her to make an adoption plan. She went away to another state to live with an aunt and had the baby and was counseled to never speak about it. Very few people knew. My brother and I were about to learn that the baby was now a grown-up man, living in Maine with his wife and their three boys. At the urging and encouragement of his wife, he made the decision to access his adoption records so he could learn more about his biological mother. I was blown away by this news. I’ve never been a fan of surprises and here was the ultimate shocker! I always felt like my mom was hiding something and I instantly apologized for the times when I’d joke with her about one of her sisters, my aunt Nancy, being my “real” mom because we were more alike than she and I were.
My brain was swirling with so many questions – what did he want from her? Did he need medical details for something? Having just come from an adoption training my mind was racing with what the reason could be. I found it difficult to concentrate and wanted to hug my mom because of what she went through as a young adult and for her entire life. I also was initially upset with my grandparents for making her go away.
My mom continued her story and told us that she was able to meet our half-brother a few weeks before telling us this news. She showed us pictures and did her best to explain about the reunion. His parents were having a difficult time with his decision to search, and I was able to sympathize with them. At the same time, I felt deeply for what my mom was going through. So much transpired from that discovery.
I began celebrating National Birth Mother’s Day. It is always on the Saturday before Mother’s Day to honor birth mothers and offer a show of support. It is a day to recognize the biological mothers of adopted children. I believe my personal history and actually having learned that my own mom was a birth mother prepared me for being able to handle this with my son and his desire to know more about his birth mother.
“Adoption is complicated, but it is also rich with narratives of strength.”
During our journey to become a family, we made three trips to Guatemala. Our first one was to visit when Luis was six months old. My husband and I decided to arrive in Guatemala a couple of days before the foster family would bring Luis to us at the hotel. We spent time taking tours of the old capital city of Antigua, the famous market in ChiChi, and even traveled to Lake Atitlán. It was important for us to get to know, see, smell, and taste everything about the country where our son was born so we could teach him about his birth country as he grew up.
When Luis was still not home with us at a year old, we made another trip to visit him. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Our agency did not allow multiple visit trips because they thought it disrupted the children. Well, my husband pleaded with our social worker, and we were able to go to Guatemala to be with Luis shortly after he turned one.
One thing I found myself praying for while going through our adoption process was someone my age that would just get the ups and downs of waiting and wishing and surviving the countdown to the time when our child would be at home with us. It was difficult to handle infertility at times, to feel alone among my peers that were getting pregnant and family members that bombarded me with invasive questions about the adoption. I’d cling to my computer hoping for an email with news.
God sent that friend to me. I truly believe it. The same woman from our adoption class had connected with another woman that lived near me and she shared with me her email. I reached out and we decided to meet for coffee. Looking back at our email chain, it is wild to see such hope for connection. I call her my Angel Friend.
We became close fast. We had a lot of interests and hobbies in common, our physical appearance as well and our age. I was praying for someone just like her. I encountered so many older women that while I was able to chat with, I didn’t have the connection of someone my age being unable to have a child. My Angel Friend Tina and I discovered that our children were exactly two months apart. We even found out that she and her husband would be traveling to Guatemala to bring their daughter home at the same time of our first birthday trip to see Luis. We thought it was serendipitous that we’d be in the country at the same time! They helped us celebrate Luis’ first birthday, and we got to witness their pick-up trip experience. The kids played together, and we swam and had family meals with each other. We’re still close today. In fact, we all celebrated at their daughter Ava’s Quinceanera this year.
Our final pick-up trip was in October of 2008. Paperwork and passports had been solidified. Luis was coming home! During all of our trips, I made sure to purchase handicrafts and souvenirs like worry dolls, brightly woven pieces, jade jewelry, and paintings. We have many of these displayed in our home today and enough Christmas ornaments to fill an entire tree! They bring joy to our home and our lives and are a reminder of Luis’ birth country.
“[Adoption] carries the added dimension of connection not only to your own tribe but beyond, widening the scope of what constitutes love, ties, and family. It is the larger embrace.”
When Luis was nine, we traveled back together to Guatemala with other adoptive families for a week-plus sightseeing trip. It was a magical vacation to explore more, to be with other families that looked like ours, and to be able to show Luis his homeland. The trip left quite an impression on us all. My aunt and cousin happened to be there at the same time for her first trip back since she was a baby! What a coincidence!
It was then that we planned to go back with the group they were with so we could experience my “bucket” list item of hosting a service team. So, when Luis was 12, we led Team Homecoming and fundraised, shopped for necessities, and were able to deliver bunk beds, school supplies, arts and crafts, and hygiene products to identified families in Guatemala. We also had the chance to visit artists, weavers, painters, crafters and culminated the trip with a community barbeque and soccer game with sponsored students. I witnessed so much love during this time.
After eleven days together, everyone made promises to begin planning for the following summer because we couldn’t wait to return–and then Covid-19 hit. A worldwide pandemic forced us to cancel our trip. I was devastated. We all were. I can’t imagine how the families in Guatemala felt that were looking forward to having our help again.
“If a mother and father can love more than one child…it only makes sense that a child can love more than one mom or dad.”
I’m so happy to share that in 2021 we were able to find my son Luis’ birth mom and connect with her via the WhatsApp video call service. We had tried for years to locate her. Pretty much from the moment Luis expressed an interest, I was utilizing my contacts from the Guatemalan adoption community to learn about searches and the steps to do one. Over the years, we worked with a couple of searchers, but they were not able to find her. They did uncover some details about a case of false identity on our adoption paperwork. This was common with Guatemalan adoptions. I wasn’t giving up hope though.
It wasn’t until this February of 2021, as we were finishing up my husband’s birthday dinner celebration when I got a Facebook message from another adoptive mom in my Guatemalan Families Group that everything really came together. See back in 2015, when Luis was eight years old, he had taken the 23andMe DNA test. When we got the results, we discovered a first cousin match. Most of the families I was in touch with had not found that close of a match and were excited for us!
We found out that his cousin had also been adopted. Through Facebook, I was able to connect with her mom and we formed a relationship in which she knew it was our desire to find Luis’ birth mom. She had told me that she had successfully connected with and met in person with her daughter’s biological mother. In fact, she texted and messaged with her regularly. I was determined to figure out how Luis and her daughter were connected. According to 23andMe, it was a maternal connection. I asked over the years for my friend to press her daughter’s birth mom for details about a possible sister or cousin that had placed a child for adoption. Now, please know, this is a very delicate scenario, oftentimes in Guatemala, birth mothers hid their pregnancies from families, covered the situation up, and were very scared to let anyone know about their situations.
Over the years I would check in with Luis’ cousin’s mom and let her know about the status of our search. Ultimately, it was her daughter’s amazing birth mother aka angel that made the connection with her own cousin who is in fact my son’s birth mom. She was ready to admit that she was the woman in the photograph we had and was willing to connect with us. I swear! It’s an Oprah story!
Once we confirmed with our current Searcher, we told Luis that we had in fact found his birth mom. He knew all along about our efforts and age-appropriate details—what a moment. I was joyous and so happy to be able to share this news with him. Having comforted him and witnessed his struggles I knew this was the answer to a lot of the uncertainty he felt.
Through our trusted partners and friends in Guatemala, we were able to facilitate a video chat to meet one another. Thank you, technology! Our angel traveled to Guatemala City to be with her cousin and meet with our Searcher. Joining the call was our Psychologist and Translator. It was about thirty minutes of smiles, tears, and questions. When it ended, more hugs, tears and journaling about the experience followed.
I was overjoyed and wanted to share the good news with our family and friends. I began to get a lot of questions, one of which included – Aren’t you afraid he’ll want to leave and go be with her? Sure, he desires to visit Guatemala again and connect in person with his birth mom. We can’t wait to make that happen. But as far as being afraid, nope. Not at all.
The message in my heart – There is plenty of love to go around.