Guest reviewer Laura-Lynne Powell is a former newspaper reporter who now writes for an online news publication on politics and public policy in Sacramento, Calif. She often writes about the experience of raising her two sons in open adoption.
Laura-Lynne reviews here the recently released book, Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir,* written by Jessica O’Dwyer and published by Seal Press. Jessica is the adoptive mother to two children born in Guatemala. Her essays have been published in the San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, Adoptive Families, West Marin Review, and the Marin Independent Journal; aired on radio; and won awards from the National League of American Pen Women. She has worked in public relations and marketing at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. She has also taught jazz dance and high school English.
“I’ve never given birth, but I know the exact moment when I became a mother, 10:00 a.m., September 6, 2002.” So begins Jessica O’Dwyer’s compelling memoir, Mamalita, a beautifully written account of her harrowing attempt to adopt a baby from Guatemala.
In that opening scene, O’Dwyer and her husband Tim, a dermatologist from Northern California, are in the lobby of Guatemala City’s Camino Real hotel along with other Americans adopting Guatemalan babies when she is presented an infant who is not the one they have come to adopt . Eventually the mix-up is resolved and O’Dwyer meets her Stefany Mishell, a baby she recognizes by the shape of one ear she has studied for so long in a photograph back home.
Yet the scene foretells of troubles to come as O’Dwyer and her husband learn their court papers haven’t been properly filed and their adoption is delayed for weeks and then for months. Frustrated as Stefany Mishell languishes in a foster home, O’Dwyer makes the desperate decision to quit her job and move to Guatemala.
Realizing she and her husband may have been duped by unscrupulous facilitators O’Dwyer must decide if she has the courage to disregard their ominous threats and negotiate the convoluted and corrupted adoption system on her own. The one thing she knows for sure is she will not leave the country without her daughter.
Mamalita is part expose that sheds light on a system offering few protections to adopting parents and ultimately harms the most innocent and vulnerable, children waiting for homes. It is also part travelogue – a lovingly composed ode to the landscape and people O’Dwyer learns to love.
As O’Dwyer’s heart opens to Guatemala and its people, she courageously faces the option of openness in foreign adoption. Guatemala is one of the rare countries that provides biographical information on birth parents, thus allowing for the possibility of contact. In some of the most poignant passages of the book, O’Dwyer embarks on a second, equally dangerous journey, to connect to the woman who brought her daughter into the world.
Mamalita is a suspenseful page-turner, a poetic tribute to all the tribulations that brought her daughter into her life and an exploration on the impact of openness even in foreign adoption.
List price: $16.95. Amazon price:* $11.29
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