“Harrowing, moving. Deftly handled.”
“A scathing critique on a foreign adoption system and the harrowing account of one woman’s fight against it.”
“A richly written book, part thriller, part love story, part exposé. A cautionary tale.”
–Adoptive Families Magazine
“Regardless of age or intent, this is a riveting read.”
“I’ve never given birth,” writes O’Dwyer, “but I know the exact moment when I became a mother: 10:00A.M., September 6, 2002”—the moment she and her husband sat in a hotel lobby, awaiting the infant girl they hoped to adopt. Yet this celebratory moment was soon overshadowed by the corrupt Guatemalan adoption system. The author recounts her initial naiveté, how she and her husband shelled out vast amounts of money to adoption facilitators and notarios in order to assist them in wading through the red tape of a foreign adoption. Yet nearly two years and thousands of dollars later, O’Dwyer and her husband remained no closer to their goal. Rather than continue her transcontinental flights, the author quit her job and moved to Antigua to focus on her daughter’s adoption full time. This decision led her into the dark side of adoption, a seedy terrain in which she was forced to weave through the barbs of a system set up to exploit the most money and resources from potential parents. Armed only with her elementary-level Spanish, she was forced to rely on a small band of trustworthy Guatemalan officials and potential American mothers struggling through the same experience. Her obsessive quest was constantly hampered by paperwork, signatures, DNA tests and countless other bureaucratic pitfalls. But despite the tragic circumstances, the optimistic author tells a hopeful tale in which she viewed every procedural misstep as a step leading her closer to her daughter.
A scathing critique on a foreign adoption system and the harrowing account of one woman’s attempt to fight it.
O’Dwyer’s harrowing and moving journey to adopt a Guatemalan baby offers a look into one person’s experience in the frustratingly convoluted process of adopting from unscrupulous “facilitators.” O’Dwyer had gone through an early divorce and menopause at age 32 before marrying Tim, a divorced dermatologist over 50. They put together an adoption dossier and found an L.A. agency that promised a quick adoption while cutting the bureaucratic red tape. Intent on adopting a certain “Stefany Mishell” (they fell in love with from her online photo), the desperate couple soon discovered that the agency’s methods were dilatory and sloppy, neglecting the important legal paperwork, such as filing the requisite DNA test, and using shady notarios (private attorneys), so that in the end the promised six-month adoption extended over a year. Moreover, O’Dwyer’s occasional visits to Guatemala, where she met Stefany’s foster family and spent a weekend with the baby at the Camino Real hotel in Guatemala City, turned into a permanent residency, as she moved to a city north of the capital, Antiqua, to live with Stefany (now Olivia) until family court finalized the adoption. Dealing with the greedy foster family, managing the baby’s early separation anxiety, navigating the middlemen and interminable waiting are all deftly handled in O’Dwyer’s somber tale.
“On one level, Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir is the story of a woman’s fight to bring home her Guatemalan-born daughter, in the face of huge obstacles. But Jessica O’Dwyer has written more than an adoption story. Her book explores the nature of parenthood—the fierce love and loyalty that makes it possible for us to do more than we ever knew we were capable of, inspired by the presence of more love than we knew we had to give. It’s a terrific adventure story with an unlikely heroine who discovers, through her fight for her child, that she is stronger and braver than she ever knew. I was rooting for her all the way through to the book’s gripping and deeply moving ending.”
- Joyce Maynard, author of Labor Day, At Home in the World, To Die For
“As an adoptive mother to two teens born in Latin America, I couldn’t put Mamalita down. This honest and balanced memoir reveals the challenges and rewards of international adoption like no other book I’ve ever read. I recommend it to anyone involved in adoption—adoptive parent or child, birth mother or foster parent—and for those who wonder what it feels like to be part of that experience. Mamalita brings the tumultuous yet uplifting journey alive. A must-read.”
- Leceta Chisholm Guibault, adoptive mother of two teenagers born in Latin America, Board Member of the Adoption Council of Canada (1999-2009), Staff Member of The TIES Program (Adoptive Families Homeland Journeys), Recipient of an Adoption Advocate Award