That’s how it feels when you are waiting to adopt and you get the call that you have been matched with expectant parents, when you hold your son or daughter and look into their eyes, or when you carry your new baby into your home for the very first time. That’s how it feels, I would imagine, whether you adopt or give birth.
Instant Mom is also the title of a new book by actress/director/author Nia Vardalos that is being released April 2, 2013. Nia writes about her journey through her struggles with infertility, to her exploration of various adoption avenues, and ultimately to the adoption of her daughter through the U.S. foster care system.
Our friends, Barb and John, recently became parents through adoption as well. Barb and I were talking about an excerpt from Nia’s book that was recently featured in Adoptive Families magazine. After both of us mentioned that we were excited to read Instant Mom, I found Nia’s Facebook page and started reading her posts. One of the posts mentioned that she was looking for mom bloggers, dad bloggers, parenting bloggers, and parenting sites to review an advance copy of her book on their blogs. As I read the comments, I noticed that one of the bloggers asked if she could interview Nia as well. I posted a link to my blog and commented that I would love to participate. I emailed the contact person, and I somehow I got up the nerve to ask if it would be possible to interview Nia as well!
In her book, Nia writes about a moment when she was doing her one-woman stage production of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” She recalls how her favorite actor, Tom Hanks, was sitting in the front row of the theater waiting to watch her performance. She was overwhelmed and excited, to say the least. She decided that “in 75 minutes I could either be really proud of myself or really mad at myself…it was my choice. I was in control.” I felt like that in that moment – that I could either be bold and request an interview or be reluctant and wonder what would have happened “if only” I had worked up the nerve. I was told that a book was on its way to my home and that, yes, I could definitely set up an interview!
My heart was pounding!
The book arrived on Monday, and I read late into the night (after all of the normal things we had to do like dinner, bath, and bedtime for Zoe.) I reluctantly went to bed somewhere around 2:00 a.m. and continued to read when I could over the next two days. I finished the book Wednesday evening. And Wednesday night around 11:30pm I checked my messages and found an email from Nia Vardalos’ contact who asked me if I was available to interview Nia at 10:30am PST on Friday, March 22nd.
I was beyond excited/nervous/and squealing with joy about this interview! I’ll get back to that in just a bit, but first, here’s my review of Nia’s book, Instant Mom.
“We’ve been waiting a long time for someone like you.” That’s what the social workers said to Nia Vardalos when she asked them why she hadn’t been aware of all of the children that are in foster care awaiting adoption. The foster care system needed an advocate – someone who could promote and discuss foster care adoption in a positive light. They found that advocate in Nia. In addition to her writing, she is also the National Adoption Day spokesperson and she continues to speak out about the children that are in our foster care system.
Nia draws you into her story from the very beginning as she writes about her infertility struggles during the filming of her movies. She uses her films as a timeline to guide the reader through the book but also to explain where she was in her professional vs. private life. I found it very easy to relate to the frustrations of going through infertility treatments and the determination to continue month after month. I know the heartbreak of when yet another cycle fails, but I also know the hope (like Nia) that the next one will be the cycle that ends with a positive test result.
After much time going through infertility treatments, Nia and her husband, actor Ian Gomez, made the decision to explore adoption. She writes about their research on domestic adoption, private adoption, international adoption, and the use of facilitators and how they pursued many of those different avenues. They continued to wait to be matched. After taking time to grieve and a break from the waiting, ultimately they decide to pursue adoption from the American foster care system.
The story unfolds as Nia describes the process of foster care adoption and the steps that led them to their almost 3 year old daughter. Nia’s sense of humor is present throughout the book (I laughed out loud many times), but what comes across even more than that is her heart – her story is so meaningful because she writes with such honesty. I cried as she described meeting her daughter for the very first time. Tears fell again as I read about their Adoption Day, the day they finalized their daughter’s adoption in court. She includes the heartbreaking moments right alongside the joyous ones. As an adoptive mom, I can relate to the moments we have in common – the moment we got “the call” that we were matched, the moment we saw our child for the very first time, the moment we held our daughter in our arms and just let the weight of her sink into them. The moments that just felt right and like they were meant to be all along.
This is not just a story about adoption, though; it’s a story about hope and longing and finding joy in what you were looking for…it’s a story about not giving up and about finding contentment. Adoptive parents will be able to relate to the adoption storyline, but other parents and readers without children will find that they can connect to Nia’s story on many other levels as well.
Nia and her husband have been very private about their personal life but decided that a book like this could really help others who are considering adopting a child. Not only does she share their experiences; she also shares the information she learned along the way. The back of the book includes in appendix filled with information on all types of adoption.
I was very excited to read this book because my husband, Steve, and I have wanted to learn more about the foster care system and how it works. I have always liked Nia’s movies as well, and just knew that I would love her writing style. I was excited to read how her daughter found them and how they found her. It has given me a lot to consider and a lot to think about – not just about adoption but about finding happiness and contentment in different ways. If you are looking for a book to make you laugh and cry and feel happiness and hope, you will want to read Nia’s book.
At 1:35pm on Friday, March 23, I had the honor of interviewing Nia. She called me and we talked for about 20 minutes about her new book and adoption-related questions. I was so extremely excited about the opportunity to speak with her! Here is my interview:
Wendy: I wanted to tell you that I got the book Monday. I read until 2 am and couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore and then read more the next night and finished it. Then I started re-reading it again last night, and I just love your book.
Nia: Thank you so much. Thank you.
Wendy: It’s wonderful. My husband and I – we went through infertility ourselves, and we became parents through adoption, too, and we have a 3 year old named Zoe. Just reading your story brought back so much – the memories of what we went through, and the memory of how fantastic it was to get “the call.” I could just relate to quite a bit of it, so I wanted to thank you so much for writing it.
Nia: Thank you. I am finding that people who have been through it are relating to it, but that also people who don’t even want to be parents are seeing it as a story of hope and that’s so interesting because you actually don’t really know how you come across until you hear what people, you know, peoples’ reflections, so it’s interesting to me.
Wendy: Oh, sure, it definitely is. I know I’ve already told so many people in my family…well, my sisters have already told me they are next in line to borrow the book, and my mom is ready to read it, everybody…I think it’s great if you’ve been touched by adoption or not, a lot of people are going to want to read it.
My first question was when you decided that you were going to move away from going through treatment and start towards adoption, you ultimately decided to go through foster adoption and that’s how your daughter came to you. How did you know at that moment that that’s what you wanted to do - that you wanted to do foster care?
Nia: I honestly think that for each person you know, sort of that quiet voice inside you what’s right for you. It’s the same way that when we were in high school and some kids just naturally gravitated towards playing basketball…and I was in theater class. We know what feels like a natural fit, and I see it now with my own daughter with what she is gravitating to and not. For some strange reason, when I talked with that facilitator and heard about U.S. Foster Care and that there were older children and that they were legally free, you know I asked all of the typical questions…like wait, wait, I said someone could be placed with me and then reunited with their birth family and she said no. And I said ‘what?’ That was a very interesting moment for me because it felt right. And that’s what I’m trying to say with offering the back of the book with the 25 or so pages of how to adopt. Anywhere that you think your child might be…some people have always had a fascination with Japan and then end up going there. Why? Why is it? So I think we’re supposed to just listen to these little messages we’re getting…
Wendy: Listen to our heart – which way you’re being pulled…
Wendy: When you talked about going through the foster care system, you talked about how you used a Foster Family Agency, too. I don’t really know a lot about that, but my husband and I are actually considering doing foster adoption for our next adoption. I thought that was really interesting. Could you tell us how did using that kind of agency help you?
Nia: It was absolutely the thing that sped the process along. It was so incredible how I was swimming around lost and that’s what I’m hoping this book offers to people who just go ‘Wait, I don’t know… I don’t know what’s credible. I’m reading things on the internet. I don’t know what is a real site or what could lure me to a place that’s not right. All these phrases, all of these terms I don’t understand.” That’s what the foster social care workers did for me. They sat me down, answered all my questions: What’s a home study? What’s a home study worker? Are you accredited? What’s your educational background? You know, just all these questions that I asked of them, and they patiently explained the process to me and then it all made sense. As I say, I believed them. They said, “You will be a mother within this year.” I was like, “uh-huh.”
Wendy: That’s amazing. I think it’s great that there are agencies like that, that can help because it’s so overwhelming when you start and you read books or research online but you can get very easily overwhelmed by the amount of information or lack of information.
Nia: Yes, yes, I tried to speak sort of in terms of if you are just picking this book up for the first time, just thinking about adoption for the first time, I tried to speak in terms that – you know, what I didn’t understand but sometimes I go back and I explain again what the difference is between a private agency and an adoption agency because it’s confusing. It is. But what I love about Foster Family Agencies, which again sounds like Foster Agencies, confusing, it’s a free service. In every state. All of you have to do is do an internet search on ‘foster family agency’ and yours will come up in your state.
Wendy: That’s great. My next question has to do with after becoming a parent. What is one of your favorite moments of being a new parent?
Nia: I’m going to say the sense of purpose I feel every day. I used to wake up and think of various things that I had to get written or interviews I was going to do and none of that even enters my mind now. First thing I think of is her. What did she eat? How was last night? How did she sleep? How much time do we have before school? You know, just everything. What is she into? Should I bring up that thing she told me about last night that’s bothering her at school? Everything. It’s the sense of purpose that’s so fun. She’s just this really interesting creature that is right beside me, usually naked.
Wendy: Is she eight now? Or nine?
Wendy: It’s wonderful, too, how every different age is, how they change, and how their personality changes and how funny they are…I don’t know…it’s great.
Nia: I’ll bet Zoe is like you and your husband, right?
Wendy: You know, we have kooky senses of humor, and yeah, she’s got that. She’s very goofy and silly and she’s wonderful. I can’t imagine life without her.
(Nia’s dog barked a few times in the background here. I don’t know why exactly, but I thought that was pretty cool…I’m guessing she was calling from her home.)
I know in your book you talked about how before your daughter arrived, you dreamed of her. You thought about her and you kind of saw a picture of her. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Nia: I worried, well, not worried, but I thought ‘Oh boy, I’m going to put this in and then everyone is going to think that I’m a “wacktress” for the rest of my life.
Nia: No? But I did. I really did. I don’t know why but even when they told me of the ethnic background of certain children, I would be open to it, sounds great, even if they showed me a picture and they didn’t have blonde streaks in their hair, I’d say ‘yup, that sounds great’, let’s investigate if that child is legally free…and I can’t explain I kept having the dream and I never connected that I was looking for that child until I saw that child.
Wendy: Aw…that’s so amazing.
Nia: It’s crazy.
Wendy: In the part of the book where you talked about how the social worker asked you and your husband what type of child are you hoping to adopt and he mentioned bringing home a daughter as well, that had me getting so teary-eyed, too, you know? Just that you both had that image…it’s just pretty amazing.
Nia: It’s so strange. Yes, I think he, I think men in general, try to sort of hold emotions at bay and it’s not a criticism. It’s an observation in the way that they are raised. Even the most loving, sensitive, attentive ones like my husband have been socialized to be men . I think sometimes that they think that things if they are going to be difficult or painful they sort of not think about them. Whereas with women, we tend to take things out and examine them…and re-examine them.
Nia: That’s indicated with a breakup, a guy just never wants to talk again…
Nia: But the woman is like, “Let’s talk…what happened?”
Nia: And I think that that was surprising to me because it indicated to me that Ian had been thinking about it and he saw a little girl.
Wendy: Aw…it’s wonderful! When you talked about adopting and the possibility of adopting, too, I know you are really close with your family from everything that I read in your book. They were excited I’m sure…were they very supportive along the way? How did they react?
Nia: They had varying degrees of reaction based on how much information I was telling them, but they were always supportive. I said to my mom, “You know, we’re on the waiting list for China, and that might work” and she said, “Oh I hope so!” And just didn’t miss a beat. Nothing. Nothing. She didn’t say, “Well, I heard that China is closing their doors and it’s difficult” or she just never nay-sayed anything I told her.
Wendy: That’s wonderful to have that kind of a support system.
Wendy: Do you talk with [your daughter] about her adoption or does she bring it up to you?
Nia: She does not bring it up, and I read in a book that I should bring it up.
Wendy: I wondered if you do…
Nia: I do. I do. And not always . Not every day. But something for example, we had a fish. He died. His name was Nemo. And we got another fish, and his name is Nemo 2. And so, I said to her, “Hey, do you think maybe you had a fish when you lived with your birth family?” And she said immediately, “Yes, I did!” and I’m sure she doesn’t remember if she did, but it was her way of yes, ending what I was saying, and my way of acknowledging she’s the same person in the same life, and she is now with us. This is her home and she said, “I did and so that was Nemo 1.” And I said, “Okay, so the fish who died was Nemo 2.” So she just came to the conclusion by herself, “So this is Nemo 3.” I said “Okay, great.” But that’s my way of bringing it up and then occasionally we’ll grieve it, we’ll talk about, but she doesn’t have a picture of them, and I don’t know their names and things like that.
Wendy: Oh, okay.
Nia: She knows that the file is sealed until we’re all ready to learn about it. We’re just really honest with her.
Wendy: Sure, I think that’s the best way to go about it so that there aren’t surprises when they are older. You know, it’s just always been a part of their story and who they are. Something I have been thinking about, and Zoe is – she’s 3 so she’s in preschool – but your daughter is in elementary school now, I’m sure…have you had to do projects like family trees and things like that?
Wendy: How do you handle that when that comes up?
Nia: That’s so interesting because obviously that’s not in the book (end of sentence removed…possible spoiler,) but we have had the most interesting experience with that because the school asked us to bring in baby pictures and we don’t have them…just little things like that, so we addressed it. We just went to school and told them. They were great about it and then [she] had to present herself in a…it’s called the “Star of the Week” where you talk about your life and - we had - she had her earliest pictures with us and her Adoption Day and she flat out told the class, just by herself. “This is my Adoption Day. I lived with another family first. This is my real mom and dad.” So it was just through discussion with her and her teachers that it worked.
Wendy: Well, it’s good that you can talk to them about it and work out something that’s going to work for everyone– because every family is different. It’s good that they were willing to work with that, too. Kind of along those lines of school and friends and things like that, in our circle of friends, we have several people we know who have adopted, too, and so we get together with them and it’s great for us to talk and it’s also great for our daughter to have friends who were adopted as well. Do you have that in your circle of friends?
Nia: Yes, in the extended circle but not in the Core.
Wendy: Oh, okay, I wondered about that. If they were people that you could talk to if you had concerns or your daughter could, that kind of thing? But it sounds like maybe they’re not as close by?
Nia: Yes, one of her – as you know Kathy Najimy and Dan Finnerty – are really close and Dan’s adopted.
Wendy: Oh, that’s right, I remember that from the book.
Nia: Yeah, he talks to her about it a lot, and it’s really great.
Wendy: Aw, that’s very great. You wrote a little bit in the book about how when the media touches on about adoption it’s sometimes or more often can be negative or maybe [there can be]misconceptions about it, and I think writing books like yours is a great way to stop those misconceptions or change the impression people have. Is there anything else that you can think of that as an adoption community – parents, obviously adoptees, birthparents – how can we change negative stories or negative misconceptions?
Nia: I think that’s exactly what my goal was – to try to dispel the myth and to counter the negative stories with the positive ones that I have seen with my own eyes. That’s what I was hoping to do with the book, just get it out there so that next time there is a negative story, they’ll have to say, “However, in Nia Vardalos’ book, she points out…” to give a point-counterpoint right there to stop scaring people away from adoption.
Wendy: I think that’s great because it’s hard when you start and you are trying to get information and you’ll hear great stories but then you’ll hear one story that is so incredibly sad or so scary to you. You want there to be those positive stories out there so that people know that side of it.
Nia: Yes! Yes, exactly.
Wendy: I wanted to ask you, too, about what advice you would give to someone who wanted to write about their own adoption experience because it’s something in the back of my mind that I’ve thought about but, you know, how hard was it for you? How did you decide what to share and what not to share?
Nia: Oh, it was very hard for me. It was terrifying and yet exhilerating, and yet I feel that it is the body of work that I’ve written that I’m the most proud of. It definitely surpasses the My Big Fat Greek Wedding screenplay, Connie and Carla, even getting a happy gay story out there…No, it still is the best thing I think that has ever come out of me because it’s from my heart and it’s truthful and it’s as fearless as I’ve ever been. So I would say again don’t tell anyone you’re doing it. Don’t listen to the nay-sayers. Just sit down and write. And I think anyone wanting to write about it, you’ll be surprised how it will come out of you It’s cathartic.
Wendy: When you were writing, what was the best thing you found about writing your book?
Nia: That I was able to put it behind me, finally. I had had a pretty melancholy day, and then I would close the computer, walk out of my office, go pick up my daughter, and be fine. Be absolutely fine. It was, I think, a way of finally closing that – metaphor – chapter.
Wendy: Along the way, was there anybody who – well, I don’t know how much you shared about how you were writing it – but I wondered if there was anybody who didn’t want you to write the book?
Nia: No, I didn’t tell very many people that I had a book deal, so I rarely talk about things as I’m writing them. That’s one thing. But the main thing I did with this book was only Ian and one of my representatives read it. I waited until it was printed to give it to anybody because I wanted to write unfettered by concern, critique, anything.
Wendy: That makes sense.
Nia: Yes, I just wanted it to be a pure idea like My Big Fat Greek Wedding was. I wrote and then sold it. But that’s not how it’s done these days. Like I have a movie at Paramount. I told them the idea, they paid me, and now I’m writing it.
Wendy: Oh, okay.
Nia: Yeah, it’s different. Already they’ve given me their thoughts. Ooh, I like this scene. I’m not sure about this character. But that’s there perogative.
Nia: Oh, and by the way I will retweet your story, but can you avoid any spoilers in it like my daughter’s name or anything like that?
Wendy: Sure, sure!
Nia: Great, and then send it to me. I’m trying to be more attentive to Twitter during this time and then I’ll try and re-tweet it.
Wendy: Do you think that you’ll ever do a movie about your story?
Nia: We’ve been approached!
Wendy: Oh, that’s wonderful!
Nia: Yeah! I don’t mean the real we, my manager at Paradigm and my manager, Scott, [got] a couple of calls because the reviews have been so good so far that all of a sudden people are like, “What’s this book?” So, yeah!
Wendy: That’s wonderful!
Nia: I’m open to it. We’ll see…I think it makes a better book.
Wendy: That’s great. That’s fantastic. Congratulations!
Wendy: The only other thing I wanted to say was…Do you have a book tour that you are planning as well?
Nia: Yes, it’s a HEAVY book tour. It is New York, New Jersey, Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Greensboro…it’s all over the place. And Los Angeles. Where are you?
Wendy: I’m outside of Detroit, Michigan.
Nia: Okay, I’m not sure if we’re going there this leg or the next leg, but I’ll let you know. I’m going to post the book tour dates very soon as soon as they’re solidified. I have to go because I have to start a live interview at 11:00am.
Wendy: Well, okay, good luck with it and good luck with the book – it’s fantastic and thank you so much for your time!
Nia: Oh, thank you so so much for getting the word out – it’s lovely to speak with you.
Wendy: You, too. Thank you!
Being given the opportunity to read Instant Mom, review it, and speak with Nia Vardalos has really inspired me, and I hope that she inspires you, too!
Please leave a comment and let me know how you found my blog/link and tell me about your connection to adoption! Thanks so much!