When I started the process to adopt from Guatemala, I knew that there was a strong possibility that I would meet the birthmother. The majority of Guatemalan adoptions are relinquishment cases where the birthmother gets to know the in-country facilitator or attorney. I was excited about the prospect as I thought it would be good for my child to know something about her birthmother.
Unlike some other countries, Guatemala has no minimum-stay requirement. All of the processing has been completed prior to the arrival of the adoptive parent and the adoption is legally complete. All you need is a day in Guatemala City to go to the U.S. Embassy and apply for a visa for your adopted child. The visa is issued that same afternoon and you are free to return home as soon as you can catch a flight. With such tight timing, there’s not much room for a visit with the birthmother. In my case, I was traveling alone and my three-year-old daughter, Pearl, was at home waiting for me. I was to arrive on a Monday night and leave on a Wednesday morning. That meant Tuesday was Embassy day and the only day I would have to meet Ana’s birthmother.
I had told my U.S. facilitator that I wanted to meet the birth mother. We weren’t sure it would be possible because the in-country facilitator who coordinates with the birthmoms was out of the country. Her 20-year-old son, Gerson, was handling cases in her absence.
I arrived in Guatemala on the evening of Monday, February 24, 2003. A cab was waiting for me to take me to the host family’s house. I met with Gerson to go over the required paperwork. I let him know that I wanted to meet the birth mother and he said he would try.
I met my daughter that night while I was filling out more paperwork. It was exciting, scary, and tense. I went over my questions with the foster mother and then had to get back to Gerson and his paperwork. All that was going on scared poor little Ana but she held up well and managed to get to sleep.
We took care of the visa application the next morning and when I saw Gerson I again asked him about meeting the birthmother. He gave me the same vague answer. But, while having lunch at my host family’s house, the doorbell rang. It was Ana’s birthmother, Ana Rosario. I was tingling all over and couldn’t believe I was meeting her. She was somewhat shy and reserved but had a lot to say. She was sweet and also sad at having to give up Ana. In fact, she cried most of the time we were together. She was dressed in western clothes, a black skirt and a V-neck knit top that didn’t quite cover her bra. Poor little Ana was confused by everything. She had been relinquished when she was six months old and, after four months in foster care, it appeared that she no longer recognized her birthmother. Ana sat on her birthmother’s lap and mostly cried along with her birthmother.
I took some pictures and then I asked her if I could videotape her. I told her she could watch the videotape and we did that together. Her message on the video is short, but it will be a gift to Ana as she grows up. First, she wanted Ana to know that she would always love her and would always have her in her heart. She said that she hoped that someday Ana will understand how difficult things were for her and how she was just too poor to raise her. She said that maybe Ana will be able to forgive her for relinquishing her. She also asked for Ana to come back to Guatemala someday to visit: “There are many people in Guatemala who love her and who will always love her.”
She told me a little about her family and it turns out that Ana is named for her mother (Ana) and her mother’s sister (Isabel). I’m even more pleased that I kept Ana’s birth name and the birthmother was, too. I was in tears most of the time while I was taping her message. She was such a sweet, likable, and poor woman who, as a single mom, just couldn’t get the resources together to make it all happen. (Ana’s birthmother probably earned about $100 a month as a domestic. When she went back to work, she had to stop breastfeeding. A month of formula would cost $75.)
I had a list of prepared questions that I wanted to ask her and we got to go through most of them. I found out some important information—such as Ana’s maternal grandmother dying of ovarian cancer 13 years ago. I don’t know if there is a hereditary component to that but it is good to know. I was thrilled to learn that Ana was breastfed for five months and got to experience the loving bond that comes with breastfeeding.
Ana’s birthmother told me one chilling story that illustrated how desperate her family was. After about five months, she went back to work. She said the family was forcing her to pay a lot of money to take care of Ana and she had to go to work at a bad place. (I didn’t query her on what it was or why it was bad.) One day, she didn’t have any money for milk. When she came home from work, the family had sold Ana’s earrings to pay for milk. Wow. I could tell it hurt the birthmother that Ana’s earrings had been sold. She said that that was when she realized she would have to go through with an adoption plan.
I don’t know if I can accurately convey here what it was like to meet Ana’s birthmother. It was almost more spectacular than meeting Ana, I think because I knew it would be fleeting. I cherish the memory of that sweet woman and I hope I can relay that to Ana as she grows up. I plan to send pictures periodically and to someday come back for a visit and go to Mazatenango where Ana was born.