Funny lady Nia Vardalos never intended to become a spokesperson for any cause, and valued her privacy. But after providing counsel for a woman grappling with the same infertility issues she'd had to deal with, she knew she could make a difference. In “Instant Mom,” Vardalos shares her story. Here's an excerpt.
This is the before-I-Start-Typing Prologue
To be honest, I’m sweating like I’ve just accidentally bought pot cookies in a tiny foreign municipality with faint ties to the UN.
So I get up and walk around my office.
I’m really perspiring. But like many of us, I don’t exude that sexy JLo gyrating in a music video golden-hued glow. No. When I’m anxious, I have a gray, sallow pallor and a shiny upper lip of sweat beads glistening through a stubborn mustache that won’t respond to the gabillion dollars I’ve spent on laser treatments.
Great. Now my forehead is oily. By tomorrow I will grow a new zit there, and my husband will start the day speaking directly to it.
I pause now and open a window. Breathing deeply, I think about going downstairs to the kitchen. Again.
I can’t stop stalling. Stalling is a euphemism for snacking.
In the kitchen, I grab celery sticks and mineral water. Okay, fine, that’s a complete fabrication and what the romantic-comedy movie version of me would do. In reality I gobble down a Yoo-hoo and a Ho Ho.
Back in my office, I sit down again and stare at this page.
Writing a book is unfamiliar territory for me.
When My Big Fat Greek Wedding came out, I politely demurred to the kind requests to write a career memoir. My two reasons were simple: I’d feel like a blowhard dispensing industry advice. And as some film critics would agree, I don’t know much.
I don’t want to write some career memoir with a quaint title in ironic font, like I’m Not Pretty But I’m Photogenic. Hmmm, how about You’re Never Too Fat for a New Purse? I do love purses. Most ladies know we can upgrade a dull outfit or gloomy mood just switching out a purse. Could I simply write about my accessories mania . . ?
I’m stalling again. Since typing the first paragraph, I have gotten up three times for snacks. Not good. Maybe I can walk off these extra calories by pacing. I’m trying that now. I’m walking through the house. My dogs are following me as if we’re all in the love montage of a Disney movie.
I worry if I’m doing the right thing in telling this story.
When the adoption of our daughter was finalized, I too-tight hugged our superb social workers and asked one question: for all those years, why didn’t I know about the kids in foster care waiting for parents?” Their reply was carefully put: “Well . . . we’ve been waiting a long time for someone like you.”
They needed a spokesperson. They needed an advocate. They needed a blabbermouth like me.
But I like privacy.
However, like many movie reviewers and studio heads, I often wondered why success of my first movie happened to me. Well, maybe this is the reason. Maybe I’m supposed to be using my big mouth to talk about adoption.
Sometimes if something scares me, I lean right into it. I’m not a brave person—I’m more of a fearless idiot.
So I became the spokesperson for National Adoption Day. I live in Los Angeles, and flew many times to New York to do press. But because I was firm with show producers that I wouldn’t reveal anything about my fertility struggle or regarding my daughter, they would allot me only a few minutes of airtime after twenty minutes of a booted-off dancing contestant dissing the judges, or a reality celebrity talking about her sex tape.
I get it. Facts and figures about adoption are not sexy. Celebrities doing it with each other is good TV. We like those segments. It’s comforting to stand around in our faded housecoats, spooning our tasteless cereal and squinting at morning TV through last night’s flaked mascara while declaring everyone a slut. And we all buy those magazines and peer at pictures of celebrities without makeup. Come on, you have a subscription and so do I. We validate and support the salacious aspect of media we complain about for being so focused on negativity and tacky subjects.Video: Nia Vardalos encourages adoption (on this page)
So when it comes to adoption—if there’s an irresponsible foster parent or a kid whose home placement didn’t work out, the media jumps on that story because fear sells newspapers. Anxiety makes us tune in. And we do.
I couldn’t play the drama game; I couldn’t give those talk-show producers my personal backstory, the tragic theater they needed for a must-see segment. I only wanted to tell nice stories. I needed to talk about how in the world of adoption, I have met astonishingly good people who strive to make a difference. I’ve met great kids living in kind foster homes, who eventually age out of the system without a family to call their own. I have met people whose heart aches to be parents, who don’t know the ways to adopt. Studies have shown worldwide there are as many prospective parents as adoptable children. But some think they don’t have the financial means to adopt. Numerous people can’t find credible information on how to adopt. Countless prospective parents are waiting to be “matched.” I was once in that position.
More in books
I now know the many ways to become a parent. Sure, some methods are expensive and time-consuming, some can lead to heart-break. Some work for many. Some don’t. And some are amazingly simple and accessible to everyone. One way worked for me.
I don’t want to come across as proponent for motherhood for all women. Of course it’s not for everyone. Needless to say, it’s completely possible to live a wholly splendid life without children. I won’t send my gender careening back into the Dark Ages with any suggestions that we’re unfulfilled without motherhood. This applies to men too. Of course parenthood isn’t for everyone. It’s a choice. While there is pressure on all of us to get married and have babies, it would be absurd to suggest it’s the right fit for everyone. So the book isn’t saying that at all.
In the same way, when I was having difficulty becoming a mother, I was assured by good friends and my supportive family that I could be happy without parenthood. Observing my completely fulfilled professional friends and family who did not have children, I tried to accept this was what was intended for me.
But I wanted a family and had to walk over hot coals to find my daughter.
Being a mother . . . actually being my daughter’s mother has changed me. My daughter filled a raggedy hole in my heart. She is the love of my life.
When (brace yourself for a humblebrag) I received an award in Washington, in my speech, I vowed to continue to spread the word about adoption. Inwardly, I knew the reality: it’s been tricky to get the word out. But the occasions I was given more airtime, like on The View and The Talk, yielded incredibly positive results. The director of a child-placement agency told me they got so many hits, their site crashed. She said, “Keep talking, the kids are flying out the door.”
But how do I keep talking? As I said, it’s not like the morning talk-show circuit is itching to have me dryly list facts and figures about adoption. I’m not getting starring roles in hipster movies that will yield more talk-show bookings. I don’t want to get airtime by making a sex tape with someone in celebrity rehab. I mean, not right now. So I wondered how I could disseminate adoption information.
Both (here comes some name-dropping) Katie Couric and Joy Behar urged me to write an adoption book about my real experience. I said “I’d think it over,” which is my polite way of shrieking, “No waaaaaaaaaaaay.”
Then it happened: a friend asked me to counsel her friend who was going through infertility. I hesitated. The mutual friend’s entreating expression affected me, reminding me I was once in that position, reaching out for help. So I met with the woman. In a private, quiet setting, we began to talk, she told me her story . . . then she asked what had happened to me. And . . . I told her my story. I chronicled the events that led me to adoption. I told her the truth and understood why I hadn’t wanted to tell the real story before. It’s because I am an inherently optimistic person and I wanted to move on from that bleak time, not revisit it.
I am absurdly happy now because I am a mom. But I could see this woman was still so angry about her fertility experience. I told her the futility she was feeling would pass. We were quiet for a bit, both wishing she could accelerate forward to that better time. She then asked me to tell her how to adopt. I outlined what had taken me years to learn about the world’s adoptions systems—which routes were expensive, which were time-consuming, which foreign sites were shams, which weren’t. I told her how to do it.
Months later, the woman called me again. She had adopted a baby boy from Ohio, and the joy in her voice made me ecstatic. I walked around all day beaming like I’d just found a Twizzler in my coat pocket. Next I counseled a couple—and they adopted a four-year-old boy from another country. They I set up a gay friend with a Foster Family Agency—he is in the process of adoption a teenage girl.
I’m not telling you this for more humblebragging. I am telling you because I was experiencing a strange feeling—I felt useful. Like a good recipe you’ve just got to share, like a shoe sale you’ve got to email your girlfriends about, I enjoyed explaining the process of adoption.
I’ve never told the truth about my daughter’s adoption. The stories I have told publicly have glossed over the facts so I could quickly segue into circulating information. Although I do make fun of my family for fun and profit, plus often use relatives as the basis of many of the characters in my screenplays, I twist specifics so they’re not recognizable. Now I’m disquieted to write with veracity about what really happened. It’s not that it’s shocking and tell-all-y so if you’re looking for gossip, sit back. I’m merely nervous because I’ve never written the truth.
I’m a middle-child Canadian, which basically means I’m annoyingly nice and I like everyone to be happy. To describe the events that led me to my daughter means I will have to reveal information that is not exactly pleasant, not exactly funny. I’m not comfortable with the fact that trying to become a mother was a difficult ten-year process that sucked the fun out of me. I hate talking about infertility. Ever. I really hate it.
I fret I will have to fend off invasive questions for the rest of my life. I hope this can be the one and only time I have to delve into it. Really. Let’s be friends, come over for dinner. My only BFF requests are (1) please don’t ask me about infertility, and (2) please don’t place your purse that was just on a bathroom floor/subway seat/grocery cart on my kitchen counter.
Also, the simple fact is my daughter deserves her anonymity. My family and in-laws are private citizens so it’s best I don’t detail their feelings in this matter. The same goes for the social workers and adoption attorney we worked with: I would love to print their names, but their work is best done with confidentiality. My husband, Ian Gomez, an actor too, is always working in films and on TV shows from Felicity to The Drew Carey Show to Cougar Town. But we are very private people. We rarely talk about our personal lives in the press unless we’re making fun of each other. We don’t let magazines shoot pictorials in our home, won’t allow media pictures of our daughter, and up until this point, have never released her name. But now with school and sports teams, it’s impossible to keep this a secret anymore.
I’ve become conscious of two things. First, each time I told my story it got easier to leave behind the feelings of shame because Mother Nature and I had clashed in an epic cage match. Second, I’ve realized there’s a difference between secrecy and discretion.
My goal is to provide a “how to adopt” book and still retain my daughter’s privacy.
So here I am. About to start writing.
Oh wait. Two more snacks later, I just have to do one more thing. I wait for my daughter to come home from school. I ask for her permission to write a book about her. She cocks her head, smiles, and says okay. Then she wryly offers a few pointers on which stories should be in the book.
Even though I promised my daughter I will alter certain facts to preserve her privacy and dignity, I worry when she’s a teenager she will find this embarrassing. But since being horrified by your parents is almost an inevitable part of teenhood, I figure I might as well write the book while she’s too little to wrestle the computer from me.
I now assure myself that if I refer to projects I was working on for context and timing, it won’t make this book an autobiography I don’t want to write. Also, I tell myself to reveal the truth, even though to people in comedy, talking about our real emotions feels like a TV after-school special. Finally, I pledge to limit those cute kid quips that make people’s teeth ache.
I close my office door. I put the snacks down. I am going to start writing now.
So here is the true story of how I finally became a mom.
Excerpted from INSTANT MOM. Copyright © 2013 by Nia Vardalos. Excerpted with permission by HarperOne, a division of HarperCollins Publishers.
© 2012 MSNBC Interactive