Monday, April 1, 2013

A is for Antigua, Guatemala (by Jessica O'Dwyer)

For this year's A-Z Challenge, I am organising my writing group's participation for the first time. So I am posting each entry here as well as on the website, Write On, Mamas! who are a writing group based in the San Francisco North Bay area. We will have 25 Mamas and one Papa writing on a different letter of the alphabet during the A-Z Blog Challenge. Comments are always so appreciated, but would be lovely if you would comment on the Write On, Mamas! blog so the author will read your comment. Thanks and look forward to reading your blogs.

Photography by Mary Allison Tierney

A is for Antigua, Guatemala, by Jessica O'Dwyer

Jessica and Olivia at their front door in 2003
I’m writing this in Antigua, Guatemala, a UNESCO heritage site that’s considered by many to be Central America’s most beautiful and authentic colonial city. It’s insane how much I love this place—the cobblestone streets, the churches, the handicraft markets, the ring of volcanoes that define Antigua’s perimeter. Ten years ago, I lived in a small casita here with my then-15-month-old daughter, Olivia, a Guatemalan baby my husband and I were trying to adopt.

At that time, the adoption system teetered on the brink of implosion, and we didn’t know from one day to the next if the courts would grant us permission to bring Olivia home with us to California, or take her away forever, to be lost somewhere in the country’s labyrinthine orphanage system. The experience of fighting for Olivia during that emotional roller coaster ride affected me so deeply I wrote a memoir about it. The book’s title, Mamalita, refers to the name Olivia birth mother calls me: “Little Mommy.” Adoptions from Guatemala closed permanently in December 2007.

Jessica and Olivia March 2013
Olivia is now almost 11, and every year since our first one together, she and I return to Antigua. Our first stop, always, is to visit our former casita, and take a picture of ourselves at the front door. I cherish these pictures, proof of time’s passage and how much we have changed and grown, not only physically, but as mother and daughter.

Jessica O’Dwyer is the author of Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir (Seal Press). Her essays been published in the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle magazine, Adoptive Families, Marin Independent Journal, and West Marin Review. She lives with her family in Northern California.


  1. What a great tradition! I love the book the name of the book!

  2. Interesting idea for the A to Z and sounds like a great relationship came due too.

  3. Aww, a very touching story. So glad they were able to adopt and so nice that they honor Olivia's birth place.

    Hi Claire!

  4. That's very cool! :) Where in the north bay are you? I lived in Fairfax, Marin County for a few years.

  5. That's cool! Every year, another snapshot in time.

  6. What a wonderful story. Thanks so much for sharing. I'm a Jessica too. Hope you'll come visit me at .

    And Claire, how brilliant that you have your writer's group participating. I'm making myself a note for next year. I'll have to do some fancy talking to get my group involved! :)

  7. Awesome tribute to all your fellow writers!

    Enjoy the Blog Challenge.

  8. Thanks for reading everyone, and for your lovely comments, too! JoJo, we live very close to Fairfax. Another wonderful place!

  9. Oh wow. Great post. I'm adopted and I love reading stories like this.

  10. Hi Claire .. what a lovely story and so heart warming .. I'm so pleased you were successful - the kids must be so much happier ... I'll be back to buy your book ...

    Cheers Hilary