Nia Vardalos chronicles hopes, heartache on road to adoption with 'Instant Mom'
Greek Wedding' star, scribe says she's found purpose as adoption advocate
Although the name of acclaimed actress and screenwriter Nia Vardalos' new book is "Instant Mom," in reality, the process of becoming a parent was not so automatic. In fact, it took years of ups and downs to materialize.
But now, she's turned all the joy and heartache into an incredible tale of hope not only for the future for Vardalos, her husband, Ian Gomez, and their young daughter, but for the countless prospective parents out there on the cusp of adopting, but unsure how to go about it.
Perhaps one of the most profound conclusions Vardalos makes in "Instant Mom" (HarperCollins) is that maybe the reason for her astronomical success with "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" wasn't for the purpose of establishing her career as an actress and scribe -- but to use that voice to be a spokeswoman for adoption.
"I have a purpose with this book that I never felt before. I feel useful," Vardalos told me in a recent interview. "It's a very strange feeling when the dots get connected. It's an overused analogy, but it's true."
"Instant Mom" helps readers get to know Vardalos in a way they've never known her before. In her funny, insightful and conversational style of writing, Vardalos tells how confusing the process of adoption appeared on the surface.
On a personal level, I related since my wife and I adopted a child ourselves. Plus, having talked with Vardalos several times over the years and easily recognizing her passions and convictions, the opportunity to talk about adoption with the entertainer was one I wasn't about to pass up.
"I think people are stymied by the lack of credible information, like you and I both were. We all have access to the Internet, but we don't know what's credible," Vardalos told me. "For example, I had driven by this same sign on 3rd Street in Los Angeles over and over again that said, 'Want to Fost-Adopt?' and I thought 'No!' because I didn't know what it meant. "
Of course, getting to know the organization behind that billboard helped, and now she wants to help others figure it out.
"Now that I know them -- and I'm quite clear with all the groups that I'm a spokesperson for -- I tell them, 'You have to clear up your language.' I consider myself a person of average intelligence, and I couldn't figure that sign out," Vardalos said. "I'm still encountering people who ask me, 'You adopted your daughter from foster care -- weren't you scared that they were going to take her back?'"
To put the process into terms everybody could understand, Vardalos thought the best way to do it was with "Instant Mom."
"It's a book I wish was out there when I was searching for one place that could explain what the difference is between a foster agency and a foster family agency," Vardalos said.
Vardalos reveals some deeply personal struggles in "Instant Mom," including her struggles with infertility and 13 in vitro fertilization attempts. It was something she feared writing about, until she realized the fearlessness of her daughter.
"HarperCollins was so gentle and respectful of what I put in there. I proposed writing a slightly dry, how-to-adopt book, with a few personal stories in it," Vardalos recalled. "But when I sat down, and every time I wrote about my daughter being brave, I thought, 'What am I afraid of?' You hear about how our children teach us, and I realized how my child has come into my life to help me become a fearless idiot again."
The other issue to deal with was Vardalos' and Gomez's intense privacy surrounding their daughter. They refreshingly rejected the gauntlet of magazines that lined up to pitch the sorts of "first picture" cover stories that flood supermarket newsstands.
"We actually turned down a lot of money for photo shoots that would show her face and our home, and I kept thinking, 'Ah, this money could have gone to these adoption groups,'" Vardalos said. "But that's when I got the idea that Ian and I could get the proceeds from the book to go to adoption groups. We're sharing the proceeds with all the groups we've met, from orphanages in Mexico to a group in China that helps facilitate adoptions, and here with foster family agencies."
Ultimately, the decision to say no to the media has strengthened Vardalos' resolve to protect her daughter's privacy.
"It's the most empowered I've ever felt because I kept thinking, 'Am I too protective? And the answer is, 'No. Never. Not as a mom,'" she said.
"Instant Mom" is inspiring in many ways, reading Vardalos' stories about growing up, forging a career in theater and as an improv artist at Second City in Chicago, and ultimately creating her romantic comedy classic.
The interesting thing you realize reading the book, is that the tales are all relative to who Vardalos is as a mom. In a beautiful sort of way, her stories inform the iron will to see her dreams of becoming a parent through, no matter what obstacles got into her way.
"What I realized in writing in the first person for the first and probably last time, I was actually was able to see my own character and the arc of it all for the first time," Vardalos said. "That's why my daughter is such a hero to me. This tenacious, obstinate thing that I possess, the person that I am, I see the mini-me in front of me. This child and I were meant to find one another, and she knows it, too."
Vardalos said she found more proof of that as she recently embarked on her book tour to promote "Instant Mom."
"On Easter morning I woke her up and said, 'All right, I'm going now. She put her arms around me and whispered in my ear, 'Go get some kids adopted.' She's on the team," Vardalos enthused. "It's so cool. She just gets it."
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