Every Child Deserves a Family
Nia Vardalos and the Adoption Council of Canada

 

By Laura Eggertson

The love of family inspired Nia Vardalos to write the screenplay for her break-out film, My Big Fat Greek Wedding — and forming a family through adoption led to her volunteer work as an adoption advocate. Now Nia is an Adoption Champion for the Adoption Council of Canada and a spokesperson for National Adoption Day in the United States.

Nia Vardalos’ daughter was almost three years old when they met. Leaving behind her birth parents and then a foster home, Ilaria spoke only a few words but her actions told a clear story: she was scared, angry, and slow to trust.    

Despite years of researching how to adopt plus emotional support from a Foster Family Agency in Los Angeles, where the Winnipeg native currently lives, the reality of suddenly becoming a mother to a toddler overwhelmed the actor, writer and director.

Above all, Nia knew Ilaria needed to feel secure. So, for weeks, she slept on a cot beside Ilaria’s bed. She held, rocked and bottle-fed her new daughter — the daughter she had longed for, dreamed of and imagined for years.

Every time Ilaria woke in the night, Nia or Ilaria’s father, Ian Gomez, was there in the cot to reassure the toddler she was safe and loved. But Ilaria did not feel safe so she only slept for short periods and continued to act out physically and emotionally.

The breakthrough came when Nia role-played with Ilaria’s dolls. As she chronicles in her book, Instant Mom, Nia had the mommy doll tuck the girl doll into bed, repeating: “I am your Mommy forever. I love you and I will never leave you; you are staying here forever.” She had the Daddy doll tell the girl doll: “I am your Daddy forever and we are your family forever.”

A while later, Nia overheard Ilaria holding the mommy and daddy dolls and whispering to the girl doll: “You are staying here forever.”

Within a few months of joining the Vardalos-Gomez family, Ilaria began speaking in full sentences. She slept better, laughed and played tricks on her parents. She was home.

Today, Ilaria is a secure, confident young woman entering Grade 8, growing up in a boisterous, extended Greek-Canadian and American family. Grateful for her own good fortune, Nia shares her story as an Adoption Champion for the Adoption Council of Canada. She wrote the book to help people navigate the adoption world and donates all its proceeds to adoption charities.

“I NEEDED TO TALK ABOUT HOW IN THE WORLD OF ADOPTION, I HAVE MET ASTONISHINGLY GOOD PEOPLE WHO STRIVE TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE,” NIA SAYS. “A FAMILY IS A FAMILY, AND THERE ARE 30,000 CHILDREN AND YOUTH IN CANADA WAITING FOR ONE. OUR DAUGHTER CAME TO LIVE WITH US, AND TURNED OUR HOUSE INTO A HOME.

– Nia Vardalos

Because she too was uncertain on how to start the process or where to find credible avenues, Nia understands many people have no idea how to adopt or what route to choose: private, intercountry, or public adoption from foster care. They have misconceptions about children and youth in care. Many believe they can’t afford to adopt, when in reality, adoption from the public child welfare system costs little or nothing.

These are the reasons Nia chose to become a champion for the Adoption Council of Canada. The national non-profit agency helps people navigate adoption in their province or territory. The charity, which receives no government funding to support its basic services, provides information and resources to adoptive families, adoptees, and birth families. The Adoption Council of Canada also runs Canada’s Waiting Children, the country’s only national photolisting service to link potential adoptive families with waiting children and youth.

Most of all, the Adoption Council of Canada raises awareness about and advocates for the thousands of children and youth across the country who need permanent families.

“We also help youth in and from care tell their stories and advocate for permanency, through our Youth Speak Out and Digital Storytelling programs,” says Cathy Murphy, the ACC’s executive director. “Part of our work is also dispelling the misconceptions people have that children and youth in care are too hurt ever to belong to a family.”

Nia is chagrined to admit that she too was initially afraid because she had been scared off by media stories that children in foster care were too “damaged.” When she learned it wasn’t true, she wrote her story of adopting from foster care readily admitting her misconceptions, mistakes and lessons learned.

“Being my daughter’s mother has changed me. My daughter filled a raggedy hole in my heart. She is the love of my life,” Nia says.

Nia urges Canadians considering adoption to think about opening their hearts, and their homes, to children and youth in foster and group care. She supports all forms of adoption and doesn’t advocate for one over the other, however.

“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 hearts ache to be parents, who don’t know the ways to adopt,” she writes in Instant Mom.

Adoption is an option for single parents, same-sex couples, and kinship families — families who may be related to or know a child in foster or group care. It’s also critical that older children and youth in foster care, including teenagers, find permanent families before they leave the child welfare system without the critical safety net a family provides.

“If you bring an older child into your home, you can give her a fresh start. A big plus is an older child can verbalize and tell you what they need and how they are feeling,” Nia adds.

Although Nia protects her daughter’s privacy and anonymity, she sought Ilaria’s permission to talk about their journey because she felt compelled to tell the positive adoption stories seldom highlighted in popular media.

“I needed to talk about how in the world of adoption, I have met astonishingly good people who strive to make a difference,” Nia says. “A family is a family, and there are 30,000 children and youth in Canada waiting for one. Our daughter came to live with us, and turned our house into a home.”

Like the Adoption Council of Canada, Nia believes every child and youth deserves a permanent home. Donate today to help the Adoption Council of Canada make this happen for thousands of waiting children and youth in Canada.