People often ask me how we came to adopt in Mexico. I suppose the journey which led us there began many years ago in the two room flat where I grew up in Italy. Aside from good brains and strong socialist leanings, my parents didn’t have much. They believed it was our responsibility to share whatever we had with others. And so it was that my brother and I found ourselves with an adopted brother. There was no sense that he didn’t belong or wasn’t one of us: he was there in the same way we were.
Not surprisingly my childhood continued to influence me. I have always been concerned about the environment, our planet, sustainability issues and the fact that there are so many children in this world just waiting for a home. For a number of years I held a major global position at Greenpeace. When my husband and I were married we were not desperate to have children. However, there was an unspoken sense that we would, and it might be a little unconventional.
We are, to all intents and purposes, both fertile. But we chose to adopt. That point of view immediately put us at odds with the chattering classes who declared how wonderful it was to have their own children. It also put us on a road that often seemed to lead to nowhere; a route that appeared to be laden with booby traps and endless obstacles. They dug up every inch of our lives. Yet instead of each step making it easier, it became harder.
I began to wonder if this was actually an attempt by the UK government to make adoption difficult. When our local council told us we were ‘too white’ to adopt one of the many mixed race children available, we knew something was rotten in the system.
Many people give up at that point. In fact, many people give up long before this. Just the fact that you are being judged constantly, almost as if you are a criminal, makes it tough. My husband and I were lucky. We had the financial resources, the know-how from working in big business, and most of all, a united belief that we were not going to let them beat us.
When we found the route to international adoption stalling we took matters into our own hands and went to Mexico to find our baby ourselves. It was the beginning a road trip, that would be both physically and emotionally gruelling as well as funny and poignant. We met selfless people running orphanages, mothers who had no choice but to give up their babies in a strongly Catholic country and, in a Starbucks off a highway, a lawyer who traded in babies and had convinced himself it was not only legal but moral. We met people who had nothing but wanted to do everything they could to help us. We took our marriage to a place that isn’t easy and it came back intact.
Needless to say, we didn’t accept the lawyer’s offer but lots of couples do. We did it legally, at times sailing very close to the wind in our discussions with various governments. And when we brought our daughter home thinking she was safe at last, she was arrested at Heathrow. The nightmare never stopped. And for many people it is too much to bear.
Speaking to other couples about their experiences with adoption I realised something had to be done. There was a lot of suffering going on but not very much adoption. I decided to write Mexican Takeaway because I felt that most of the books written about adoption were overly sentimental and personal, rather than inclusive.
Adoption is still in many ways a taboo. I want it to be something that is acceptable, natural and, most of all, accessible. Yes, there have to be rules, but right now the rules are inhumane and immoral. They do not work. I decided that at the very least I could try and campaign to change some key ones so set up Adoption with Humanity. Our aim is to transform the process of adoption into something that is not about forms and unworkable rules, but puts the interests of the children, the adoptive parents and birthmother at its core.