June 2013 Profile: Nia Vardalos
RELATIONSHIP STATUS: Married to actor Ian Gomez
CHILD’S NAME/AGE: Ilaria, 8 (adopted at age 3)
Nia Vardalos, a “later mom,” is the Academy Award and Golden Globe nominated actress and writer of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. An alumnus of The Second City comedy theater, she also starred in and wrote Connie and Carla and I Hate Valentine’s Day, starred in My Life In Ruins, and co-wrote Larry Crowne with Tom Hanks. Born and raised in Canada, Vardalos now resides in Los Angeles with her husband, their daughter, and many pets and is currently working on balancing her acting and writing career with motherhood and adoption advocacy.
Instant Mom is Vardalos’s funny and poignant true chronicle of trying to become a mother while fielding nosy “frenemies” and Hollywood reporters asking, “Any baby news?” With her signature wit and candor, she describes her and husband Ian Gomez’s bumpy road to parenting, how they found their daughter, and what happened next. Vardalos includes a comprehensive how-to-adopt section and explores innovative ways to conquer the challenges all new moms face, from sleep to personal grooming. She learns that whether via biology, relationship, or adoption—motherhood comes in many forms.
Robin Gorman Newman, founder, MotherhoodLater.com, was thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with Nia who was in the midst of her nationwide book tour, yet took time to chat.
You had a challenging road to parenthood….13 IVF attempts, and then went the adoption route. How did you get through all of it? With a resilience and a feeling that it was going to be worth it in the end. To be honest, now that I am a parent, and have met my daughter, it is all worth it. I’m completely fine and at peace with the process that brought me here. When I was in the adoption process, and people would tell me you get the child you’re met to get, I wanted to punch them in the teeth. I completely acknowledge that hearing that while you’re in the process is frustrating. However, it’s just true. Over ‘n over again I’ve seen it to be true.
Did you advertise? It’s not something I’d choose to do because I’m a very private person. But, I would certainly never judge anyone’s choice. Anything that works for them including going to any country to adopt or choosing to have a biological child....it’s a personal choice.
How does your daughter feel about having an author mom? She’s very excited that she saw the picture after we did the photo shoot for the cover…. I’m laying down and the camera is above. My friend took a picture of me laying down, and I had shown her that. Months later, the actual book cover appeared, and she said “oh yeah.” She feels a part of the book, even though she hasn’t seen any of our movies, because she knows we want to distribute the proceeds amongst so many groups that help place kids. So, on the morning I was leaving for my book tour, she was sad because it’s the longest we’ve ever been apart, but she whispered in my ear, “go get some kids adopted.”
In the book, you share resources and mention grants available? Helpusadopt. org is an organization started by Becky Foster. We met because I saw her ad in a magazine, and I called her up, and said “Who are you?“. I had just become spokesperson for National Adoption Day. I found out she had the same dream I did which was to provide information and resources to parents and get kids placed. We became friends. She’s not discriminatory. She reviews applications (to apply is free), and chooses a single person, couple, gay, straight, etc….and helps them defray the cost that can be associated with adoption.
Were you one of those people who always dreamed of becoming a mom? I was not someone who dreamed about it. I never dreamed of getting married, a wedding…any of it. All I ever wanted to do was act, and I dreamed of different musicals that I would be in. Ironically, it all happened in what I would call the natural order for me. I’m really really happy that it happened this way. I had so much time to prepare mentally and visualize how it would be, even though I only had 14 hours notice for the arrival of my daughter.
Did you ever lose hope, and how did you bounce back from that? Sure….absolutely. It’s natural. I tried to accept reality, and I tried to accept the facts. But I’m not very good with that since so many extraordinary things have happened to me…from getting to star in a movie that I wrote to having dinner with the Queen. So, this seemed so completely reasonable to want, and I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t happening. But, how I got through it is by going quiet, taking some time off, stepping back off camera, and just processing it, and then I felt cleansed and ready to just jump into the world of adoption.
Was it difficult to transition a child of pre-school age? Well, my first mistake is that I had just bought a white couch. Now that she’s eight, my daughter loves the stories of how she punched and kicked her way into our hearts.
How did it feel adopting a child who is 3 years old vs. a newborn? For me, it feels like the most natural fit that could be. I think everyone is different. I don’t try to be an advocate for adopting an older child, or an infant or having a biological child. I’m just offering information.
Are there things you’d especially excited about sharing with your daughter? Yes. She’s really the fit of the three of us. It’s so natural. At the same time, I take great care to acknowledge her biology and DNA. She can sing…and I’ll say, “I wonder if your birth parents can sing?” I just throw it out there because I want her to be aware that I’m loving these people who we don’t know and that it’s okay to talk about them and that she’s her own person.
Do you spend time with other adoptive families? Yes…Dan Finnerty of The Dan Band, who I talk about in the book….and there are other adopted children within our group and her school.
What led you to write your book INSTANT MOM? I wanted to move past it but at the same time fully acknowledge that it happened and raise funds and awareness. I worried that the message would get distilled or wouldn’t be as clear as the written word, so I chose not to sit down and do a television interview. I envisioned I’d be in the middle of sharing the story in a interview, and the talk show host would say, let’s go to commercial, and someone would dance around in a ad for Lean Cuisine. So, I knew the only way I could get the story out the way I wanted to tell is was to put it in a book.
When you were writing the book, was it hard to get into that zone, and do you have a particular creative space that works for you? I have an office….a little writing room…I love it…it’s my room…and it’s a place I can relax and talk from my fingertips.
How long was the book writing process for you, and was it a difficult one? It was very difficult. I was searching for the strength to put it all in, and it took a year and a half. Iit’s surreal that people know my daughter’s name, and yet, I feel I’ve retained control in that I did it the way I wanted to do it. Everyone is comfortable with it. It’s been 4.5 years that we’ve been parents, and I felt like it’s time.
I read in your book that you celebrate Daughter Day. Where did that idea come from, and how do you celebrate? I had had my first Mother’s Day, and Ian (my husband) had his first Father’s Day, and then we realized, wait a minute, we have to celebrate….and instead of it being her adoption finalization date, we made it that Daughter Day is the day that we met. We retrace the steps to where we were exactly when we all saw each other. It’s really fun. We go to Disneyland. It’s her day, and we do what what wants.
What does she most love to do, and what do you most love to do with her? Lately, it’s been manicures and pedicures. Painted on flower petals (her favorite)…the same for me but just on my feet.
How do you balance spending time with her and your career? Every day it’s making time for it all and not stressing. I write about that in my book. I don’t stress. I try to solve problems. Stay clear-headed. And, laugh a lot.
What do you see and the positives and challenges of being a 35+ moms? I’d say wisdom, but because I describe myself in the book as not a grown-up, I’m not sure I can answer that one.
Any advice or thoughts to share with someone contemplating later in life motherhood? I’d just say do what’s right for you.
What have you learned from your daughter? Everyday….I’ll be in the middle of a conversation with her, and she’ll say, “listen, listen”…..and point out a bird that’s been chirping the entire time that I didn’t hear. The simple lessons of take time. It goes by so quickly…and listen.
Have you gotten any advice or words of wisdom from your mother or other family members? Don’t make everything a teachable moment.
What if she wanted to go into show business? I would urge her to use those tweezer-wielding fingers of hers to become the brain surgeon I think she’s going to be, but it’s her choice. I don’t wish it for her because it’s a life filled with rejection, but it’s also really fun.
How has motherhood changed you? I was always a happy person and enjoyed working, but now I’m downright giddy on set because I know I’m going home to a funny girl with soft brown eyes who has just hidden a whoopee cushion in my bed.