Q&A;: Nia Vardalos

Nia Vardalos, the actress that won us all over more than a decade ago with her hilarious Academy Award-nominated hit, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, has us glued again—not to the screen, but this time to her new book, Instant Mom. In it Vardalos tells her all-too-common story of struggling with infertility for years: the IVF treatments, the miscarriages, the disappointments and finally, the decision to adopt a child.
As expected, Vardalos chronicles everything with a good amount of her inherent humor. The book is at once funny, touching, informative and eye opening. Here, she opens up about what she hopes to achieve with her book, advice for women going through difficulty conceiving, and how she prepared in the hours before becoming an instant mom. —Gaia Guidi Filippi (@GaiaGGF)

Elizabeth Street: You struggled a lot with infertility. What do you think is the hardest and most challenging thing about it?
Nia Vardalos: The feeling that you are alone and having an irrational feeling of pain and failure.

ES: Having gone through all that, would you advise women with infertility issues to consider adoption earlier?
NV: No, not at all. I think each woman’s path is different and I think you should listen to the voice inside until it yells at you, like-minded. I would do it all over again. The timing of everything absolutely led me to my daughter. And I also have the wisdom that I gained.

ES: What challenges did you unexpectedly encounter while trying to adopt a child?
NV: There were many things we didn’t know. For example, when you make a profile of yourself, it’s actually the birth mother that chooses you rather than an adoption attorney that matches you. We didn’t know that in some states, the process is easier. We didn’t know that there were 129,000 kids in foster care who are legally emancipated—we just thought being a foster kid meant a child was placed with you until their birth parents got it together. That’s why there’s an appendix in Instant Mom which 25 pages of how to adopt—from all over the world.

ES: What was your ultimate goal in writing Instant Mom?
NV: My first goal was to provide a how-to book. But the publishers wanted to hear about my personal life, to which I said, No thanks! But my husband and friends told me to think it over carefully and then HarperCollins said the magical words ‘We want you to write the book YOU want to write.’
The lightning bulb moment came when I realized that, even though I refer to myself as a fearless idiot, I was actually afraid of doing something—which was not like me! When I thought about this fear, I thought of my daughter being the bravest person I know, having just walked right into our house and gotten acclimated. I thought, If this kid can be brave, so can I! She is the impetus for me having put it all in [the book].

ES: When you got that call about a little girl arriving in 14 hours, you had no time to prepare—you really were instantly becoming a mom! But you must have done SOMETHING? Did you run out to buy diapers? Snacks? Did you call your mom to ask her what to do? What was the very first thing you felt compelled to take care of?
NV: Our house had been baby-proofed for a home study because we were adopting via American Foster Care. But that was nine months earlier! So at almost midnight, we ran around the house trying to figure out how to get the guest room ready for a three-year-old.  Did a three-year old sleep in a crib? We ended up dismantling the king size bed and putting in a blow-up mattress used by nieces and nephews. I then made a shopping list for Ian—though we still had no idea what we needed—and he ran off to the grocery store, returning with formula, a teething ring and a steak.

ES: What was he going to do with the steak??!
NV: I don’t know! I think it may have been for him?

ES: What’s the best advice your own mother gave you that you are applying now
NV: When in doubt, cook. Kids can get so engrossed when they are just given something to chop. Plus, it’s great talking time, we practice Greek and she tells me about her day.

ES: How candid have you been with your daughter about her being adopted? Is it something she’s always known, or did you have a talk at some point?
NV: It’s a combination of both. She knew at first, and then we realized that she was forgetting some of the facts. We’ve always been careful to not refer to this as her new life—it’s her same life, but this with a new situation. I think that’s good for her identity. We play games like ‘what was your old bedroom like?’ And no matter what she says about those memories, we go with it, whether they are real or created ones. We value and respect her world.

ES: Any Mother’s Day plans for Mother’s Day?
NV: Yes! Ian is going to be away, so the two of them have cooked up a (secret) plan for her to take me to brunch. But of course she told me the whole thing in a whisper—she is getting money, Ian has made the reservations, and since she is the one taking me, she says she has to drive! So if you see me in a pink Barbie car on the 405…
ES: Well, buckle up Nia!

ES: You had basically no time to read any parenting books—but did you get to it eventually? What did you find most helpful if so?
NV: I read What to Expect 3-6 Year Olds. That really helped me anticipate what was coming next. But the best book I can recommend is Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew. It’s a book of tips compiled by one person who was adopted from other kids who were adopted.

ES: Are you going to adopt again?
NV: We are on the waiting list. But this time I don’t have that anxiousness about it. If the phone rings, we’re open