Nia Vardalos: Motherhood (Not Pregnancy) Was My Priority

04/12/2013 at 11:00 AM ET

Nia Vardalos Instant Mom Adoption
Jackie Tucker

After a decade spent struggling with infertility, Nia Vardalos admits that the last thing she ever wanted to do was write a book about motherhood.

“I’m a private person, who doesn’t relish making her personal life public,” Vardalos tells PEOPLE exclusively.

Earlier this month, the actress — whose My Big Fat Greek Wedding screenplay garnered her an Oscar nod in 2002 — held her breath as her book Instant Mom hit the shelves.

In it, she chronicles her quest to become a mother, a journey that involved 13 failed IVF treatments and ended in 2008 with the adoption of her now 8-year-old daughter Ilaria.

The experience, she insists, has transformed her — along with her husband, Cougar Town star Ian Gomez — into a crusader for the process of foster care adoption.

“I kept so much of what I went through quiet because of my feelings of failure,” says Vardalos. “But now I realize that’s truly ridiculous and I feel a responsibility to use my big fat mouth to talk about this issue.”

Vardalos, now 50, admits that she wasn’t prepared for the difficulties she encountered while trying to get pregnant.

“Like most women I thought it would be easy once I decided to start a family,” she says. “I was surprised that Mother Nature kept poking me in the eye, saying, ‘Nope, nope, nope.'”

The couple eventually turned to “modern science,” but, following years of disappointment, finally gave up.

“Afterwards, the healthiest thing I did was take time off to grieve over what had happened,” she recalls. “That brought a sense of clarity and I realized that no matter how I became a mother, I was going to be a mother.”

Vardalos began to explore adoption, but after being placed on countless waiting lists and a run-in with a “celebrity adoption attorney,” she grew disillusioned with the process.

One afternoon, she took notice of a billboard near her home that she’d driven past hundreds of times — but had never paid attention to — that introduced her to the concept of foster care adoption.

“I didn’t understand what it was,” she says. “All I thought was, ‘I don’t want to do that. The child will be placed with me, then eventually taken away.'”

Nevertheless, Vardalos was intrigued and what she soon learned changed her life. “In the United States alone there are some 135,000 kids who are legally emancipated and available for adoption,” she says.

After months spent meeting with social workers, the couple was paired up with a 3-year-old girl who had been living in foster care since birth.

The moment she laid eyes upon the child, Vardalos knew she was meant to be the little girl’s mother. “The first thing I did was whisper in her ear, ‘I will always take care of you,'” she recalls.

Nia Vardalos Instant Mom Adoption

Vardalos’s eventual decision to write Instant Mom quickly proved to be a “terrible year and a half. I hate writing and it was painful to go back over all this after the wounds had finally healed.”

What resulted, she insists, is “the book I wished was out there when I was searching for credible information on adoption.”

These days, Vardalos is busy juggling mom duties with film and TV projects. She’s also gearing up for that fateful day when — and if — Ilaria ever announces that she wants to follow in her career footsteps.

“If that happens, I think I’m going to give her a pamphlet to dental technician school and see if that sticks,” she says with a laugh.

“If that doesn’t work, then I’ll suggest a couple years in the Peace Corps. And if she still wants to do musical theater after that, I guess I’d say yes.”

— Johnny Dodd

FILED UNDER: Exclusive , News , Parenting

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Showing 54 comments

Brooke on

She named her FINALLY in public. I realize it really is none of our business, but I have been dying to know forever.

Now…..I need the names of both Holly Hunter & Anna Paquin’s twins.

Kelsey on

I pre-ordered the book just b/c I loved one essay she wrote for People in the past; the book is a fantastic read if for no other reason than you like ‘my big fat Greek Wedding’ and its a fast read. I’m not all about her ‘shtick’ comedy style but I love her writing and her story, its personal but so touching and I just loved it. Its a fast read and whether your interested in pursuing adoption or not, its great just to learn about one woman’s quest for motherhood. I’ve always like Nia Vardolos but I love her after reading this book.

I Am Standing Right Behind You on

I’ve always thought Nia was awesome. Thrilled that her and her husband have a beautiful daughter.

Carrie M on

Adoption is the most un-selfish thing one can do. I’m sorry that Nia couldn’t have her own biological child but really…does it matter? I’m happy that she has her adopted daughter and that she has the chance to be someone’s mom! The little girl is very lucky….. 🙂

swren1 on

This book is amazing! I literally could not put it down. At first, I wondered why she didn’t show her daughter’s face or at least release her name, but after reading the book, I understand. They want to give their daughter a “normal” like and after all they’ve gone through, they deserve it!

Nikita on

Love her….love the idea of adoption. XO

Emily on

Love her! So refreshing.

She also makes a great point about foster care adoption. This is actually how my mom came to adopt my sister. It’s really a blessing — and I have never, ever thought of her as anything less than “my sister.” Not once.

lp on

That story brought tears to my eyes. I admire you for writing this. Although I was lucky enough not to have issues having a family, your story is truly inspirational. Thank you for sharing.

Anna on

Thank you Nia! We adopted our daughter at the age of 5 through the Foster Care system. There are many, many wonderful children that are currently in care and looking for that ‘Forever Home & Family’. And it was so nice to hear her say what I had said for years, we wanted to be PARENTS and it wasn’t crucial to be pregnant to achieve that. Our life has been made so much richer these last 4 years with our girl and it is nice to see a positive spotlight be shown on these great kids.

Nia’s first words to her daughter were the best and most important ones to say and to keep saying. Many of these kids struggle with belonging and being reminded, hugged, loved and shown that they are forever with you just makes those attachments bonds all the stronger. We always wanted to adopt and we can’t imagine our family any other way. Thank you!

DaisyMoon on

“The first thing I did was whisper in her ear, ‘I will always take care of you’”

Ah…I’m tearing up over here…so beautiful…what a lucky little girl…

PS absolutely LOVE Ian on Cougar Town…he’s fabulous…

Colleen on

If motherhood was her priority, why 13 IVF treatments? Adoption is not an also-ran, second choice. My 7-year-old was adopted – as a first choice. It wasn’t a regretful decision made after throwing 10s of thousands of dollars down the drain.

Um on

Well since life happened to take you down an ever so slightly different path, you are obviously just a superior human being Colleen /sarcasm

SG on

What a ridiculous comment Colleen. It is natural for a woman to want to bear her own children…approve of it or not. There is zero harm in attempting it if that is what she wanted to do (her dime right?). It didn’t work out and so now a little girl has a wonderful home…why criticize other than to be a superior pain in the ass?

Monika on

I agree with Colleen.

MR on

Ms. Colleen it looks like you have a few fans out there, good for you. Now I will tell you that your last sentence was out of context and it DID sound a bit rude.

Nia’s journey has not been a easy one, she wanted to have her own kid, what is wrong in that? many of us had that blessing she did not. She decided to adopt that is a major blessing for her and for the child. The money she spent wasn’t yours, so if you’re going to comment something positive don’t end it negative. This is why people here think you’re bitter and ignorant.

Jennifer on

many blessings to your family.

armin on

oh, my. That was a profound thing to whisper in Ilaria’s ear. Just beautiful.

Gemma on

We have been struggling for a while to get pregnant and I really embrace adoption. I am so glad that a celebrity like her has written about her own journey. A lot of women do not know the very painful struggle some of us go through to have that miracle. She is right – it about becoming a mother, not pregnancy. I can not wait to read this book. Blessings:)

bekah on

I think however you become a parent is a wonderful thing. No one way is more or less selfish. Each person or couple has their own journey to parenthood to complete it’s not my place to judge the route. It’s a personal thing and each family has to do what is right for them be it adoption, surrogacy, ivf, without interventions etc What really matters is what you do when you become a parent.

I’m happy Nia and her husband saw their dream of parenthood realized, and that Illaria found a home.

merry on

Can anyone tell me what’s the difference between adoption and this foster care adoption? Is the girl legally Nia’s or can she be taken from them?

D.A on

Merry, a foster care adoption is adopting a child who is in the state foster care system. These children have been removed from their parents by the state for abuse, abandonment or neglect. If their parents rights are terminated, they are available for adoption. Prior to that, the parent may work towards regaining custody. If they don’t, proceedings to TPR (termination of parental rights) are usually initiated. Once a foster child is adopted, they are legally the child of the adoptive parent and cannot be returned to the biological parent.

Jenn on

Merry – foster adoption is a child that is adopted out of the foster care system. And no, the child cannot be taken from you once the birth parents rights are terminated and you have legally adopted. I did this and have my beautiful daughter, who is now 5. You may also be entitled to subsidies and college tuition depending on what state you are adopting from – I am sure you can find a website for the state you are in on the subject. Good Luck! It is the most wonderful thing!

Heather on

Merry, not all states have foster to adopt programs. And Nia did not do true fostadopt since her daughter was already legally freed for adoption. Fostadopt is when you take in a child who the county/social workers THINKS may never go back to their bio family, yet their parents have not yet lost their rights. It’s still a huge risk. That being said I am so glad I took that risk and now have one bio son, one adopted daughter through foster care and one foster daughter (who after 15 months is going back to her bios) I wish she wasn’t and we are heartbroken but its still a huge gift and something I will never regret doing. There are however thousands and thousands of children mostly five and up who are legally freed for adoption and need forever homes 🙂

Heather on

You can also view the available children through adoptuskids .org

Jill Kellie on

Hi Colleen,
you sound fairly bitter and I wonder what that is about? Very rude comment that you made and I wonder if this topic triggered you in some way or if you are basically unhappy and spout off before you think? Perhaps an apology after sober second thoughts?

mamanas on

Wow…..13 IVFs had yo take its toll. I give much blessings to those women who stay deternlmined to have that family. I am thinking she did not use donor eggs. Her chances would.have been higher.

mamanas on

To the ignorant one…..its not anyones place to determine how many IVFs.a couple decide to have. She didn’t use your money.

Susanne on


Perhaps you need to lighten up on Colleen. She was simply expressing a view different from yours. I don’t understand why folks who comment on these stories always respond by calling another person bitter (among other tired, overused names) just because they disagree or expressed a different opinion that may not be as glowing and positive about the subject. Colleen’s remark wasn’t rude, just different from yours.

How about disagreeing in a more polite and civil manner instead of resorting to name-calling and accusations? I would say your response was much more rude than Colleen’s.

KC on

Hi Jill Kellie! Actually, Collen’s comment wasn’t rude. Why can’t people wonder why one would go through 13 rounds of IVF before adopting? Why? Doesn’t mean they are bitter for wondering this. The same thought crossed our minds with my craft group as we are reading this and does it mean we are bad, bitter or unhappy? I think adopting is a wonderful thing. My brother and sister-n-law struggled to get pregnant and didn’t think IVF was for them. Does that make them bad? They adopted two beautiful girls and my sister-in-law couldn’t be happier. Why are you so sensitive to this?

Jill Kellie on

Actually, I think if you re-read Colleen’s comment it is quite critical and the ending of the comment about her own family’s choice “It wasn’t a regretful decision made after throwing 10s of thousands of dollars down the drain.” does not seem to reflect Ms. Vardalos approach or sentiment. Perhaps you haven’t read the book yet, I’m not sure.

I don’t feel it’s a difference of opinion I feel that it is a difference of manners.

Marky on

As an adoptive parent who tried some fertility treatments before adopting, I take offense at Colleen’s statement. I wanted to know I had tried, even though I always intended to adopt at some point. It is absolutely rude to judge (and Colleen sounds VERY judgmental) other’s choices in how they build their family. Their life, their money, their choice.

No one has been a stronger, better advocate for adoption than Nia Vardalos, Colleen, and you sound as if money was a strong factor in your choice. You didn’t want to waste any, I guess. You fail to take into consideration that yours are not the only feelings to be taken into consideration in choosing fertility treatments; for instance a person’s spouse may very much want a biological child for their own reasons, and that is not invalid.

Colleen (and a couple of others), why is it that people like you think you have any right to judge others’ decisions in any way? Your life your choice, Nia’s life, Nia’s choice.

Monika on

Pregnancy was her goal. 13 ivf treatments is a lot! Adoption was the end result.

Jessica on

I just started reading her book as I am hoping to find inspiration, encouragement, and acceptance of my own inability to have a biological child.

My husband and I are currently deciding on either donor egg or adoption. It’s not an easy decision but it is our reality. I’m happy to find support anywhere I can get it.

merry on

Jenn, Heather,

thank you for your answers! I’ve never heard of this before (not from the States), but it sounds like a great idea, one I will definitely explore more as it’s my plan to adopt.

Heather, from your comment, I think you are incredibly brave. While I understand that even a short time with the girl has been a precious gift, I can’t imagine the pain of giving her back. I don’t thing I would be able to take this kind of risk.

Anonymous on

I wonder what made her decide to finally reveal her daughter’s name?

Linda on

After 35 years of marriage we are now parents to a 2 and 3 year old. It will be difficult at times with our age but the rewards will be worth it. Kudos to Nia.

ryterrytes on

The debate between IVF and adoption can be so polarizing. What truly matters here is that there is now a child in a family who is loved. I snapped this book up as soon as I discovered it.

That mother/daughter thread can be instantaneous….and was when we brought our daughter home from her Russian orphanage when she was 5. And so was the mother/son thing six years earlier when our infant son was delivered via Korean Airlines. Now they are teenagers. Privileged, spoiled, soccer obsessed All American teenagers.

So lets get on with the polarizing debate WE have had to deal with for 18 years – ‘why didn’t you just adopt one of ‘ours’?’ Its always going to be something…. Have loved your work forever, Nia, even before we shared the adoption bond. Here’s hoping your book opens doors – and hearts – for many other families like ours.

Marilyn on

Thank You, Nia, for sharing your story through this book! The Fost-Adopt path is one that celebrities have not spoken about before (as far as I know) hopefully, this article & book will lead to many adoptions of children living in foster care into loving forever families.

For Colleen and others who may be wondering anything that starts with “Why didn’t she just…”, if you have not experienced infertility, it’s impossible for you to know what it’s like. When you start out thinking you’re going to get pregnant easily- like everyone else- and then you discover that you have infertility, it’s a long process of testing, treatment, hope, disappointment, sadness & grief. There is nothing wrong with wanting to have biological children and there is not an automatic switch that’s flipped when you discover it may not happen that would send you straight to adoption.

The process of adoption is a wonderful, life-changing path that many decide to pursue- it’s not fair to criticize others because they have to go through infertility before reaching that decision. And, no, adoption is neither “easy” nor “cheap” so please don’t ever say, “Why don’t you just adopt.” Adoption can be & often is more expensive than IVF but more importantly, the infertile couple must first grieve the bio-children they hoped/prayed/lived through treatments trying to conceive, before they have the open/healed hearts adoptive children deserve.

I propose that we all try to be supportive of one another, share our stories, educate one another, and accept that all of us are doing the best we can.

Heidi Quayle on

The name Ilaria is very beautiful.

After an emergency surgery, following a year and a half of not getting pregnant, I woke up to my husband holding my hand and he said ‘God is going to take us on an adventure’. I never loved that man more than when he gently spoke those words.

And, like Nia, we realized we wanted to be and were going to be parents, the pregnancy wasn’t important. Adoption of children in foster care is a wonderful option, we did it twice and adopted a third outside of foster care. We are also foster parents. These children are just waiting for someone to say that the one adventure to be parents has ended and our new adventure as a family is beginning.

AJ on

This woman, and her adoption of her daughter, is why my husband and I are now foster parents. 🙂

Mel on

Reading this was very touching. Fortunate to have biological children, I sympathize with those women who are unable to conceive. Yet now I am not so sure that this empathy is needed. …

lindsey5103 on

Love this! I am a caseworker for these very children and most of them want nothing more than to have their own family. If you are considering adoption – please consider foster children!

Brooklynmommy on

13 failed ivfs!? Now that is just crazy and obssesive. That completely contradicts her statement that her “goal was motherhood and not pregnancy.” If her goal was motherhood she would have pursued adoption after I don’t know maybe 5,6,7 failed ivfs….not 13!!! Smh. I would hate to be the adopted kid and know that after 13 failed ivfs my parents finally considered adoption.

Marie on

Again, it’s not your money so who cares how many IVFs she did?! What is the appropriate number, pray tell, before adopting. Although I am very fortunate to end up conceiving naturally, I did 3 IVF cycles myself and although I’m sure this will draw much ire but I wasn’t ready to consider adoption. I think adoption is a wonderful selfless act but it wasn’t right for me at that time, just as maybe doing multiple IVFs wouldn’t be right for YOU!

KTP on

Colleen – motherhood is the goal of pregnancy, is it not? Women don’t get pregnant for pregnancy sake.

When we all decide that we want to have kids, be parents, pregnancy is usually the easiest and quickest way. It’s also the way society and people expect you to become parents.

Once you start that process of trying to fall pregnant to become a mother it becomes all consuming and sometimes it takes a while to realise “you know what, the pregnancy isn’t important, the little person at the end of the journey is” – and then you start the whole process again, with adoption.

Michelle on

SUCH an inspiring article! Me and my husband would love to adopt out of foster care in the future, too. 🙂

BBB on

She tried IVF 13 times and THEN turned to adoption? I don’t see how motherhood was a priority over pregnancy then. It seems more like pregnancy isn’t an option so she’s now turning to motherhood.

stillstanding22 on

Thanks Nia for writing this book and sharing the journey that you and your family took to find each other. I am not sure why it is these days that we feel compelled to judge others for making personal decisions. What one person does is because it was right for them. People process things differently and that was the route they took. God bless this family, and those children still in the system. I plan on going this route some day and know there is a child in need of a home that I will wait to embrace with open arms.

Anonymous on

KTP- “Once you start that process of trying to fall pregnant to become a mother it becomes all consuming and sometimes it takes a while to realise “you know what, the pregnancy isn’t important, the little person at the end of the journey is” – and then you start the whole process again, with adoption.” Very well put! And if you actually read the article, that is essentially what Nia was saying, too. Nowhere did she say that motherhood and not pregnancy was ALWAYS her goal (in fact, she all but says outright that initially, it WAS pregnancy that was her goal!). The title of the article is rather mis-leading.

Marilyn- I couldn’t have said it better myself! And thank you for saying “biological children” and not “your own children”. Children you adopt are as much “your own” as children you give birth to (and if you have adopted and don’t feel that way, then something is wrong with you and I feel sorry for your children!), and I don’t know why so many people don’t get that!

Lisha on

I was fortunate to be very fertile, and to have my 4 kids, although I endured 4 miscarriages to have them. I just want to express my empathy and admiration to all the women here that weren’t as fortunate as I was. I don’t know that I’d have your strength.

As I read this article, my eyes teared-up, because I understand the love a mother has for her child(ren), it’s so huge, and I’m so happy Nia and Ian finally got the gift of their daughter.

I also think that it’s nobody’s business to judge how she ultimately became a mother. It’s her life, her journey. The only thing that matters is that there is a happy family now, with a child who is loved, with parents who clearly adore her. Good for all of them.

jane on

this is a super-sweet story, and i think she and her husband will make great parents, but the title of the article is a little misleading. she obviously wanted to become pregnant (hence the 13 ivf treatments), then was able to adopt. i know she loves her little girl and wouldn’t trade her for anything, but the title of the article doesn’t make sense with what she’s saying.

i’m not criticizing her at all for trying ivf, i have a cousin that did it, but i think the title of the article doesn’t make sense with the content of the story.

Dana on

Why does everyone wait so long to have babies nowadays and then wonder why they have trouble getting pregnant? Trying to get pregnant after 35 carries much higher risks, I just don’t understand why people would want to put their future children at risk. And Linda, if you have been married for 35 years as you claim then you are going to be a senior citizen before your kids graduate from high school! (Assuming you got married at 18 or older) WHY HAVE KIDS SO LATE IN LIFE?!?! this seems so selfish to me, kids aren’t commodities. They require a lot of energy and commitment and you can’t even know for sure that you and your husband will be alive to see them through to adulthood.

Abby on

Dana – You ask why people these days have kids later in life? Perhaps a woman doesn’t meet the man of her dreams (befitting of being a good father) or get married until she is in her 30s or 40s, or maybe a young couple wants a few more years to save up for a next egg before starting a family. Some people just aren’t ready (practically, financially, emotionally, or otherwise) to become a parent until later in life. Don’t you think these people are making a RESPONSIBLE choice? I don’t think it’s selfish to wait to have children until BOTH parties are truly READY. Who are YOU to judge when someone is ready to become parents? Seems to me the only selfish people are those who have kids for the wrong reasons — the same folks who get pregnant because all their friends are getting pregnant, give in to pressure from family members, or because society expects it of them. You’re right — kids are not commodities. That’s why, in my opinion, the BEST parents are the ones who really WANT to be parents, not because they are pressured to have kids by a certain age.

Dana on

I agree with most of what you said. It is smart for people to wait to have kids until they are ready, but isn’t there a point at which it should be too late? If someone is having or adopting a child in their 50s (like Linda who commented on this story) and will be close to 70 years old before the child graduates high school, don’t you think that’s a little irresponsible? I just feel like we are seeing a trend where people are waiting longer and longer to have kids, which puts the child at a much higher risk of disorders and also means having parents who are likely to be less active with their kids. I know this is an unpopular opinion, but I can’t help but cringe when I see people my parents’ age having kids.