After her 'Big Fat Greek Wedding,' Nia Vardalos made a big decision on how to be a mom.

Nia Vardalos is a star on the big screen, but she didn't think she would have a chance to be a star as a mom.

Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images.


Remember "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" from back in 2002? If not, do yourself a favor and rent it. The movie is a classic, but don't just take my word for it. To date, it's one of the top 10 highest grossing independent films of all time.

And guess what?

GIF from "My Fat Greek Wedding 2."

After 14 years, Nia Vardalos and her on-screen family are returning for seconds in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2," hitting theaters on March 25.

Despite all the success, however, Vardalos' life off-camera hasn't been all glitz and glamour.

Vardalos and her husband, Ian Gomez, wanted to raise a child badly but struggled for years to start their own family. They even turned to in vitro fertilization and adoption.

But nothing worked.

Then, their luck turned when they got a call about a little girl.

14 hours: After years of waiting, that was the amount of notice Vardalos and her husband received when they were matched with a 3-year-old girl living in a California foster home. Their world was about to be turned upside-down, but it didn't bother her one bit.

The emotional pain and rejection she faced for almost a decade allowed her to feel only one emotion: gratitude.

Vardalos is loving motherhood with her daughter. Photo from Nia Vardalos, used with permission.

"I'm thankful for my biological and adoption disappointments because they led me to my daughter," Vardalos told Upworthy. "When I met my daughter, everything went quiet because I knew she was the one."

But it wasn't smooth sailing at first.

Her new toddler didn't care about her new mom's Oscar nominations or successful films. Understandably, she wasn't happy with her environment, and she made her new parents aware of it.

"She was scared and angry," Vardalos said. "I spent as much time with her as possible to soothe her to make her feel safe as a part of our family."

So Vardalos made a choice: She took a break from Hollywood to focus her energy on her new role as a mom.

Vardalos knew she needed to make some big decisions to make her daughter feel safe and loved, and that's exactly what she did. Because of her hectic travel schedule, she didn't take acting gigs for three years in order to volunteer at her preschool, transition her daughter into her home, and eventually help her make the leap to kindergarten.

But Vardalos did her part to provide for her family. "Sure, I'm an actor, but I'm a screenwriter, too," she said. "In order to make a living, I took writing gigs."

She knew all along taking time away could mean losing her acting career altogether. But she did it anyway.

"At the time, I knew the risks of walking away from all things Hollywood, and if the phone stopped ringing, so be it," she said. "It's an understatement to point out that helping my daughter feel safe is more important."

Vardalos and her husband have the same hopes, dreams, and fears as other parents. Photo by Robyn Beck/Getty Images.

Now Vardalos wants to help other parents who are experiencing the same adoption challenges that she did.

Vardalos' daughter is 11 years old now, and she's thriving. But Vardalos knows there are plenty of other parents still struggling with the ups and downs of adopting children.

"The truth is, that's difficult to navigate through the adoption process," she said. "There are many people who prey upon folks who seek parenthood." So Vardalos wrote a book called "Instant Mom" that provides information on how to adopt children from all over the world. It went on to become a New York Times best-seller.

This book helped a lot of parents. Photo via Nia Vardalos, used with permission.

Vardalos is proud of the fact that the information in her book has helped to place children in permanent homes. "That makes me feel useful," she notes.

Best of all, she puts her money where her mouth is. All book proceeds are donated directly to adoption groups.

Vardalos knows that adoption isn't for everyone, and she advises everyone to do what feels right for them. To her, nothing feels more right than being a mom to her daughter.

"My eyes and heart have been opened permanently, and for that I'm thankful."

True

If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.