Madonna and four of her kids cover the latest issue of People Magazine. I’ll admit that I had actually forgotten that she adopted twins Estere and Stella, and I had also forgotten that little David Banda is not so little anymore! David Banda is 11 years old! Lourdes and Rocco did not participate in this cover, possibly because they managed to get away from Madonna Dearest to some extent – Lola is in college and Rocco spends more time with his dad in London now. Anyway, this People Mag story is a surprisingly soft-focus piece about Madonna’s life as a mom and her work in Malawi. There’s no mention of the years of controversy around her “charity” Raising Malawai, of the millions of dollars that disappeared, or Madonna’s inability to really organize that charity for years. But sure. She seems like a good mom and she just opened a hospital in Malawi.
Madonna may be the highest-selling female artist of all time, but at home she’s just Mom — or “Mambo,” as the four youngest of her six kids call her. For this week’s issue, the pop icon, 59, offered a rare glimpse inside her private world, inviting PEOPLE to join her in Malawi on July 11, when she opened the Mercy James Centre for Pediatric Surgery and Intensive Care, the nation’s first children’s hospital. A month later, at her home in London, she opened up about her emotional adoption journey, why she’s dedicated to helping the children of Malawi — and her busy, rewarding life as mom to Lourdes, 20, Rocco, 17, David, 11, Mercy, 11, and 5-year-old twins Estere and Stella.
Already mom to Lourdes (with former flame Carlos Leon) and Rocco (with ex-husband Guy Ritchie), the singer first saw son David Banda at Home of Hope, an orphanage in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital city. He was a baby battling pneumonia and malaria at the time, and feeling an instant connection, she began the adoption process. But when she brought him home to London in 2008, the reception wasn’t anything she’d imagined. “Every newspaper said I kidnapped him,” Madonna says. “In my mind, I was thinking, ‘Wait a minute. I’m trying to save somebody’s life. Why are you all s—-ing on me right now?’ I did everything by the book. That was a real low point for me. I would cry myself to sleep.”
Madonna met Mercy James around the same time as David, and adopting her was even more difficult. Because she had recently divorced Ritchie, Malawian officials told her “I was not capable of raising a child,” she says. “The way I was treated — that sexist behavior — was ridiculous,” adds Madonna, who successfully challenged the refusal in Malawi’s Supreme Court and brought home Mercy in 2009. “I’ve had some pretty dark moments,” she says, “but I’m a survivor.”
In February, the star brought home Estere and Stella, orphaned twins whom she met at Home of Hope 2½ years ago. Last summer, she again began the adoption process, which she says was just as rigorous: “Because I’m a public figure, people don’t want to be perceived as giving me any kind of special treatment, so I get the hard road.” Adds the proud mom: “It’s complicated, but it’s so worth it.”
After seven months, Estere and Stella are acclimated. “It’s like they’ve always been here,” says Madonna of the precocious pair, who have become the stars of her latest Instagram posts. Moana and Sing play on loop at her home, but when “Holiday” came on during dinner and David told the twins it was one of Mambo’s hits, “they were like, ‘Huh?’” Madonna says. Of the fact that their mom is the Queen of Pop: “They don’t have a clue,” she says, “and that’s a good thing. I’m just their mother.”
People said Madonna kidnapped David because she actually didn’t follow Malawi’s existing foreign-adoption rules. People said she got special treatment from the Malawi government because SHE DID. She greased palms, spread around millions of dollars and had to go to court repeatedly to bend the rules for her adoptions. I’m not saying that she’s a bad mother or that she doesn’t love her kids. I’m saying that a lot of the criticism lodged at Madonna was justified, and it was an education for any person looking at foreign adoptions: unless you have a lot of money to spread around, you need to follow the existing laws and foreign adoption protocols.
Cover courtesy of People, additional pic from Madonna’s Instagram.