Saturday, April 16, 2011

Book Review: Expecting Adam

I recently re-read Expecting Adam by Martha Beck. It is a true life story of Martha's account of her pregnancy with a little boy who has Down Syndrome. She is a captivating writer with such  crisp descriptions of emotions and events that one can't help but feel completely in the moment with her. I appreciated her slightly dry sense of humour that is sprinkled in between fairly serious thoughts. Most of the account is about her journey of coming to terms with having a child with special needs, in the midst of the worst morning sickness I have ever heard about, whilst dealing with the very fierce expectations of how woman should cope from her Harvard environment, and simultaneously trying to make sense of the unfamiliar and profound spiritual moments that were breaking into her very rational world.

I loved the stories about her son that she wove into the fabric of the story - engaging, joyous and celebratory stories from his life that contrasted the struggles she was facing in coming to terms with the diagnosis. Being a mom of a kiddie with special needs I would have appreciated more about him, but as the title clearly states the book is about her season of expecting him, rather than raising him. I couldn't connect with some of her interpretations of the spiritual moments that clearly made a deep and lasting impact on her. My Christian world view would have interpretted her experiences differently. I have to acknowledge that I was reading her journey and I was hearing her story - she wasn't trying to convince me to believe as she did.

From what I have read, I think she is now an influencial life coach with columns in prominent magazines and newspapers, and has also been on TV. This is her website: I must admit that I was a bit disappointed to find nothing about Adam, nor the journey of raising a kid with special needs as part of her current portrayal of who she is. I would think that much of the lessons that she is now sharing with others were birthed and refined through her struggles and victories of parenting a child with special needs. Maybe she shares that in her work, but it is sadly absent on the website.

I first read this book about 8 years ago. Lloyd and I, together with a couple other close friends, were on a 4 month road trip around Eastern Africa. We all swopped each other's books. And someone had brought along Expecting Adam. I think if we were back home in "normal life" we wouldn't really have picked up such a book, let alone both Lloyd and I read it one after the other. Given the many hours spent on the road, we had a good chance to chat through the books we were reading. In fact this book sparked what turns out to be a pivotal conversation for us as a couple - we chatted about what we would do were we in Martha's position; about the pros and cons of using abortion in cases of medical conditions; about our values; about what it would be like to have a kid who had some kind of disability. At the time it was all theory for us. But it really laid a foundation for us in preparation for the time when we needed to face those issues in our own lives. Looking back I am deeply grateful for that opportunity.

As I read this book last month, I chuckled to myself at what a different person I am now, and how different parts of the story meant more to me now than they did 8 years ago. Understandably, given my journey with Matt, I have a new set of eyes to view Martha's story, and for that matter, to view the world. Re-reading this book highlighted for me the extent to which my perspectives have radically altered. And I am deeply grateful for my new perspective on life.

One thing that did remain the same though, is that I was attracted to the exact same paragraph in the book both times. I actually wrote it my journal back then in 2003, and blogged about it yesterday. To read the quote in context you'll have to read yesterday's post. And just because it is such a profound statement I will repeat it here once more:

This is the part of us that makes our brief, improbable little lives worth living: the ability to reach through our own isolation and find strength, and comfort, and warmth for and in each other. This is what human beings do. This is what we live for, the way horses live to run.

1 comment:

Terri H-E said...

My husband and I read this book early on after Addie's diagnosis (she was about 3). We both had a hard time with it. As you state, it was a story of her own identity at the time. The word Harvard was on each page no less than 10 times. The pendulum between helplessness to sheer power swung too wide for us to find believable.

That said, I do like Martha Beck. I have read her columns and also appreciate her sense of humor and her practical approach to issues many find insurmountable. But there was little to nothing in Expecting Adam that I identified with.

Still looking for such a book. Have read many on the topic of disability parenting and my search continues... Guess I'll have to write my own!

Thanks for your thoughts on this. Hope you are well!