Sad, angry, shocked, ecstatic, repulsed, embarrassed, proud, nervous, and content.
All those and more are things I felt while reading Expecting Adam by Martha Beck. This book chronicles Beck’s pregnancy with her second child while both her and her husband are twenty-somethings working their way through multiple Harvard degrees. Smart, driven, goal-orientated students, their world is suddenly turned upside down when Beck gets unexpectedly pregnant and then discovers the baby has Down syndrome. In an academic world where anything less than brilliant and perfect is disgusting, the Becks decide to keep their baby (or “fetus” as she refers to him until he’s born–one of many things I found infuriating in this book) and find that all of the sudden they do not fit into their world
The majority of the book is spent in the nine months leading up to Adam’s birth with glimpses into the future thrown in. The love Beck and her husband feel for this unborn child is palpable and real, but there is a constant struggle between what they know in their hearts and what their minds tell them. (Beck is pro-choice before, during, and after Adam’s pregnancy. She makes it clear that abortion is a right and clear choice for some women, she just didn’t feel like it was the best choice for her pregnancy. Again, something I struggled with while reading her story.) During this time, the Becks start getting glimpses through spirits and dreams about this child they will have. He is powerful before even being born and starts to change their lives, their futures, and their beliefs long before his arrival.
Beck makes it known that she and her husband were raised Mormon but have since left that belief system. She makes the ironic comment that it was once she started believing in God that she officially left the Mormon faith. Here’s another part that I didn’t like very much: she believes in a god, she’s not sure which faith fits her god, and through her experiences with Adam she knows that some higher power exists. But she doesn’t talk about the Bible, her god as the God of the Trinity, or anything specific other than a mystic belief in a god. Even this is painful for her, in the beginning, to admit because until the moment of Adam’ conception, she believed there was no such thing as God.
While there were bit and pieces I didn’t like or agree with, the overall feel of the book was powerful. There were truths that apply to all of us, not just parent or parents of mentally handicap children (she refers to her son and others as “retarded” and that made me a little uncomfortable. As an educator, I know that word is incorrect and hurtful, but she uses it even when talking lovingly about her child. I found it very distracting.). I loved it when she said,
What a beautiful reminder that others don’t define us, no matter what our ability or disability. That passage still gets me even as I read it for the (probably) twentieth time. There were times I wanted to shake Beck, I felt she was being so crazy or irrational. But in the next sentence, she’ll talk about how she knows how crazy or irrational she’s being and you can’t help but like her in all of her mess. I like that quality and hope others can say the same thing about me.
One thing I enjoyed is there was never a moment where Beck bemoaned her situation and asked “why me?” She did often ask “why him?” but never her. I greatly respect that choice. While thinking about this question, she says that “the hardest lesson I have ever had to learn is that I will never know the meaning of my children’s pain, and that I have neither the capacity nor the right to take it away from them.” That is a hard truth. A good truth, but a hard one.
This book pushed me. It pushed me to think about what I believe, what I think is wrong, and what I think is right. And I liked reading a book from someone who is so different from me. It was refreshing and thought provoking and challenging.