Friday, February 14, 2014

Book Review: Expecting Adam

I happened upon this book in a thrift store and was enticed by the cover to buy it (especially since it bears endorsements from Anne Lamott and Julia Cameron). I'm so glad I did. As the Time Magazine comment on the front cover asserts: "Slyly ironic, frequently hilarious, Beck's memoir charts the journey from being smart to becoming wise."

This is the perfect memoir if you are looking for something to combine excellent humor with deeply moving insights into human nature and all that is most sacred about life. I laughed so hard my sons asked what was so funny. Of course, the author's wry sense of humor was way over their heads, but I loved every minute of it (far more than the other humorous book I tried earlier this month).

Martha Beck and her husband were both Harvard students, used to the world of intense academic achievement and cut-throat competition, when they learned that she was expecting her second child and that the boy would have Downs Syndrome. When I wasn't laughing at her choice expressions and descriptions of the events, I was deeply moved by the intensity of her experience with the reactions, both her own and those of others around her, and by the magical nature of her new sense of understanding of life and the world after Adam's birth. In a world where excellence and perfection seem to be all-important, many could not understand her desire to give life to this less-than-perfect baby growing in her womb. But the experience of expecting Adam caused Martha to learn more about what is truly important in life and to recognize the beauty that often is overlooked or considered meaningless.

Here are a few brief examples of her wit. When describing their first babysitter, she writes: "It was obvious to me she was a heroin addict, probably with Mob connections, who was just waiting for John and me to depart so that she could sell our daughter to slave traders in Pakistan.... Nothing went obviously wrong, although I still have a little money saved up for Katie's therapy in case she ever starts having flashbacks of that bizarre, black-clad young woman sacrificing pigeons on the window ledge of our apartment."

Of her son's delivery, she writes: "The births of my daughters, by comparison, were rowdy, noisy affairs, with doctors cracking jokes and John coaching me through the breathing and me occasionally mentioning that I would have preferred a quick, painless death." (Perhaps this struck me as funny because I clearly remember labor with my first and my own screams of "just kill me now.")

But besides the humor, Martha Beck manages to convey so eloquently what must have been a time of great confusion and discouragement. The book could have been terribly depressing as she recounts the insensitive comments of several Harvard colleagues, but instead it is full of laughter and hope, transformation and redemption. Every reader will benefit from the experience of coming alongside Martha Beck as she is Expecting Adam.

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