Wow, wow, wow.
The Unfinished Child - Theresa Shea
Theresa Shea's first book explores female friendships, prenatal testing, infertility, and Down syndrome. Shea tackles a complex moral issue with great sensitivity. This is a must read not only for parents in the Down syndrome community but for all parents, and for anyone who appreciates masterful story-telling.
When Marie MacPherson, a mother of two, finds herself unexpectedly pregnant at thirty-nine, she feels guilty. Her best friend, Elizabeth, has never been able to conceive, despite years of fertility treatments. Marie's dilemma is further complicated when she becomes convinced something is wrong with her baby. She then enters the world of genetic testing and is entirely unprepared for the decision that lies ahead.
Intertwined throughout the novel is the story of Margaret, who gave birth to a daughter with Down syndrome in 1947, when such infants were defined as "unfinished" children. As the novel shifts back and forth through the decades, the lives of the three women converge, and the story speeds to an unexpected conclusion.
With skill and poise, debut novelist Theresa Shea dramatically explores society's changing views of Down syndrome over the past sixty years. The story offers an unflinching and compassionate history of the treatment of people with Down syndrome and their struggle for basic human rights. Ultimately, The Unfinished Child is an unforgettable and inspiring tale about the mysterious and complex bonds of family, friendship, and motherhood.
I can't even fully tell you how much I loved this book. This book had me from the first chapter all the way to the end. You have no idea what's happening but when things start clicking together at the end it just feels... perfect. Between the difficulty of pregnancy, have an imperfect child decades ago and now, friendships between women and even abortion- it's just everything you need to read. All at once, right here.
The best part about this is that I hated both Marie and Elizabeth, the two friends highlighted in the story, but it doesn't take away from the story at all, it just makes it better. I felt terrible for Margaret, who gives birth to her first child only to be presented with a devastating ending with no real possibilities. We see what it was like to have a "mongoloid" child (Down's Syndrome) in 1947, where that child was sent to an institution and forgotten. Except Margaret can't forget her child, and eventually- she visits in secret and is subsequently horrified. But it doesn't stop her until one day she makes a heartbreaking and terrifying discovery and she knows she can't go back.
Fast forward to present time, and Elizabeth so desperately wants a baby of her own but with multiple failed fertility routes, her marriage is falling apart, and her friendship with Marie is a mess. Marie has children of her own but isn't really maternal and struggles with the changes of being a mother, when she suddenly finds herself pregnant a third time, she feels equal parts terrified, doubtful, and guilty. Once Elizabeth finds out about the pregnancy, she's obviously upset and struggles with that. Then when it's clear Marie's pregnancy isn't the standard pregnancy and she's faced with an impossible choice. It puts their lifelong friendship at risk. But it gives light to how some friendships just fade away, life changes you and sometimes what was a good fit at one point in your life, isn't a good fit later on. Especially if you feel as if you are in some kind of competition with that person. But then we learn more about Elizabeth and her history as an adopted child, and how that gives her a new direction.
What an emotional story. There was a passage in the beginning of the book that I tabbed off because I felt like it just grabbed at me, and you could maybe relate to it as well:
"Finally, Barry quietly came upstairs. Marie regulated her breathing and pretended to be asleep. They had performed this scene so many times in their married life- she pretending to be asleep, he pretending to believe she was sleeping. But maybe this time would be different. Maybe this time he would apologize for his remark and seek some kind of reconciliation. It wouldn't take much, just a light touch on the small of her back, or a brief kiss on her cheek. Just a small acknowledgment that this pregnancy was not simply hers to deal with, now was it a way to measure her life against her best friend's. Why didn't he ever just say that she was doing a good job, that she was a good mother? But when he emerged from the bathroom he slid slowly into bed, careful not to bounce the mattress. The he turned over, his limbs contained to his side of the bed, and within minutes began to snore.
Sometimes loneliness was a physical pain that was worse than any cramp or contraction she'd ever had."
God- who can't just read that and feel what that means because we've all been there at some point? I didn't like Marie, but damn- I could relate to her right here. The struggle she goes through is awful and it's not something you would ever wish on someone or ever want to deal with on your own. What was sad to me was towards the end there was some conversation about how back in day, children with disabilities were often forgotten in some institution to be abused and neglected. Then we have a time where parents were encouraged to bring them home and love them. Now we're at a point where you can terminate a pregnancy and it begins an argument is that even right? I think some people cannot raise a disabled child, and it shouldn't be forced. It's just a hard decision with so many life long repercussions.
I really recommend this book to really any woman, mom or not. It's such a fascinating story of womanhood, parenting, marriage, friendship and self doubt. So excellent, I can't rave enough about it.