The Unfinished Child by Theresa Shea

[Originally posted on April 3, 2013 here]

Image.ashx The Unfinished Child
by Theresa Shea

Gripping. Heart-wrenching. Thought-provoking. Riveting. Haunting. Unputdownable.

Those are just a few words that come to mind to describe this just-released novel by Canadian writer, Theresa Shea.

At the heart of the story are three women: Marie, Elizabeth, and Margaret.

In 1947, Margaret gives birth to her first baby, a girl, whom she names Carolyn. She is allowed to hold her baby once, and even that is against her doctor’s advice. Born with Down syndrome at a time when institutionalization of “mongoloids” and “mental defectives” was the norm, something within Margaret dies, nonetheless, at handing her baby over. As was also the norm then, the whole incident is brushed under the rug, and Margaret is expected to forget her first child ever existed, and move on. Move on, she does, having two “healthy” children in quick succession, but Margaret never fully recovers in her heart from Carolyn’s birth and absence. When Carolyn is four years old, Margaret summons up the courage to visit her in the “training centre” in which she is housed, and there begins twelve years of monthly visits from mother to daughter, all undertaken in secret.

Marie and Elizabeth are best friends in modern-day Canada. They’ve been best friends since they were girls, and their friendship has withstood not only the test of time, but of boyfriend stealing, and barely, the fact that Marie has two beautiful daughters and Elizabeth has never been able to have children despite a decade of grueling fertility treatments. Now, on the brink of turning 40, Marie finds herself unexpectedly pregnant again, and the news not only throws her for a loop, but opens up old wounds between her and Elizabeth. One night, Marie wakes from a dream, convinced that something is wrong with the baby she carries – the baby she never planned. Both her premonition and the fact of her “advanced maternal age” lead her down the path of prenatal testing, and suddenly it seems as though it’s not only her and her baby’s fate that lie in the crosshairs, but her husband’s, her existing children’s, and even her best friend’s fates as well.

How the stories of these three women from different eras intertwines will surprise you. Shea takes an unflinching look at the grim horrors of institutionalization, the nuanced dances that take place between spouses and friends, and the price we pay for having choices.

I broke down in tears many times throughout this deftly imagined story, and although I wanted to be able to summon up some righteous outrage at times, what I mostly felt was enlightened and a deep compassion. It drives home the fact that despite the debates raging about prenatal testing, abortion, and inclusion, nothing is black and white, and there are no easy answers.

This is a must read for not only parents in the Down syndrome community, but for all parents, and for anyone who appreciates masterful story-telling. I will not soon forget this book.

Advertisements

The Politics of Down Syndrome by Kieron Smith

[Originally posted on December 8, 2011 here]

The Politics of Down Syndrome by Kieron Smith

This book arrived in my mailbox right on the heels of my recent post about prenatal screenings and Down syndrome (which was picked up by Yahoo! Voices here), and it is right in line with my own views about prenatal screenings that have evolved over the last three years since Finn was born.

I was originally notified about this book by George Estreich, author of The Shape of the Eye. Subsequently, Kieron Smith sent me a copy of his book to read and review, and it really resonated with me. I began reading it, and then quickly realized that there was so much the author had to say that I wanted to remember, so I started over, going through it with a yellow highlighter.

Like The Shape of the Eye, The Politics of Down Syndrome examines how Down syndrome has been treated by the medical profession and society historically, and how our attitudes today are still very much shaped by old prejudices and outdated ideas about Down syndrome. While the author has a young daughter who has Down syndrome and he does say in the book that having her has definitely influenced his own evolving views, this is not a memoir. It’s more a sociological study. In it, he covers three main areas:

  • Prenatal screenings and how pregnant women are manipulated by a medical profession lacking in a genuine understanding of Down syndrome;
  • Education of children with Down syndrome; and
  • Inclusion and society’s views
His views also fall very much in line with Kathie Snow’s Disability is Natural – that is, that disability is a normal part of human diversity which should be embraced, and that inclusion in education and all aspects of life is what is called for for the betterment of not only people with disabilities, but for society as a whole.
The only criticism I have is that the book could use some serious editing; I noticed a lot of typos, poor punctuation, run-on sentences and incomplete sentences. I’d love to get a hold of the manuscript and give it a good overhaul! The content is excellent, but it needs a little polish.
At only 72 pages of text, it’s a quick read, but this slim little book contains some very important stuff. While it focuses on the state of things in the UK (where the author resides), most of it can definitely be applied to the U.S. I was actually a little surprised to discover that things over there seem to be very similar to things over here as far as the issues covered in the book.
A must read for parents, expectant parents, educators, and medical professionals.
I have an extra copy to give away – leave a comment if you would like it.