Thursday, July 25, 2013

Book Rant: "The Unfinished Child" by Theresa Shea *** spoiler alert ***

I had not read a book on Down syndrome in years.  My son is fourteen and I read Martha Beck's memoir "Expecting Adam" when I was pregnant with him. I loved it so much that I figured I would just be disappointed by other books on the subject.  

And I was right.

I'm not exactly sure what made me read this one, except that I was in the library and the title caught my eye.  

The story of Margaret and Caroline really held me.  The rights of children with disabilities in orphanages around the world has long been a passion of mine and the description of a young mother giving up her baby seemed realistic.  An awful reality for sure, but an all too common one at that time (the late forties) in North America and an all too common occurrence around the world, still, today. I wished Margaret would have removed Caroline from the institution, but I can somewhat understand that she felt she had no alternative.  She was a product of the time she lived in.

As I read on, I became increasingly irritated by the characters in the story. Elizabeth and Marie have a totally dysfunctional "best friendship" that should have been put out of it's misery years earlier.  Both women are whiny and weak and instead of really confiding in each other, (though they can't go a few days without seeing or calling each other), they hide their true feelings.  I'm sorry. What are best friends for if you can't be real with them?  

Elizabeth bullies her husband into ten years of fertility treatments that he doesn't necessarily want and though she is adopted herself, she is not considering least not until nearly the end of the book.

Marie laments her poor parenting and just when you think her new baby will give her a chance to try and be better, she has a late stage abortion because the baby has Down syndrome.  

Oh, and did I mention that when Marie tells Elizabeth about the diagnosis, Elizabeth offers to take the baby when it's born?  Are you freaking kidding me?
Can you even imagine that scenario?  Did I say that they were dysfunctional?  

Don't even get me started on the other husbands in the book.  Or, the fact that the aborted baby's ashes are put into an urn to be placed on the mantel, as if she just died of natural causes.  ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?!?!

The description of Marie feeling the baby kick and still having the "procedure" of injecting salt water into the fetus' heart done made me hate her; really, hate her.  I hated her for listening to her useless husband.  I hated her for being so weak.  I hated her for not even wanting to get more information.  I hated her for feeling sad, when she could have changed her mind at any point.  Fuck you!  Sad?!?!?

I have no problem with abortion in general.  Unplanned and unwanted pregnancies happen.  By all means, don't have a kid you don't want.  But, deciding to continue a pregnancy until you find out the kid might not be exactly "perfect" (like your other two are?!?!) is a completely different story.  We are not talking about a diagnosis incompatible with life when we talk about Down syndrome; we are talking about one that is incompatible with a perceived "lifestyle".  If you think that having just "typical" kids is not going to put a cramp in your lifestyle, then let me tell you, you are in for a shock.  Unless you've got Brangelina money, kids will change everything.  And even if you do, they will still change everything, but you won't have to worry about the bills. What happens if one of these "perfect" kids starts showing signs of learning disabilities, or Autism, or homosexuality?  Will you give them away because they don't fit the mold of your ideals? 

I probably could have put up with all the rest of the crap in this book if Marie had decided to keep the baby and learn how to be a better parent or if Elizabeth decided to adopt a baby with or without Down syndrome; but no, it was not to be.

In the end, there was nothing redeeming about either of the main characters and I found that deeply disappointing.  

The one thing this book does is raise questions about the ethics involved in selective abortion and the broader issue of how we as a human race view people with Down syndrome.  As important as I think these issues are, I don't think this book will help anyone in their quest to find answers, it will only raise more questions.


  1. Aw, man! See, I hated Expecting Adam! Too much woo-hoo BS for me.

    And I LOVED The Unfinished Child. Not because I'm glad about how it played out, but because I love a story that makes me feel deeply, and this one did. And because, however awful you think the characters might be, I think they are pretty realistic illustrations of average people.

    The point of the book - aside from telling a good story (if it's your cup of tea) - was to pose the question: has technology made things better for childbearing women? There was a time in the not too distant past when women were expected to give their newborns up to be institutionalized if the baby had Ds. Technology has now made it possible for parents to know early in pregnancy whether their baby has Ds - and many people see that as a positive advance. But now, because of that technology, women are faced with a terrible choice. So, has maternal/reproductive technology made thing better? Has it made things better for people with Ds?

    I thought the story was very realistic and well written. The characters were flawed, but aren't we all?

    You might be interested in the discussion questions for the book that the author put up on Goodreads. Are you in our Ds/Disability book club on FB??

    1. I loved Expecting Adam for the reason that she was really baring her soul and letting us see her, warts and all. And though now the terminology is outdated, much of what she said and felt while pregnant was exactly how I was feeling at the time...again, 14 1/2 years ago, when I read it.

      I understand flawed characters and I am certainly not perfect, but I can't understand why if those women were so close, they didn't really confide in each other. Seriously? Like I said, what is a best friend for if you can't be real with them?

      And I have zero patience for weak husbands. Zero. Moments of weakness? Sure. But overall, wishy washy-ness makes me want to hurt someone. I could never live with someone like that.

      As far as posing hard questions, I agree with that. It does. But, oh...first it made me so mad! :)

      I honestly don't think joining in on a discussion about this book will do anyone any good. :) But, maybe.

  2. We're reading lots of other books, too :)