Friday, March 5, 2010

From the other Side of the Uterus

Ok, so who's heard of the birth mother memoir Without a Map, by Meredith Hall?

It was published in 2007, so I'm a little late to the party, but geez, this one is a must-read. Hall's writing is exquisite, so if for no other reason, read the book for the beautiful prose.

Of course, there's more to it than that. She describes being shunned by her family and community as a result of becoming pregnant at age 16 in 1965, and her portrayal of her isolation mirrors my (and many other adoptees') experiences of loneliness and loss of sense of belonging. I have recently been thinking about how the birthmother's experience is very like the adoptees experience, and she affirms it here:

"It feels like a murder, and is baffling because there is no grave; no hymns were sung to ease my going or to beg for God's blessing on my soul."

The book chronicles her pregnancy, and much later, her reunion with the son she placed for adoption. Although it's incredibly painful to read about how she was treated and how she dealt with that treatment, I'm finding it very instructive and comforting to get inside the mind of a birth mother who is the same age as my birth mother, and was therefore subjected to the same kind of social stigma as she was. Because my birth mother is silent about all this.

Have you read this book? If so, what do you think?
Please, let us know!!


michelle said...

Thanks, I haven't heard of it but will look for it. I completely understand the draw of getting "into the mind of a birth mother" the same age as your own.

daisy said...

I'm glad you found it worth reading. I agree with you, much of her prose is exquisite. It was the first of the adoption memoirs I've read that I thought moved beyond a sort of journalistic approach to autobiography.

I ran across a review of Mary Karr's most recent memoir in the NYT and highlighted the following passage:

'“Lit,” in contrast, deals with a less anomalous story — that is, a story of addiction and recovery, by now familiar in outline from the many A.A.-like autobiographies produced during the memoir craze of the late ’90s. Whereas many of these lesser efforts were propelled by the belief that confession is therapeutic and therapy is redemptive and redemption somehow equals art, Ms. Karr’s own work demonstrates that candor and self-revelation only become literature when they are delivered with hard-earned craft, that the exposed life is not the same as the examined one.'

As a whole book it's flawed, I think - some later chapters seem awkward and tacked on. But I don't believe that that diminishes the power of the majority of the book. I felt her ability to describe the profound loneliness of her isolated and housebound pregnancy and later, her solitary wandering, was really incredible.

I'm not sure why, precisely, but I've always felt a very strong identification with birthmothers from my own birthmother's era - I could always easily imagine myself in a similar spot - as the one left holding the bag, as it were. I don't know how typical this is? Certainly I could identify with the isolation and deep loneliness that so often accompanied their experience of being removed and hidden away. Actually, I've been wondering lately how tied together loneliness and shame seem to be - and how shameful admitting feeling lonely is in this culture. It seems to be an aspect of adoption not really discussed much (not as much as abandonment, grief, low self-esteem, etc.)

Andrea said...

Michelle: Thanks for stopping by! I checked out your blog and am very interested to hear your perspective as an adoptee and an adoptive mother. Could we chat via email?

Daisy: Once again, your intelligence and keen insight shine in this lowly comment space. I very much appreciate your presence on my blog and feel honored that you visit! Have you read any of Mary Karr's work? I'm a big fan.
Also, I am planning to go to the adoption conference at MIT in April/May, and I'd love to meet up with you. Can we chat about how to do that?