The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

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I never intended for my blogs to become book reviews. But here we are. My second book review blog post.

“The Memory Keeper’s Daughter” was given to me by Breana Hilerio when we had a class together at College of Coastal Georgia some years ago. I often talked about my own daughter Mary who has Down syndrome, and our conversations made Breana think I would enjoy this book. She was right!

Kim Edwards weaves an intricate story, addressing emotions, thoughts, and actions seamlessly, and moving deftly between the point of view of different characters. Throughout the book Kim Edwards shows how a single moment in time can be captured in memory by all who experienced it, but that memory is different for each person.

Through Kim Edwards’ imagination and story telling skill she creates an entirely believable cast of characters, and we get to know each one personally. In a mere 401 pages, she covers the years 1964-1989. I found myself many times praying for the characters, feeling their pain, wanting them to connect with each other and face their pain together…and then realizing there was no need to pray. The book was written, the characters set. My prayers wouldn’t change a thing.

When Mary was growing in my womb an ultrasound revealed a thickening of the skin at the base of her neck, and a possible heart defect. These were indications that she might be born with Down syndrome. Following protocol, my doctor sent my husband Keith and me to  a genetic counselor. The woman’s face has blurred in my memory, but I remember her urging us to have an amniocenteses done to confirm the Down syndrome diagnosis. As I read the paperwork we would have to sign to have the  amnio done, the words “could cause unintended abortion” leaped off the page. I pointed the words out to Keith, and our decision was made. We would not have the amnio done. Down syndrome or no, our love for our child would be unchanged.

We went back to the genetic counselor and declined the amniocentesis. She urged us to rethink our stance. The window of time for which we could legally abort and “try again for a healthy baby” was rapidly closing.  She described how difficult our child’s life would be. She gave us an overwhelming amount of information contained in brochures and books that made our child’s future look bleak. Keith and I again declined the amnio. The genetic counselor, grim-faced, let us go.

At my next doctor appointment, my doctor was encouraging. He was glad to know that we were carrying our baby to term, and keeping her. Mary was not diagnosed with Down syndrome until the day she was born. But I skimmed the information the genetic counselor had provided, reading bits here and there. I was shocked to learn that many parents of children with Down syndrome had cosmetic surgery done so they wouldn’t “look” Downs. I was disheartened to learn how many parents of children with Down syndrome abort.

Keith and I already had two older children when Mary entered our lives; Chris 10 and Chrissy 12 years old. Somehow having parented those two for so long gave me the courage to set the books on Down syndrome aside and just watch my Mary grow. She is 17 years old now. She has hit mile stones delayed, but she has hit them. She still can’t tie her own shoes, but she continues to try. Mary loves to pray, play baseball, swim, sing, act, and cook. She loves school! She lines up her dolls or stuffed animals or action figures and holds class for them.

“The Memory Keeper’s Daughter” talks of marriage. Mary pours a lot of love into the world around her, and I occasionally wonder if she will pour some of that love into a husband.

I sometimes wish I could go back to that genetic counselor, remind her of the discouraging things she said, and introduce her to Mary. I wonder how many parents she was able to talk into aborting and trying again for a “healthy baby.” I wonder if she has regrets about the lives and love lost to this world due to abortion and the hand she played in it.

So much anger, hurt, and misunderstanding can be overcome if we will just take the time to talk to those we love. Attempt to see the world, to see ourselves, from our loved one’s point of view. Change our focus away from ourselves and learn the love languages of those around us. Then speak the language they understand so they can KNOW that they are loved.

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4th of July, 2016

 

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