Thursday 30 April 2015

Not Exactly As Planned - A Must Read Book About Family and Disability

It was months ago that I added to my reading list 'Not Exactly As Planned: A Memoir of Adoption, Secrets and Abiding Love' by Linda Rosenbaum.  But it was just this morning that I turned the last page and regretfully said goodbye to the Rosenbaum-Christmas family of Toronto Island.

Linda Rosenbaum and her husband Robin Christmas have two adopted children, but only one, Michael, who struggles with the effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder, or FASD.  Michael Christmas is a young man now, an accomplished wood carver who has learned how to be in the world through the love of his parents and sibling - a love that is imperfect but unwavering as in all the families I know who are raising children with developmental disabilities.

I cannot tell you how much I loved this book.  Linda Rosenbaum doesn't just tell us the story of her adoption or of raising a child with learning and behaviour challenges.  She tells us the story of her life and what meanings her family disability narrative held for her.  We learn the secret of Linda's maternal grandmother's mental illness.  We learn the vital importance of rites and rituals in bringing calm and order to families burdened by chaos and unpredictability.

But there's a more personal reason that I loved this book.  I too have a family history that impacted the way I felt about Nicholas' diagnoses.  Witnessing my father having a post-stroke grand mal seizure when I was 17 made me paralyzed with fear when Nick received a diagnosis of epilepsy.  I too struggled with serious depression and anxiety when I was a young student (I blogged about that part of my life HERE).  We are all a product of our experiences and that fact is revealed in harsh light when mothers and fathers struggle to be good parents to their children with developmental disabilities.

So many of Rosenbaum's words resonated with me.  Take this reflection, for instance:  "Parents often differ, but with a disabled child, the stakes feel higher.  We continuously wanted to 'correct' or teach or model.  We we had the power to 'fix'.  Every move counted."

Or this:  "I began sobbing.  What if my tears never stopped?  This is something for serious criers like me fear: that once we let ourselves go, we may never come back.  Shouldn't we know by now that crying, like life and a good story, has a beginning, a middle and an end?  Yes, perhaps I should have known.  But it's hard when I never know where the story is taking me next.  I kept crying."

I wager that every mother of a child with disabilities has experienced the panicky, out of body experience of sobbing long and hard, fearing it will never stop.  I have.

This book is not just about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and it's not just about adoption.  It's about family, personal histories and the effects of disabilities on our children and all who love them.  I urge you to buy this book and then to look at Rosenbaum's website as I did this morning.  Her family photos and stories are a wonderful adjunct to her book.

NOTE:  I am honoured to serve on the board of NeuroDevNet, a Canadian Centre of Excellence that funds research into neurodevelopmental disabilities, including FASD.

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