Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Good and Perfect Gift (memoir)

A Good and Perfect Gift by Amy Julia Becker

I was contacted by the publicist for the the publishing house that released this book earlier this month, asking if I would read it and feature it on my blog. Always interested in personal accounts of raising a child with Down syndrome, I was happy to oblige.

In this book, Amy Julia Becker tells a somewhat familiar story: full of hopes and dreams, she gives birth to a baby, shortly thereafter learns the baby has Down syndrome, experiences the shock and grief so many of us parents experience with that diagnosis, struggles to come to terms with it all, and eventually finds some semblance of peace. On a very general level, her story is not so different from my own, and so on a very general level I was able to relate.

However, her entire struggle to come to terms with her daughter's diagnosis is framed within her devout Christianity, and to this I could not at all relate. She struggles to reconcile her daughter's "imperfection" with the belief that her daughter is created in God's image. She struggles to find some divine meaning in her daughter's Down syndrome: is it a lesson from God? A punishment? A divine reward?

Additionally, Amy Julia and her husband are both highly educated high-achievers, and the author struggles mightily with the knowledge that her daughter, by virtue of having Down syndrome, has cognitive impairments. Although at some point in the book, she attempts to convey finally coming to terms with that and being able to see her daughter's value apart from her intelligence and abilities, I never got the sense that she actually did find a way to separate her daughter's value from her abilities. Throughout the latter half of the book, she spends a lot of time talking about all of her daughter's accomplishments (and at one point, when her daughter was a mere 14 months old, she and her husband buy a special treadmill for their daughter, determined to get her walking - I absolutely cringed at this). In fact, by her telling, her daughter does seem on the higher end of ability as far as Down syndrome goes, but I have to wonder how she would feel if her daughter were one of the children with Down syndrome who didn't walk until age 3, was non-verbal at age 5, and so forth.

Amy Julia Becker is a talented writer, but her story didn't resonate with me. I understand that she wanted to tell her story from her perspective, but framing it from such a devoutly Christian perspective constructs a barrier between her and non-Christian readers/parents of children with Down syndrome. This is not the worst memoir I've read about having a child with Down syndrome, but not the best either.

My copy is up for grabs if anyone wants it.

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