After reading Cristina Nehring’s breathtakingly nasty review (described in the previous post) of Rachel Adams’s Raising Henry: A Memoir of Motherhood, Disability, and Discovery (Yale University Press, 2013) I just had to read it myself. So, a borrowed copy from our in-state interlibrary loan system arrived this week, and I’ve spent the last few days in my head with Rachel Adams and her family as they adjust to the surprise of having a child with Down syndrome. I found the book smart, funny, and incredibly moving. I also ordered a copy of it for our university library, as I hope it finds a wide audience of readers among parents, teachers, therapists, and people who work in medicine.
Raising Henry is also very self-deprecating–so many of the scenes that Nehring pretended to be offended by are clearly moments in which Adams is holding herself up for criticism or even ridicule. One of the things I really like about Adams’s style is that she doesn’t brook any false piety about motherhood. She doesn’t want to be informed that Henry is an “angel” sent to her by God for a special purpose. She’s a secular (and highly successful) academic: before becoming a mother, she loved having an entire room of their apartment as her office, where she could “work in pajamas and screen my calls, surrounded by piles of books and notes.” (Isn’t that the fantasy of every humanist you know? Those of us who live outside Upper Manhattan, where third and fourth bedrooms are much cheaper to come by, are frequently living that dream, Historiann included!) When she and her husband move into a two-bedroom apartment of their own upon the birth of their first (non-disabled) son, she confesses to “imagining what it would be like to write in his big sunny room, my research spread out in the space that now held a crib, a changing table, and growing numbers of brightly colored plastic toys,” (82). Like youth, expensive real estate is sometimes wasted on the young.
Adams is also the author of Sideshow U.S.A.: Freaks and the American Cultural Imagination (University of Chicago Press, 2001) and a scholar of disability studies, and she incorporates insights from her decades of research in this field into her book about her younger son, Henry. Continue Reading »