The Unfinished Child by Theresa Shea

Image.ashx The Unfinished Child
by Theresa Shea

Gripping.  Heart-wrenching.  Thought-provoking.  Riveting.  Haunting.  Unputdownable.

Those are just a few words that come to mind to describe this just-released novel by Canadian writer, Theresa Shea.

At the heart of the story are three women: Marie, Elizabeth, and Margaret.

In 1947, Margaret gives birth to her first baby, a girl, whom she names Carolyn.  She is allowed to hold her baby once, and even that is against her doctor’s advice.  Born with Down syndrome at a time when institutionalization of “mongoloids” and “mental defectives” was the norm, something within Margaret dies, nonetheless, at handing her baby over.  As was also the norm then, the whole incident is brushed under the rug, and Margaret is expected to forget her first child ever existed, and move on.  Move on, she does, having two “healthy” children in quick succession, but Margaret never fully recovers in her heart from Carolyn’s birth and absence.  When Carolyn is four years old, Margaret summons up the courage to visit her in the “training centre” in which she is housed, and there begins twelve years of monthly visits from mother to daughter, all undertaken in secret.

Marie and Elizabeth are best friends in modern-day Canada.  They’ve been best friends since they were girls, and their friendship has withstood not only the test of time, but of boyfriend stealing, and barely, the fact that Marie has two beautiful daughters and Elizabeth has never been able to have children despite a decade of grueling fertility treatments.  Now, on the brink of turning 40, Marie finds herself unexpectedly pregnant again, and the news not only throws her for a loop, but opens up old wounds between her and Elizabeth.  One night, Marie wakes from a dream, convinced that something is wrong with the baby she carries – the baby she never planned.  Both her premonition and the fact of her “advanced maternal age” lead her down the path of prenatal testing, and suddenly it seems as though it’s not only her and her baby’s fate that lie in the crosshairs, but her husband’s, her existing children’s, and even her best friend’s fates as well.

How the stories of these three women from different eras intertwines will surprise you.  Shea takes an unflinching look at the grim horrors of institutionalization, the nuanced dances that take place between spouses and friends,  and the price we pay for having choices.

I broke down in tears many times throughout this deftly imagined story, and although I wanted to be able to summon up some righteous outrage at times, what I mostly felt was enlightened and a deep compassion.  It drives home the fact that despite the debates raging about prenatal testing, abortion, and inclusion, nothing is black and white, and there are no easy answers.

This is a must read for not only parents in the Down syndrome community, but for all parents, and for anyone who appreciates masterful story-telling.  I will not soon forget this book.

14 thoughts on “The Unfinished Child by Theresa Shea

  1. Need to read it! Sounds like nonfiction, honestly. So exactly like the real life stories of so many mothers I have met. I feel like this kind of story is seldom told, when it is so central to society, life, motherhood. Maybe I’m the only one who thinks this?

    Like

  2. I think it’s all of that. This book has made such an impression on me. I really want to write more about it – about the issues it deals with. Still collecting my thoughts, but hopefully will write soon.

    Like

  3. […] The Unfinished Child by Theresa Shea:  Another novel containing two stories running alongside each other: one of a contemporary woman who finds her life upended by an unplanned pregnancy and a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome; the other of a woman in the 1940s who gave birth to a baby with Down syndrome and handed her over to be institutionalized.  The author deftly presents questions to the reader about maternal and reproductive technology and the price we pay for having choices.  A pivotal book in the Down syndrome literary landscape. […]

    Like

  4. […] “Gripping. Heart-wrenching. Thought-provoking. Riveting. Haunting. Unputdownable … I broke down in tears many times throughout this deftly imagined story, and although I wanted to be able to summon up some righteous outrage at times, what I mostly felt was enlightened and a deep compassion. It drives home the fact that despite the debates raging about prenatal testing, abortion, and inclusion, nothing is black and white, and there are no easy answers. This is a must read for not only parents in the Down syndrome community, but for all parents, and for anyone who appreciates masterful story-telling. I will not soon forget this book.” –Lisa Morguess, Turn the Page blog […]

    Like

  5. […] “Gripping. Heart-wrenching. Thought-provoking. Riveting. Haunting. Unputdownable … I broke down in tears many times throughout this deftly imagined story, and although I wanted to be able to summon up some righteous outrage at times, what I mostly felt was enlightened and a deep compassion. It drives home the fact that despite the debates raging about prenatal testing, abortion, and inclusion, nothing is black and white, and there are no easy answers. This is a must read for not only parents in the Down syndrome community, but for all parents, and for anyone who appreciates masterful story-telling. I will not soon forget this book.” –Lisa Morguess, Turn the Page blog […]

    Like

  6. I, personally, cannot believe anyone close to Down syndrome would enjoy this book. I absolutely hated it. Institutions, rape, abortions … I don’t know what there was to like.

    Like

    • If you’re looking for a shiny, happy book with a feel-good, happy ending, then yeah, this probably isn’t the story for you. You are mistaken if you think that this story sets out to glorify any of the things you pointed out. What it does is shine a light on the harsh reality of how Down syndrome was treated historically, and how it is very often dealt with today. It’s as story that tells the truth,that makes one think and feel. That’s why I, a person very close indeed to Down syndrome, loved this book.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s