Thursday
Jul012010

Behind the Book

This story began in college, a trail of experiences and opportunities that shaped a novel. In 1995 I was a year from graduating when I connected with a Harvard professor who wanted an aide worker to go into a Romanian orphanage and hospital where her own adoption was stalled. I went alone, not knowing the language or the social complexities that had created a country where most orphans were not without parents, just abandoned to a state-run foster care. I only knew I loved babies and travel, adventure. It was overwhelming, (I was given fifty infants my first day) and heartbreaking, nearly impossible for me to leave Bucharest to finish my degree, but I did.

After receiving my bachelors in social work, I couldn’t stop thinking about adoption, about the circumstances surrounding brand new life that will shape it forever. At the end of several years abroad, I applied for a position in Portland at an international adoption agency and ended up as the director of their US program, the sole caseworker juggling birthmothers and waiting families. I fell in love with both the city and the heady allure of a job so full of promise.

Like Chloe Pinter, I went into it with the intention of creating happy endings, magic families, joy from sorrow. Similar to when I stepped off the plane in Romania, I quickly scrambled to learn a new language and subculture; the business side of adoption. But as the months passed, I got too attached. I cried and raged at some adoptions that fell apart, and just as painfully for some that went through.When I left the adoption world, it was just as the nurse at one of my client’s births had predicted; I wasn’t able to do it when I had children myself. My skin had become too thin.

Faced with our own pregnancy and an unexpected diagnosis at our first son’s birth, I pondered some of the deeper issues that formed the backbone of this novel. How does parenthood change you? How will the challenges you face shape you as a couple? What happens when your expectations of parenthood are so far from the reality? What makes a good parent? A good person? What happens when you get what you thought you wanted?

All of these courageous people whose lives had touched mine so intimately rattled around with me as I adjusted to that first year of new parenthood. Driving home from a pre-dawn airport run, exhausted from getting up to hang bottles for my newborn’s feeding tube, I stopped to get gas at a filling station not far from the very place where a child was abducted in my hometown twenty years earlier. Knowing this, I still fantasized about not lugging the car seat and its precious cargo out with me just to run in for a bottle of water… But what if I didn’t?

The idea for this novel was born out of that single scene. A mother so exhausted her judgment lapses; a grief-stricken, empty-armed father who takes advantage of this. The story is fiction—characters and settings and scenarios are as though I took a handful of experiences, marinated them in a childhood paranoia of abduction, seasoned them with the salt of my vivid imagination, put the whole thing in a bag and shook it up—but the themes are real, from my own life and from those I have been privileged to witness.

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