It’s more than the story of a married couple welcoming their first child, a daughter, into the world and learning that she has Down syndrome. It’s more than an account of the author’s doubts, fears, and shifting perceptions of people with disabilities. It goes deeper than merely serving as a peek into to the interventions and therapies parents of kids with special needs employ to support their children’s development. And, though the anecdotes Becker includes both enlighten and shock the reader, it’s much more than a primer on what not to say to parents about their children with special needs.
Amy Julia Becker’s new memoir A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny explores all of those topics, and more. But, through it all, her book demonstrates the nature of love – especially parental love – as the imperfect, hopeful, and expansive miracle that it is.
In the early months of her daughter Penny’s life, Becker, a life-long learner and lover of literature, wrestles with the realization that Penny will not have the same aptitude for a life of the mind that Becker herself has had. “Can she live a full life without ever solving a quadratic equation? Without reading Dostoyevsky?” Becker wonders.
Although very soon after her daughter’s birth she may have doubted that she could ever answer “yes” to those questions, by the time Penny is several months old, Becker’s perspective has shifted. She asks different questions. “Can I live a full life without learning to cherish and welcome those in this world who are different from me?” she wonders. “I’m pretty sure I can’t.”
When Penny is two, delighting her parents with her warmth and wit, her mother nears the due date for her second child. During this time, Becker is bruised by some of the reactions people express to news of her pregnancy.
“Aren’t you at risk for having another?” one person asks. The speaker’s tone and the use of the word “another” in reference to the daughter Becker loves reveals that, like so many people, this person is unable to see Penny as the full, precious person that she is, but sees her as a genetic abnormality. A cosmic mistake. “Lightning never strikes twice!” another friend says, in an attempt to reassure Becker that she is unlikely to give birth to a second child with Down syndrome.
Becker’s fears about her unborn baby revolve around a very different fear, one that is common to mothers as they await the birth of a second child. She wonders whether she will be able to love another child as deeply as she loves her first?
She asks her husband if it’s possible. “This is not a rhetorical question,” she insists. “I can’t imagine feeling about anyone else the way I feel about her.”
“I don’t think that’s how love works,” her husband replies. “It’s not as if you have a set amount of love for Penny and now you have to slice it in half and give some of it to the baby instead. The nature of love is to expand.”
A Good and Perfect Gift is many things – an honest, compelling memoir, a glimpse into one family’s experience, and a beautifully-constructed story – but it’s even more than that. For me, the book serves as a testament to the way parental love can transform us and make us more whole.
Visit the Patheos Book Club for more conversation on A Good And Perfect Gift.
Jennifer Grant is the author of Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter (Thomas Nelson, 2011). She is a journalist who freelances for the Chicago Tribune and writes for Christianity Today’s her.meneutics blog. She is currently at work on her second book, to be released in August 2012 from Worthy Publishing. Find her online at jennifergrant.com.