Sometimes a book finds its way to you – or you to it – and unexpectedly your heart is so wrenched and stretched that you aren’t even exactly the same person at the end. (Yes, shades of The Grinch. The good doctor was wise in all things.) I’ve recently been reminded of Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes, which had the profoundest effect on me in middle school. It may be the hardest I’ve ever cried over a novel before or since.
Today, Patricia Eastwood shares her response to a book that she’ll not soon forget, God and Jetfire: Confessions of a Birth Mother, by Amy Seek.
Unlike our Bacon hostess, my reading list is almost solely nonfiction selections. I sprinkle in fiction in order to read ahead of my children (too much dystopian literature if you ask me!) or because a reviewer of a novel or a literary scholar has somehow convinced me that my life would be incomplete if I miss reading a particular book (this still has not happened with The Goldfinch). In other words, I read almost always to grow my knowledge about specific topics and rarely to experience a story. I guess that I am not often interested in stepping into the shoes of characters in a book and experiencing their trials and tribulations and their joys and pains. Maybe I am simply afraid that I will experience the agony and sadness of characters too deeply.
So, it is by happenstance that I recently experienced a book that drew me in as an informative memoir and caused me as much pain as I have ever experienced reading a book. God and Jetfire: Confessions of a Birth Mother by Amy Seek is informative, beautiful to read, desperately sad and thought provoking. The title communicates the informative nature of the book on one level. The book is about author Amy Seek’s unplanned pregnancy while studying architecture as an undergraduate. Through Seek’s story which spans from the pregnancy through the present day, as her son is now a young teen, the reader learns about the process of open adoption. Seek also shares her personal experience in discerning the adoptive parents for her son and how she has maintained that relationship over time. It is this informational download that forms the focus of most of the published descriptions of Seek’s book.
After reading the book, I was struck by the inadequacy of these reviews. This book is about much more than open adoption and the challenge women face with an unexpected pregnancy. In fact, it is more accurately about a woman’s struggle with the roles society assigns to her as opposed to a story about dealing with a specific, difficult event that by all measures was handled beautifully and thoughtfully. Seek struggles a decade and a half with meeting the expectations of the various roles she accepts as a part of her life: excellent student, dutiful daughter, self-professed future career woman, Catholic, and, ultimately, mother, birth mother, ex-girlfriend, sister and aunt. Seek speaks of decision making in her life, historically and in the moment, throughout the book, and it is clear that she makes decisions based on the expectations of one or more roles in which she finds herself. But, then, don’t we all. One of the outcomes of her experiences is the revelation that we cannot anticipate the way we will feel in the future about the roles we accept and reject and prioritize in the moment.
This is not a book to read in judgment. This is not a chick book. The book presents a cautionary tale that no one escapes their roles – that, essentially, part of the human condition is the conflict in fulfilling the roles we are assigned while simultaneously loving ourselves and managing the unselfish bias towards others affected by our choices. Notably, Seek makes an intensely personal decision late in the book when she ignores the bias towards unselfishness and testifies that, in that instance, by actually ignoring the feelings and opinions of others, she makes the correct choice for her life. Further illustrating this conflict in a more poignant way, Seek’s father, at the end of his life, essentially implores Seek to get pregnant within the next year and experience a different type of motherhood. He explains “I – I don’t mean that you don’t already have a child. I know that Jonathan is your child… I just think you’d like to have a child you get to raise.” Alas, at the time, Seek is without a relationship that seems likely to lead to children. She says, describing her reaction to her father’s comments, “I didn’t want him to feel guilty for anything.”
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Patricia Eastwood is a mother, wife, daughter, daughter-in-law, big sister, little sister, aunt, volunteer, lawyer, and friend, among other roles. She’ll be adding Adjunct Professor at Vanderbilt Law School in the spring! She currently serves (beautifully and well) as the Board Chair of Nashville Ballet. For her intro bio, please click here, and for her most recent post, here.