You all know Kathy Soper, right?
Kathy Soper, founder of Segullah? Kathy Soper, writer and editor extraordinarie (see here and here for proof)? Kathy Soper, blogger to beat all bloggers? Kathy Soper, mother of seven? Kathy Soper, really great friend?
I can type that last sentence with authority because I’ve been lucky enough to call Kathy a friend for almost three years now. I remember the day I met her. I’d just moved back to Utah a few months before, and our mutual friend, Darlene Young, invited Kathy and me and our kids for an outing at Sugarhouse Park. As the three of us sat on the grass talking (and talking, and ignoring our children who occasionally came hollering past . . . but isn’t that the point of “playdates”?), I admired Kathy’s new baby, Thomas, smiling contentedly from his car seat. And I admired Kathy, too. Here was this smart, funny, interesting woman who liked to write and read and think, and she lived a mere four minutes away from me! I already felt extremely lucky to have Darlene in my life (six minutes away), and now Kathy, too?
Who knew such bounteous blessings existed in South Jordan, Utah??
We soon formed a writers group: Kathy and Darlene and Sharlee Glenn, another amazing writer and thinker and friend, and little ol’ me. We were a bit tentative at first, as we got to know each other. But over the last two and a half years, we’ve strengthened each other’s writing and buoyed up each other’s souls. And Darlene and Sharlee and I have had the distinct pleasure of occupying front row seats while watching Kathy conceptualize and finally create her remarkable memoir, The Year My Son and I Were Born.
Since I’m so intimately acquainted with the memoir, I’m in no position to write a traditionally unbiased “review.” But that won’t stop me from saying this: reading Kathy’s account of the year after Thomas’s premature birth and subsequent diagnosis of Down syndrome is a transformative experience. I’ve probably read the book in various permutations a half a dozen times, and it never fails to move me, delight me, or make me think.
Kathy invites us inside her life as she lived it during that tumultuous year, and I believe her generosity of spirit, coupled with her incredible talent as a writer, will make it difficult for any reader to come away from The Year My Son and I Were Born unchanged. But Kathy can say this better than I can. Here are her own words of hope and realization that come near the end of the memoir:
With a sharp paring knife I halved the [peaches] and pulled them open, revealing their pitted red-brown stones, whole and hard. I was startled when, splitting one peach, my knife struck the stone right on its crease, cracking it open. The seed clung to one half of the stone. I pried it loose with my finger. A tree in embryo, only a centimeter long. Thomas had been about that size when he began to move within me, a watery dance that I could not yet feel. But his genetic destiny had been set well before then, back when he was two cells, combining and dividing in a miraculous dance of their own. Back when he was only a seed.
So much happens within a mother, without her knowing. When Thomas was conceived, I didn’t know that my body was creating a child of change. When I sliced peaches at the kitchen counter I didn’t know that I was on the verge of birth, and of death. The death of old ways. Old values. Old self, packed in a hard shell of protective beliefs.
I can only produce normal babies.
I can conquer any difficulty through sheer willpower.
I will always give my children what they need.
I am something better than human.
Strange—I’d clung so tightly to those falsehoods, as if they could keep me safe. Yet I felt safer with them stripped away, safer with the naked truth in full view. I only wished change didn’t hurt so much. It hurt to have my mind and heart cracked open. It hurt to be left raw in the open air. It hurt to lose the only life I knew, and to realize that no amount of magical thinking could bring it back.
On my fingertip, the peach seed looked and felt like a soft, damp almond. It seemed so small and so vulnerable. Yet when its time came, it had to leave behind its shell in order to live. Just as a baby must leave behind the womb, and a mother must leave behind her illusions.
Although this is a story of a Mormon mother of seven whose youngest child has Down syndrome, this isn’t just a book for Mormons, or mothers, or those whose loved ones face disability. This is a story of one human being who’s asked to walk a painful path—an uphill path, to be sure—but a path that leads to great vistas of wisdom and understanding, even joy. It’s a universal story, and one I hope you’ll read. Buy it here.