Expecting Adam: A True Story of Birth, Rebirth, and Everyday Magic

( 55 )

Overview

“A wonderful book, funny unbelievably tender, and smart. It shimmers.”—Anne Lamott

Includes an all-new afterword about Adam.
  
John and Martha Beck had two Harvard degrees apiece when they conceived their second child. Further graduate studies, budding careers, and a growing family meant major stress—not that they'd have admitted it to anyone (or themselves). As the pregnancy progressed, Martha ...

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Expecting Adam: A True Story of Birth, Rebirth, and Everyday Magic

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Overview

“A wonderful book, funny unbelievably tender, and smart. It shimmers.”—Anne Lamott

Includes an all-new afterword about Adam.
  
John and Martha Beck had two Harvard degrees apiece when they conceived their second child. Further graduate studies, budding careers, and a growing family meant major stress—not that they'd have admitted it to anyone (or themselves). As the pregnancy progressed, Martha battled constant nausea and dehydration. And when she learned her unborn son had Down syndrome, she battled nearly everyone over her decision to continue the pregnancy. She still cannot explain many of the things that happened to her while she was expecting Adam, but by the time he was born, Martha, as she puts it, "had to unlearn virtually everything Harvard taught [her] about what is precious and what is garbage."

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Immensely appealing…hooked me on the first page and propelled me right through visions and out-of-body experiences I would normally scoff at.”—Detroit Free Press
 
“I challenge any reader not to be moved by it.”—New York Newsday

"Expecting Adam is Martha Beck's meticulously written, uplifting, and compassionate account of being gifted with a retarded son who opens her heart to the deep intuitions that love can bring."   —Judith Orloff, M.D., author of Second Sight

"Set half in Harvard and half in heaven, Expecting Adam is a tough-minded yet tender-hearted book of spiritual discovery—a rueful, riveting, piercingly funny, thoroughly modern and deeply old-fashioned memoir. In short, a book to be reckoned with."      —Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way

"I can't believe I almost didn't read this book. The thing is, I thought it was about a lady who had a baby with Down Syndrome. This is like saying ANNA KARENINA is a book about a lady who commits suicide. In fact, this book is about matters so important and yet so totally way-out that I would accept no one but a comic genius with seven years at Harvard under her belt telling me about them. That's Martha Beck: funny, companionable, razor-sharp, down-to-earth, and onto the Big Secrets of Life Itself. Anyone considering having a child should have to read this book. It has changed some of my thinking about pregnancy and about children with disabilities, and I don't think it's too much to say it could change my life."      
—Marion Winik, author of First Comes Love and The Lunchbox Chronicles

"Expecting Adam  is not one of those grit-your-teeth, lemons-into-lemonade sagas that leave the reader feeling more besieged and guilty than the writer. It is a long hymn, from a practical woman caught flatfooted by amazing grace. Martha Beck is a celebrant skeptics can trust."      
—Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Most Wanted  and The Deep End of the Ocean

"I laughed. I cried. I couldn't put it down. I didn't want it to end. I wish I knew Adam and his family—and of course I do. A brave, uplifting, life-transforming book."     —Sophy Burnham, author of A Book of Angels

"With uncommon sense and dependable wit, Martha Beck unravels every assumption about the meaning of life, choice, love—and the wisdom of pursuing happiness through any of the usual routes. If Expecting Adam raises suspicions among more rational readers that Martha Beck is slightly crazy, it raised my hopes that I'd catch it from her."     —Mary Kay Blakely, author of American Mom

Susan Cheever
Martha Beck is smart...[and] sympathetic....[and] also a pretty good teacher....The story trembles on the verge of tragedy again and again, but it has a happy endign after all...."Whoever said that love is blind was dead wrong," [Beck writes.] "Love is the only thing on this earth that lets us see each other with the remotest accuracy. —The New York Times Book Review
Detroit Free Press
Hooked me on the first page.
New York Newsday
Poignant. So many side-splitting quips and hard-fought insights that I challenge any reader not to be moved by it.
Kirkus Reviews
Wickedly funny and wrenchingly sad memoirs of a young mother awaiting the birth of a Down's syndrome baby while simultaneously pursuing a doctorate at Harvard. Sociologist Beck, now a columnist for Mademoiselle and a regular on the television show "Good Day Arizona," became pregnant with her second child in September 1987, a time she and her husband now refer to as "the month It All Went To Hell." To put it mildly, the unexpected pregnancy complicated their busy lives and academic careers. At the time, Beck kept a voluminous and detailed journal of her thoughts, conversations, and experiences, which provided the basis for these memoirs. Early in the pregnancy, Beck began having paranormal experiences that took auditory, visual, and tactile form. In what she refers to as "the Seeing Thing," she would see brief, vivid images of where her husband was on his frequent trips to Asia. Calming voices spoke to her (and to her husband) in times of stress, and invisible helpers rescued her and her young daughter from a burning building. A Mormon turned atheist, Beck cannot explain the presence of comforting spiritual beings during her pregnancy, but she accepts them as real. Once Adam was delivered, she no longer felt "like the focus of all that magic." Adam himself became the source of magic in her life, teaching her values unlike those she had learned at Harvard. In her son she sees wisdom, beauty, and a way of looking at the world that is astonishing and joyous. Besides a sense of humor that pokes as much fun at herself as anyone, Beck has both a sharp eye and a sharp tongue. Her portraits of Harvard academics, omniscient doctors, and uptight in-laws are priceless. Even skeptics will findmagic in this story, and parents of a Down's syndrome child will cherish it.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307719645
  • Publisher: Potter/TenSpeed/Harmony
  • Publication date: 8/2/2011
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 165,723
  • Product dimensions: 7.78 (w) x 5.32 (h) x 0.82 (d)

Meet the Author

MARTHA BECK is a writer, life coach, and columnist for O, the Oprah Magazine. She has a B.A., an M.A., and a Ph.D. in sociology from Harvard. Beck's other books include the New York Times bestseller Finding Your Own North Star, Leaving the Saints, The Four Day Win, The Joy Diet, and Steering by Starlight. Dr. Beck lives in Phoenix, Arizona, with her family.

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Read an Excerpt

This happened when Adam was about three years old.

I was sitting in a small apartment with a woman I had barely met, talking to her about her life. I'll call her Mrs. Ross, because it isn't her name. I had been doing similar interviews for months, collecting data for my Ph.D. dissertation. Mrs. Ross was a scrawny forty-five-year-old with a master's degree in art history and a job as an elementary school janitor. I was taking notes, considering what this woman's experience had to teach about the real-world value of the more refined academic fields, when she suddenly stopped talking.
There was a moment of silence, and then I looked up and said, "Yes?" in a helpful voice, which was normally enough to keep an interview rolling. But Mrs. Ross wasn't acting normal. She had been sitting on a straight-backed wooden chair, both feet set firmly on the floor and her hands resting primly on her knees. Now she was curled into an almost fetal position, forearms crushed between the tops of her thighs and her chest, her eyes tightly closed.

I became alarmed. "Are you all right?" I said, trying to sound politely but not overly curious.
Mrs. Ross waved a hand at me. "I can't . . . quite . . . make it out," she said.
I just stared at her.
"Usually," she gasped, her eyelids clamping down tighter, "usually I can tell which side of the veil it's coming from . . . that's usually the first thing I can tell . . . but this time I . . . can't."
"Uh-huh," I said cautiously, glancing toward the door, wondering if I could get to it before Mrs. Ross leapt upon me like a mad dog.
"It's like . . . he's not really on one side of the veil or the other . . . maybe he's on both." She shook her head, troubled. "At least I know it's a he."
"Uh, Mrs. Ross," I said, gathering my notes together for a quick exit.
At this point Mrs. Ross's eyes flew open wide, fixing me with a bloodshot stare.
"You know who it is!" she said in a low, accusing voice. "You know who it is, but you're blocking!"
At this point my curiosity began to get the better of me. "I know who?" I said.
"That's right!" Mrs. Ross uncurled a little. "You see, I have this . . . well, it's a gift." She sounded as though she wasn't quite sure Santa had gotten her letters.
"Gift?" I repeated.
She nodded. "I get messages for people." She sighed and sat up. "There was a point in my life when I stopped talking about it, you know, because it's very embarrassing."
"Oh," I said.
"And then, you know," Mrs. Ross continued, "I began to lose it. It was getting fainter, and sometimes the spirits would be angry at me, because I wouldn't help them get through to people."

At this moment, I swear to God, a large green parrot walked out of Mrs. Ross's small kitchen and into the living room. It paced slowly across the carpet, peered at me suspiciously with one flinty eye, then proceeded on foot up the leg of Mrs. Ross's chair and onto her shoulder. She's a witch, I thought. I'm sitting here talking to a genuine witch. The parrot was obviously a familiar. I would have been willing to bet it was her husband.
Mrs. Ross kept talking, stroking the bird absentmindedly. "So I promised God that I would always deliver the messages as soon as I got them. No matter what."

"No kidding." I said this without any sarcasm. That's how much I had changed. Four years earlier I would have dismissed Mrs. Ross and her "gift" immediately. Back then I had known exactly how the world worked. Back then I had been sure of my own intellect, sure of the primacy of Reason, sure that, given enough time and training, I could control my destiny. That was before Adam. But now it was four years later, and Adam was at home with the baby-sitter, and I had learned a lot about how much I had to learn. So I sat still and waited for Mrs. Ross to go on. She did.

"The messages are usually from the other side of the veil—I mean, from the spirit world," she said. "Sometimes they're from living people who are far away and need to get a message through immediately. But that's always the first thing I can tell—which side of the veil the message is coming from." Her brow furrowed. "And this time, I can't tell."
By now, I admit it, I was hooked. I wanted my message.

"Just relax," I suggested helpfully.
Mrs. Ross shot me a glance that would have pierced steel, a glance designed to shove me off her turf.
"Or not," I said.
"We should pray," whispered Mrs. Ross.
"Uh, okeydokey," I responded. I mean, what would you have done?
So Mrs. Ross and I bowed our heads, and I drew a deep breath and relaxed for just a second, and then her head snapped up like a Pez dispenser and she said, "All right, you stopped blocking. It's your son."
"My son?" Even after everything that had already happened, this surprised me. I had been hoping the message would be from my guardian angel, or perhaps a stray ancestor with an interest in my career.
"You have a son who's halfway between worlds," stated Mrs. Ross.
I felt the hair go up on my arms. You see, no matter how much evidence you have, over time you tend to block out the experiences that aren't "normal." Who wants to turn into a Mrs. Ross, blurting out gibberish about spirits and veils? How much of that sort of conversation are you allowed before people stop inviting you to parties, and you end up pushing a mop in an elementary school?

"Well," I said to Mrs. Ross, "maybe I do have a son . . . uh . . . like that."
She gave me a withering look. "You do," she said flatly. "And he wants me to give you a message." The parrot nibbled tenderly on her ear.
By now my whole body was bristling with a strange electricity. The sensation had become familiar to me over the past few years, yet it was always a surprise. At least I kept my mouth shut.
Mrs. Ross closed her eyes again, gently this time. "He says that he's been watching you very closely from both sides of the veil."
The veil again.
"He says that you shouldn't be so worried. He says you'll never be hurt as much by being open as you have been hurt by remaining closed."
She opened her eyes, scratched the parrot's head, and smiled. She didn't look like a witch at all anymore.
"That's it?" I said.
Mrs. Ross nodded, smiling.
I didn't return the smile. "What the heck is that supposed to mean?"
She shrugged. "Beats me."
"Oh, come on," I pleaded. "There's got to be more. Ask him." This is not the way I was taught to behave at Harvard.
"I don't ask questions," she said. "I just deliver messages. Like Western Union. What the messages mean is none of my business."
And that was all she had to say.

After a pathetic attempt to pretend I was still conducting an interview, I raced home to confront Adam. He was in his crib, asleep. He was about half the size of a normal three-year-old, had barely learned to walk, and had never spoken an intelligible word. I reached down and poked him in the tummy, and he woke up with his usual jolly grin on his face.
I looked into his small, slanted eyes. "Adam," I said seriously. "You've got to tell me. Are you sending me messages through Mrs. Ross?"
His smile broadened. That was all. And he hasn't said a thing about it since.

So here I am, still wondering what the hell happened that day, wondering whether Mrs. Ross was really channeling my three-year-old, wondering what he meant. I wonder a lot of things, since Adam came along. I wonder about all the strange and beautiful and terrible things that accompanied him into my life. My husband, John, knows about my wondering—shares it, in fact, since his life, too, was changed when we were expecting Adam. But when I wasn't talking to John, I learned to keep it all to myself. I learned to ignore the miraculous in my life, to pretend it didn't exist, to tell lies in order to be believed. In short, I kept myself closed.

This has not been easy. It is difficult not to tell people when one of your interview subjects turns out to be Parrot Woman. The strangeness, the curiosity, the wonder keeps pushing outward, begging to be communicated, needing air and company. On many occasions, I have tried to talk about Adam without letting on that I actually believed in everything that happened to me. I have written this book twice already, both times as a novel, to wit: "This is the story of two driven Harvard academics who found out in midpregnancy that their unborn son would be retarded. To their own surprise and the horrified dismay of the university community, the couple ignored the abundant means, motive, and opportunity to obtain a therapeutic abortion. They decided to allow their baby to be born. What they did not realize is that they themselves were the ones who would be 'born,' infants in a new world where magic is commonplace, Harvard professors are the slow learners, and retarded babies are the master teachers."

You see, by calling it a novel, I could tell the story without putting myself in danger from skeptics, scientists, and intellectuals. "Fiction!" I would assure them. "Made it all up! Not a word of truth in it!" Then they would all go away and leave me alone, and perhaps a few sturdy souls would be willing to believe me, and I could open up in safety to them.
It hasn't worked out that way. The editors and agents and writers I respect most have always come back, after reading my "novel," with the same question: "Excuse me, but how much of this is fiction?" And I would hem and haw a bit before admitting that aside from making John and myself sound much better-looking than we are, I didn't fictionalize anything. It's all true, I would say. Then I would sink into my chair five or six inches and wait for them to call security.

So far, that hasn't happened. It has been five years since Mrs. Ross reared back against her parrot and delivered Adam's message, and in all that time my favorite people have continually repeated his advice. Open up, they say. It will feel better than remaining closed.
I am none too sure about this. I am very much afraid of being caught in the firestorms of controversy over abortion, genetic engineering, medical ethics. It worries me to think that I will be lumped together with the right-to-lifers, not to mention every New Age crystal kisser who ever claimed to see an angel in the clouds over Sedona. I am reluctant to wave good-bye to my rationalist credibility. Nevertheless, the story will not stop unfolding, and it will not stop asking me to tell it. I have resisted it for what feels like a very long time, hoping it would back off and disappear. But it hasn't.

So, Mrs. Ross, wherever you are, thank you for delivering my son's message. After all these years, I've finally decided to listen.

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First Chapter

Chapter One

This happened when Adam was about three years old.

I was sitting in a small apartment with a woman I had barely met, talking to her about her life. I'll call her Mrs. Ross, because it isn't her name. I had been doing similar interviews for months, collecting data for my Ph.D. dissertation. Mrs. Ross was a scrawny forty-five-year-old with a master's degree in art history and a job as an elementary school janitor. I was taking notes, considering what this woman's experience had to teach about the real-world value of the more refined academic fields, when she suddenly stopped talking.

There was a moment of silence, and then I looked up and said, "Yes?" in a helpful voice, which was normally enough to keep an interview rolling. But Mrs. Ross wasn't acting normal. She had been sitting on a straight-backed wooden chair, both feet set firmly on the floor and her hands resting primly on her knees. Now she was curled into an almost fetal position, forearms crushed between the tops of her thighs and her chest, her eyes tightly closed.

I became alarmed. "Are you all right?" I said, trying to sound politely but not overly curious.

Mrs. Ross waved a hand at me. "I can't ... quite ... make it out," she said.

I just stared at her.

"Usually," she gasped, her eyelids clamping down tighter, "usually I can tell which side of the veil it's coming from ... that's usually the first thing I can tell ... but this time I ... can't."

"Uh-huh," I said cautiously, glancing toward the door, wondering if I could get to it before Mrs. Ross leapt upon me like a mad dog.

"It's like ... he's not really on one side of the veil or the other ... maybe he's on both." She shook her head, troubled. "At least I know it's a he."

"Uh, Mrs. Ross," I said, gathering my notes together for a quick exit.

At this point Mrs. Ross's eyes flew open wide, fixing me with a bloodshot stare.

"You know who it is!" she said in a low, accusing voice. "You know who it is, but you're blocking!"

At this point my curiosity began to get the better of me. "I know who?" I said.

"That's right!" Mrs. Ross uncurled a little. "You see, I have this ... well, it's a gift." She sounded as though she wasn't quite sure Santa had gotten her letters.

"Gift?" I repeated.

She nodded. "I get messages for people." She sighed and sat up. "There was a point in my life when I stopped talking about it, you know, because it's very embarrassing."

"Oh," I said.

"And then, you know," Mrs. Ross continued, "I began to lose it. It was getting fainter, and sometimes the spirits would be angry at me, because I wouldn't help them get through to people."

At this moment, I swear to God, a large green parrot walked out of Mrs. Ross's small kitchen and into the living room. It paced slowly across the carpet, peered at me suspiciously with one flinty eye, then proceeded on foot up the leg of Mrs. Ross's chair and onto her shoulder. She's a witch, I thought. I'm sitting here talking to a genuine witch. The parrot was obviously a familiar. I would have been willing to bet it was her husband.

Mrs. Ross kept talking, stroking the bird absentmindedly. "So I promised God that I would always deliver the messages as soon as I got them. No matter what."

"No kidding." I said this without any sarcasm. That's how much I had changed. Four years earlier I would have dismissed Mrs. Ross and her "gift" immediately. Back then I had known exactly how the world worked. Back then I had been sure of my own intellect, sure of the primacy of Reason, sure that, given enough time and training, I could control my destiny. That was before Adam. But now it was four years later, and Adam was at home with the baby-sitter, and I had learned a lot about how much I had to learn. So I sat still and waited for Mrs. Ross to go on. She did.

"The messages are usually from the other side of the veil-I mean, from the spirit world," she said. "Sometimes they're from living people who are far away and need to get a message through immediately. But that's always the first thing I can tell-which side of the veil the message is coming from." Her brow furrowed. "And this time, I can't tell"

By now, I admit it, I was hooked. I wanted my message.

"Just relax," I suggested helpfully.

Mrs. Ross shot me a glance that would have pierced steel, a glance designed to shove me off her turf.

"Or not," I said.

"We should pray," whispered Mrs. Ross.

"Uh, okeydokey," I responded. I mean, what would you have done?

So Mrs. Ross and I bowed our heads, and I drew a deep breath and relaxed for just a second, and then her head snapped up like a Pez dispenser and she said, "All right, you stopped blocking. It's your son."

"My son?" Even after everything that had already happened, this surprised me. I had been hoping the message would be from my guardian angel, or perhaps a stray ancestor with an interest in my career.

"You have a son who's halfway between worlds," stated Mrs. Ross.

I felt the hair go up on my arms. You see, no matter how much evidence you have, over time you tend to block out the experiences that aren't "normal." Who wants to turn into a Mrs. Ross, blurting out gibberish about spirits and veils? How much of that sort of conversation are you allowed before people stop inviting you to parties, and you end up pushing a mop in an elementary school?

"Well" I said to Mrs. Ross, "maybe I do have a son ... uh ... like that."

She gave me a withering look. "You do," she said flatly. "And he wants me to give you a message." The parrot nibbled tenderly on her ear.

By now my whole body was bristling with a strange electricity. The sensation had become familiar to me over the past few years, yet it was always a surprise. At least I kept my mouth shut.

Mrs. Ross closed her eyes again, gently this time. "He says that he's been watching you very closely from both sides of the veil."

The veil again.

"He says that you shouldn't be so worried. He says you'll never be hurt as much by being open as you have been hurt by remaining closed"

She opened her eyes, scratched the parrot's head, and smiled. She didn't look like a witch at all anymore.

"That's it?" I said.

Mrs. Ross nodded, smiling.

I didn't return the smile. "What the heck is that supposed to mean?"

She shrugged. "Beats me."

"Oh, come on," I pleaded. "There's got to be more. Ask him." This is not the way I was taught to behave at Harvard.

"I don't ask questions," she said. "I just deliver messages. Like Western Union. What the messages mean is none of my business."

And that was all she had to say.

After a pathetic attempt to pretend I was still conducting an interview, I raced home to confront Adam. He was in his crib, asleep. He was about half the size of a normal three-year-old, had barely learned to walk, and had never spoken an intelligible word. I reached down and poked him in the tummy, and he woke up with his usual jolly grin on his face.

I looked into his small, slanted eyes. "Adam," I said seriously. "You've got to tell me. Are you sending me messages through Mrs. Ross?"

His smile broadened. That was all. And he hasn't said a thing about it since.

So here I am, still wondering what the hell happened that day, wondering whether Mrs. Ross was really channeling my three-year-old, wondering what he meant. I wonder a lot of things, since Adam came along. I wonder about all the strange and beautiful and terrible things that accompanied him into my life. My husband, John, knows about my wondering-shares it, in fact, since his life, too, was changed when we were expecting Adam. But when I wasn't talking to John, I learned to keep it all to myself. I learned to ignore the miraculous in my life, to pretend it didn't exist, to tell lies in order to be believed. In short, I kept myself closed.

This has not been easy. It is difficult not to tell people when one of your interview subjects turns out to be Parrot Woman. The strangeness, the curiosity, the wonder keeps pushing outward, begging to be communicated, needing air and company. On many occasions, I have tried to talk about Adam without letting on that I actually believed in everything that happened to me. I have written this book twice already, both times as a novel, to wit: "This is the story of two driven Harvard academics who found out in midpregnancy that their unborn son would be retarded. To their own surprise and the horrified dismay of the university community, the couple ignored the abundant means, motive, and opportunity to obtain a therapeutic abortion. They decided to allow their baby to be born. What they did not realize is that they themselves were the ones who would be `born,' infants in a new world where magic is commonplace, Harvard professors are the slow learners, and retarded babies are the master teachers."

You see, by calling it a novel, I could tell the story without putting myself in danger from skeptics, scientists, and intellectuals. "Fiction!" I would assure them. "Made it all up! Not a word of truth in it!" Then they would all go away and leave me alone, and perhaps a few sturdy souls would be willing to believe me, and I could open up in safety to them.

It hasn't worked out that way. The editors and agents and writers I respect most have always come back, after reading my "novel," with the same question: "Excuse me, but how much of this is fiction?" And I would hem and haw a bit before admitting that aside from making John and myself sound much better-looking than we are, I didn't fictionalize anything. It's all true, I would say. Then I would sink into my chair five or six inches and wait for them to call security.

So far, that hasn't happened. It has been five years since Mrs. Ross reared back against her parrot and delivered Adam's message, and in all that time my favorite people have continually repeated his advice. Open up, they say. It will feel better than remaining closed.

I am none too sure about this. I am very much afraid of being caught in the firestorms of controversy over abortion, genetic engineering, medical ethics. It worries me to think that I will be lumped together with the right-to-lifers, not to mention every New Age crystal kisser who ever claimed to see an angel in the clouds over Sedona. I am reluctant to wave good-bye to my rationalist credibility. Nevertheless, the story will not stop unfolding, and it will not stop asking me to tell it. I have resisted it for what feels like a very long time, hoping it would back off and disappear. But it hasn't.

So, Mrs. Ross, wherever you are, thank you for delivering my son's message. After all these years, I've finally decided to listen.

From Expecting Adam : A True Story of Birth, Rebirth, and Everyday Magic, by Martha Beck. (c) August, 2000 Berkley Books used by permission.

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Interviews & Essays

An Interview with Martha Beck, Author of Expecting Adam

Barnes & Noble.com: What kind of response have you gotten to Expecting Adam since it was published last year?

Martha Beck: The most important thing has been the number of parents who have called and written to tell me about their own children with various disabilities. It's been incredibly humbling, because here I wrote this whiny book about this terrible thing that happened to me, and compared to some of the things that other people have been through, it was nothing. But nobody points that out. Everyone is incredibly kind and gracious. I expected a lot more flak, frankly.

B&N.com: Why?

MB: Well, I spoke to a woman the other day who couldn't believe that I wrote this book. I said, "What do you mean?" And she said, "It must have destroyed your reputation -- your career must've gone right in the potty." I was living in an environment where you don't talk about believing that you had supernatural help, or that it's okay to be retarded. I was all prepared for a lot of hostility, and instead I've gotten so much sweetness from people.

B&N.com: Did you feel that publishing the book was somewhat cathartic?

MB: I really feel that people don't need to read your therapy. Everybody's miserable, everybody's got to get through something. By the time I wrote the last draft, I'd really come to terms emotionally with the whole experience, and I was very much at peace. It wasn't just a piece of therapy anymore; it was a story about this incredible little kid and the mystery surrounding his birth. And I think that just makes better reading.

B&N.com: I don't have any direct experience with Down syndrome, yet I was so moved by this book. I found it really exhilarating -- I was reading it on the subway and late at night and waiting in line. I was rooting for you in the book. At some point you write that you were hoping, even unconsciously, that the tests were wrong and that the baby would be born normal. I found that I was hoping he would be born with Down syndrome, but that it would be somehow transformative for you. Do you think Expecting Adam touches many people in the same way?

MB: I always say that I didn't write the book for people with disabilities, I wrote it for the poor slobs at Harvard. What it really is about is not dealing with Adam's disability but dealing with my own, which was this desperate belief that I could never be good enough, I could never achieve enough, I could never be intelligent enough. I think that every child who goes through the school system is vulnerable to that kind of pain. Now I really understand a lot better what it's like to be constantly compared to other people along these very, very narrow and limited measurements. Everybody experiences that, and I think that's what a lot of people identified with. It's that terrible fear that we ourselves are never going to be enough.

B&N.com: Has anyone at Harvard softened in the meantime?

MB: There's a woman professor at Harvard Divinity School who wrote me a letter and sent me a syllabus to prove that she'd assigned the book as required reading. Here is this book that I thought would destroy any hope of my ever being accepted at Harvard, and it's now required reading in a class!

B&N.com: Is that enough to tempt you to return to that kind of culture?

MB: No. I developed a really strong confidence through the whole thing that when it's time for us to do certain things in our life or go certain places, we'll feel it strongly and circumstances will conspire to encourage it. I may someday consider going back to academia, but right now I think that's about as likely as me going into exotic dance. [laughs] It just does not sound good.

B&N.com: Has Adam read the book?

MB: I don't think that his reading skills are up to that yet, but he definitely knows what it's about. I've seen him looking through it. And he has some of the posters that were shown in book tours hanging in his room. It happened before he was old enough to realize that it's unusual to have a book written about you. Now he just thinks this is the way everyone should live. [laughs] We just went to Jamaica and he met the prime minister, and he just sort of feels that that's the way it's supposed to go!

My oldest daughter, Katie, got really clingy one morning and wanted to crawl into bed with me. She wouldn't tell me what was wrong at first, but then she admitted that she'd read the manuscript. I said, "Oh, honey that must've brought back so many memories," and she said, "No, it's not that, it's just that the book is so emotionally charged." She's so precocious. It's funny, the contrast between having two very gifted little girls and then Adam, who is gifted in a completely different way.

B&N.com: You write a lot about the magic that entered your life from the time that you became pregnant with Adam. "Magic" is kind of an overused word in our culture; it can mean anything from coincidence to joy. But your use of "magic" is often literal. The story that stays with me is the one about the fire in your apartment building; you realize later that the man who rescued you from the building was possibly not a real human being. It was a chilling story. Do you still have that kind of magic in your life, even if the experiences aren't so dramatic?

MB: I really do believe that the world is a lot more mysterious than we think. In every other culture there is acknowledgement that people have these mystical and magical experiences, that they're just part of the human experience. I think if you cultivate it, it actually grows. I did that a lot after Adam was born, because I was not totally over it; I had to know how it worked. I still do the thing where if [my husband] John is gone, I can try and see where he is -- and nine times out of ten, it works pretty well. I was writing a proposal for another book and all of a sudden I thought, Maybe I'll write about that tribe in Africa where all the men at puberty paint themselves in white and then go into the forest and burn all their possessions. I'm typing this and I start thinking, What tribe? I don't know anything about this tribe! [laughs] An hour later John called me from Africa and told me how he spent the whole morning with this cool tribe where the men paint themselves white and burn all their possessions. So I called my editor at Times Books, and I told her about it and she said, "It works! It works!"

B&N.com: You also tell a really great story about when you and your children were in a garden store and Adam was sniffing around the plants and you told him to hurry up. An older man beckoned you all back and said, "Do you see what he's doing?" And then you all spent some time smelling all the plants and flowers. When you learn that the man has a child with a disability, you describe him as "one of us." Did publishing this book sharpen that sense of belonging to a new community?

MB: Oh, yeah. I had no idea how many families are touched by some kind of disability in a child. It's one in every 600 or 800 live births with Down syndrome alone, and then you count all the other types of things that can go wrong when children are being born. Instead of being isolated or uniquely cursed, you've just entered a huge fraternity of people who know what it's like to have something happen like this in their family. It's quite wonderful, because it bonds you with humanity. I thought there would be a few people I would connect with; instead it's almost everyone!

B&N.com: What other projects are you working on now?

MB: In March, I have a book coming out called Your Own North Star, which is about the work I've been doing with clients. I teach in a business school, and my students became fascinated with the way I approach life and asked me to design a course around it. Then they started hiring me outside of class. I try to put people sort of artificially through the same kind of process I went through because of Adam.

B&N.com: In what way?

MB: People always told me there's a certain way to live and a certain way to have a successful life and to be happy and this is how to do it -- you go to Harvard, etc. That was the message I got. What I found was that when I ostensibly threw away everything that was supposed to make me successful, like choosing to have the baby, what I'd done was place myself outside the system. And I found that I could choose to be anything I wanted. For example a couple of years after Adam was born, John and I decided we both hated academia so we quit our jobs. We didn't have any income at all for 18 months. We'd literally get up in the morning and say, "What seems right today?" [laughs] And then we'd do it. That's the way I talked to my business school students, and that's what's in my new book.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 55 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 55 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 13, 2012

    Highly Recommended - Important and Honest

    I, too, was instructed to terminate my pregnancy when my daughter was diagnosed with Trisomy 13. Like Martha Beck, I chose life for my child and it was the most important thing I have and will ever do while on this Earth. Ms. Beck gives a very honest and raw account of her experience, interwoven with wit and faith. It is a must read for any family going forward with a pregnancy after a diagnosis such as Down's Syndrome or other Trisomys. They will relate to her feelings and appreciate her candor.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2009

    My favorite book of all time

    I think I have read this book 3, maybe 4 times now. This is how much I love this story and love the authors insight into her own life. It reads like fiction, only it is so much better because it is true. It is the type of book you wish Martha Beck would write another so we can continue to share the story of how Adam changed their lives for the better. Thank you Martha Beck for being brave enough to reveal this story. I, for one, was uplifted and inspired by your tale.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 28, 2011

    I Really enjoyed Marthas Becks, story about her pregnancy with Adam and the unexpected miracles, a great read!

    GReat Book!

    2 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 20, 2011

    Beautiful

    Thought provoking and inspiring. A beautiful story of how perceived adversity can turn out to be a vehicle towards discovering the best in ourselves and everything and everyone around us.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2002

    WOULD NOT RECOMMEND

    While I can relate (because I'm a mother) and sympathize (because of the Down Syndrome) with the author, I could not help but feel that she was totally self-centered. The entire book was 'poor me.' She was always exhausted and always plagued with some problem. Her poor daughter was completely neglected. I mean, how many times did the author tell the readers that she laid in bed for hours and days utterly overcome with exhaustion, complaining and crying and feeling sorry for herself before she remembered to get up and take care of her daughter?! Also, the author's views regarding angels, reincarnation, praying to Japanese statues, New Age religions, psychics, Christianity, etc. are completely warped and very scary. This book will lead anyone who doesn't have a strong belief in God down the wrong path by encouraging them to believe in whatever, wherever, whomever, and however. I would NOT recommend this book at all!

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2000

    The best book I've read in years

    I love books and if you love books like I do, you know that a good book is a treasure. This book is a amazing. Not only is the story remarkable, Martha Beck's writing style is outstanding. She is one of the best female writers I've read. This book will change you. It will stay in your mind for months. It is the type of book you need to read twice, just to digest the wonderful truths found inside. I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2013

    Dont miss

    Martha beck is funny and insightful. It is a must read

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 30, 2012

    Magical!!!!!!!!!

    This book is amazing! I love it so much that I now own the paperback edition and the Nook edition. I read it when I need reassurance that life is good, that "bad" things happen for good reasons, etc.
    I am a mom to a disabled child, so I empathize with this couple. Their stress, their fighting, their eventual unification together over their special needs son. The story is so unbelievable at points that it comes across as completely honest. Which is where the magic comes in. Open your mind, open this book, and allow yourself to believe.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2012

    Highly recommend

    Beautifully written. Funny yet touching.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 22, 2012

    Beautifully written, Poignant, and Heart-warming

    I've enjoyed Martha Beck's witty and meaningful page in every O Magazine. I was interested in the subject of this book, and excited to see Martha's name as the author. Her writing talent is superb, and the way she tells this story of her son, Adam, brings light to the subject of compassion and appreciation for children who aren't quite the "norm." Martha reveals her courage in continuing her pregnancy despite everyone's advice to abort, and her personal growth in faith. We see Adam taking on his own personality and becoming a well-loved person who makes a difference in the lives of those he touches. Martha shares wonderful bits of her wisdom throughout the book, each one worthy of being framed.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 10, 2011

    Inspiring, and a little scary!

    This story showed me that there is more to this life than what we can see in front of us, and that worldly success is not the prize it may appear to be.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2001

    Meeting Adam will make you smile!!

    A beautiful, beautiful story. Not really about the birth of a Down Syndrome baby at all-more about the author's Rebirth as a human and woman. She brings the truth about 'the Harvard(University)culture' to the forefront and reminds us that what you see on the outside is really not what life is all about. Spiritual yet not religous--anyone will enjoy this...except for the faculty at Harvard!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 28, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Great premise. Touching story. But way too much whoo-whoo for th

    Great premise. Touching story. But way too much whoo-whoo for this reader!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 5, 2012

    A must read!!!

    Can't put this one down! Absolutely one of my favs!!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2012

    Highly recommend

    Great book for a book club. So much to consider. Loved the implication of a higher being and wished author would have been very clear in the end who the higher power is.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 22, 2008

    A thought-provoking read.

    I found 'Expecting Adam' an interesting read, thought-provoking and fascinating to follow Martha's journey from a book-smart, by-the-book person to a human being with a heightened consciousness of the world beyond facts.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 17, 2007

    Read it three times!

    This book is so much more than a story about a Down's baby/family. An inspiring look at things we might not talk about. Very much worth the time and focus.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2007

    fascinatingly honest!!

    Rarely does a Harvard woman let you know what is really happening in her life. It is all about scholarly persuits and the higher intellectual plane. This book lets you inside the transformation of the author from emotional robot intent on persuing a doctorate above all else to warm, nuturing woman. Martha Beck reformed herself through her pregnancy with a son with Down syndrome. This is a remarkably honest story of a woman who found herself in the throes of a difficult pregnancy. I laughed out loud and cried silent tears at the pathos of the human condition.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2006

    Disappointing

    I was disappointed in this book. It dragged interminably and I had to force myself to finish it. I expected her to discuss what she learned by having a Downs Syndrome child, but she rarely addressed this. She focused on how hard it was to be pregnant. I grew tired of her neglecting her daughter and not being a responsible parent and adult.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2005

    Calamity Jane Writes Again

    I have heard nothing but wonderful reviews of this book, so I'm willing to concede that it is me, but I was frustrated throughout my read. Shuttling her toddler daughter in a back-pack for repeated hand-offs to her husband; ignoring an OBs advice to get to the ER immediately to evaluate copious bleeding; laying in bed for hours on end while Katie sat unattended etc. all made me feel that many of Martha's calamaties were self imposed. Her attribution of the obvious divine intervention that graced her incredibly difficult second pregnancy to vague paranormal forces, and her placing more stock in a soothsayer than in a higher power made me sad for her three children. The book is beautifully drafted and displays an enviable wit, but the bottom line, sadly, is that despite all that graced her, poor Martha still doesn't get it.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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