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When Rain Hurts: A Review

October 20, 2013

Two weeks ago I finished my pre-ordered copy of Mary Evelyn Greene’s memoir When Rain Hurts: An Adoptive Mother’s Journey with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (Red Hen Press, 2013).

When Rain Hurts

It’s been sitting on my desk for two weeks waiting for the full review I intended to write. But tomorrow my copy is on its way to Dorothy’s house and the book deserves my review. So I’ll give you the unstudied version.

First: Greene has written a real memoir, a book that will appeal to readers who may not have experiential connections to its subject matter. This is not common in the adoption/special needs genre, where the simple fact that a family lives with Issue X often seems like reason enough to write about it. I was not expecting to open the cover and be drawn into a memoir and in the beginning, I found it a little off-putting simply because I was expecting something else.  Give Greene’s voice a chance and you’ll find yourself returning to the book for the writing as well as the story.

Second: Give her the grace of several chapters to get over her honesty in the first few. She speaks truthfully part of the adoption process that often gets swept under the rug: the naive aspirations with which most of us began our adoption journeys. Like early in their story, she muses that she and her husband were not so shallow as to seek a beautiful child; they simply were looking for a healthy one.  Admissions like that are not common in my corner of the world, where many families begin their adoptions open to children with special needs. Yet I think if we were bold enough to be frank, most of us would agree that we began with similarly naive assumptions about what those needs would mean (and not mean) for our family.

Third: As International Adoption experience, Greene’s family’s experience rings absolutely true to mine, despite the fact that her children were born in Bulgaria, and mine in South Korea. If you’re considering International adoption, read carefully for more than her stories about their process with U.S. and International agencies. She uses pseudonyms instead of agency names and if you have not adopted, you will be tempted to think that you will have a different experience if you simply choose more ethical agencies to facilitate your adoption. Not true. The ethical dilemmas Greene and her husband encountered are endemic to International adoption.

Beyond that, even if you are thinking about adopting domestically, pay careful attention to her description of how the adoption process itself –the hurry-up-and-wait, the home study, the child referral process –narrowed Greene’s and her husband’s perspectives on the children whose referrals they eventually accepted. You will probably be better able to see this happening in another family’s experience (Greene’s) than in your own. There is wisdom to be gleaned if you will allow her experience to temper your understanding of how you will be thinking (blind to it) at a similar stage in your process.

That said, Greene makes no claim to be an evangelical Christian and you will not find faith and theology under-girding her journey. To which I say, again: don’t be mislead by your own conviction that your faith will give you insights and guidance non-Christians lack. The common denominator, the one Greene captures accurately, is our humanity and the effects of natural optimism on the adoption process. Those things affect even those of us who follow Christ.

A core story is Greene and her husband’s years-long struggle to get their son diagnosed, and with that knowledge, to get him free and appropriate public education. If you home school kids with special needs, you’ll still find parallels to your own quest for appropriate home-based services. If you are frustrated with the public school experience, your hands will be strengthened for fighting the system. If you find your public school system is actually a good match for your child, you may take away, as I did, an appreciation for why your current arrangement is working and the factors which could throw off that good-fit.

Another core story is her journey to healing –although imperfectly –Radical Attachment Disorder (RAD). I did not expect she and her son to make as much, and as significant, progress as they did. And just like she was, I was blindsided that winning that battle, in his case, did not mean winning the war to heal their family.

Even if none of those stories intrigues you, if you’ve been an adoptive parent for very long, you have probably encountered families, even friends, who’ve made the extraordinarily difficult decision to place a child in residential treatment. While Greene is appropriately vague about the family dynamics that lead them to this decision for their son, she is unflinchingly honest about her own side of the story: how it impacted her as a mom, and how it (positively) impacted their family. I am not aware of any book written by a mom with a child in residential treatment. As excruciating as their family’s experience is, When Rain Hurts is incredibly valuable for taking us inside that world.

There’s no happy ending here. I was actually glad the book did not end on an “up” note. At the end of the book, which alternates between chapters and journal entries, we’re left with journal entries: the raw, ongoing, unfinished business of parenting children with special needs, and the raw, ongoing, unfinished process of a mom’s finding a new normal she never expected.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 21, 2014 10:03 am

    Hi – I just came across your blog and review of my book, and I’m writing to thank you. This was a very difficult project for me, as you can imagine, and one that, on occasion, I’ve struggled to justify. Putting a public face on the private moments of our lives – including many if not all of our son’s most difficult struggles – was a difficult decision. I wanted to thank you for helping to reassure me that the value in this exercise is hopefully worth more than the cost.

    I hope you continue to make progress with your alcohol exposed daughter and thank you again. I’ve posted your review on my book’s Facebook page – I hope that’s okay. And BTW, Peter is home from his residential school (he was discharged in June) and doing very well. It was the hardest but best thing we’ve done for him.

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