A Birthmother in a Novel

One of my granddaughters–the one my mother called “that little girl.”
When you give away a child, you also give away your grandchildren.

Izzie in Kate Atkinson’s “Life After Life”

The baby would be adopted as swiftly as possible. “A respectable German couple, unable to have their own child,” Adelaide said. Sylvie tried to imagine giving away a child. (“And will we never hear of it again?” she puzzled. “I certainly hope not,” Adelaide said.) Izzie was now packed off to a finishing school in Switzerland, even though it seemed she was already finished, in more ways than one.

from “Life After Life” by Kate Atkinson

Reading from the birthmother’s perspective

Izzie, the shamed pregnant girl, in Atkinson’s book seemed to be a minor character in the beginning. She’s the sister-in-law of Sylvie, one of the main characters.  Now I’m a quarter of the  way through the book, and Izzie has reappeared, years later after giving up her child. I can’t wait to see how she is. Will people speak of the baby and her past? Will she? And is Adelaide, Izzie’s mother still alive? Has her attitude about Izzie and her baby changed? Will we meet the lost baby?

I always read from the birth mother’s perspective. It’s impossible not to.

My real-life story

In my own story, with my own parents, the baby was never mentioned again. After the birth of two subsequent children I couldn’t stand the silence. I couldn’t stand living my big lie–that I had two children, not three. I couldn’t stand my unacknowledged grief.

When I called my mother and told her I was going to search for my son, who was by then 20 years old. “You’re going to get hurt,” she said.

“I’m already hurt,” I said.

So I searched. And I found him. Many things have happened since then. My mom lives with me now. She’s gotten to know my son and his family. She’s still talking about how much she enjoyed “that little girl” who came to stay for a week this summer. My son’s daughter. To think we might never have known her. But that’s how adoption works. Grandmothers lose grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Babies are handed off to new parents and are never heard of again.

1 thought on “A Birthmother in a Novel

  1. Pingback: More thoughts about Izzie, the birthmother, in Kate Atkinson's "Life After Life" - Denise Emanuel Clemen

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