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

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

by Martha Beck

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"He says you'll never be hurt as much by being open as you have been by remaining closed."

The messenger is a school janitor with a master's in art history who claims to be channeling "from both sides of the veil." "He" is Adam, a three-year-old who has never spoken an intelligible word.  And the message is intended for Martha Beck, Adam's mother, who doesn't know whether to make a mad dash for the door to escape a raving lunatic (after all, how many conversations like this one can you have before you stop getting dinner party invitations and start pushing a mop yourself?) or accept another in a series of life lessons from an impeccable but mysterious source.

From the moment Martha and her husband, John, accidentally conceived their second child, all hell broke loose. They were a couple obsessed with success. After years of matching IQs and test scores with less driven peers, they had two Harvard degrees apiece and were gunning for more. They'd plotted out a future in the most vaunted ivory tower of academe. But the dream had begun to disintegrate. Then, when their unborn son, Adam, was diagnosed with Down syndrome, doctors, advisers, and friends in the Harvard community warned them that if they decided to keep the baby, they would lose all hope of achieving their carefully crafted goals. Fortunately, that's exactly what happened.

Expecting Adam is a poignant, challenging, and achingly funny chronicle of the extraordinary nine months of Martha's pregnancy. By the time Adam was born, Martha and John were propelled into a world in which they were forced to redefine everything of value to them, put all their faith in miracles, and trust that they could fly without a net. And it worked.

Martha's riveting, beautifully written memoir captures the abject terror and exhilarating freedom of facing impending parentdom, being forced to question one's deepest beliefs, and rewriting life's rules. It is an unforgettable celebration of the everyday magic that connects human souls to each other.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307954015
Publisher: Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale
Publication date: 08/02/2011
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 284,878
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Martha Beck is the "Quality of Life" columnist for Mademoiselle, a career counselor for Life Design Enterprises, and the author of Breaking Point: Why Women Fall Apart and How They Can Re-create Their Lives. She also hosts a weekly TV spot, "Ask Martha," on Good Day Arizona. She lives in Phoenix with her husband, three children, and best friend Karen.

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.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Wickedly funny and wrenchingly sad memoirs of a young mother awaiting the birth of a Down syndrome baby while simultaneously pursuing a doctorate at Harvard. . . . Even skeptics will find magic in this story, and parents of a Down syndrome child will cherish it." —-Kirkus

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Expecting Adam: A True Story of Birth, Rebirth, and Everyday Magic 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 60 reviews.
isabellas-garden More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Martha beck is funny and insightful. It is a must read
Jamaican-Gem More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved the book, I loved Adam, I felt every inch of being pregnant with Martha--smile!
TimBazzett on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was primed for this book. Our third grandson, Adam, had just been born (August 5), when I visited a bookstore just down the street from the hospital. So the title, Expecting Adam, quite naturally practically leapt off the shelf into my hands. I originally thought, what a great gift for my daughter (the new mother), but when I read it was a story about having a child with Down Syndrome, I reconsidered. Our particular Adam, although a few weeks premature, seemed pretty much perfect, and I didn't want to needlessly upset the new mom. I needn't have worried. This is an absolutely wonderful book, told with humor, compassion, wit, wisdom and a nearly other-worldy sense of wonder. And did I mention humor? Because this woman is a very funny writer. The numerous references to invisible beings, whether she calls them angels or Bunraku puppeteers, and intercontinental telepathy are the kind of thing that would normally put me off, as I am a natural skeptic. But somehow Beck pulls it off. Probably because she believes it, she makes me believe it too - all of it. My wife wants to read it now. (She'd seen Martha Beck on Oprah some time ago, she tells me.) We will then pass the book along to our daughter to read. We know she will relate, and probably cry a little, when she reads Beck's perfect descriptions of a tiny foot the size of a man's thumb and a head the size of an orange. Babies. Ain't they just the grandest things?! I'll say it again. This is a wonderful book.
Clueless on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love Martha Beck. Sometimes I feel like she's in my head doing my thinking for me. She is definitely one of the five people living or dead, fictional or real that I would invite to dinner!
DevourerOfBooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Martha and her husband were graduate students are Harvard with a little girl when they unexpected got pregnant with second child. As with her first pregnancy, Martha was sick beyond belief during the entire pregnancy, making keeping up with her young daughter and her classwork very difficult ¿ especially when her husband took a job that caused him to split his time between Harvard (for classes) and Asia, leaving the country for weeks at a time. Already somewhat looked down upon for having even one child while at Harvard, many people disapproved of Martha¿s second pregnancy, particularly when they became aware that the baby she carried had Downs Syndrome.Until becoming pregnant with Adam, Martha really bought into the whole Harvard mentality. Although she still did her best to keep up with what was expected of her while pregnant, her priorities began to change while carrying Adam. Part of what changed Martha was a series of very serious circumstances, all happening while her husband was out of the country. First she felt too weak and nauseous to make food and eat for long enough that she was effectively starving herself, later in her pregnancy there was a fire in her building, at one point she began bleeding profusely. In all of these circumstances, Martha felt the presence of some other, even mystical being(s) protecting her and Adam. Although everyone around them expected Martha to abort the baby ¿ even her doctors and, initially, her husband ¿ Martha became convinced that she HAD to have him. You do know from the beginning how this book turns out. I believe Martha wrote this when Adam was 3 or older and she makes frequent references to what he is like as a toddler.I read this for book club and, in general, we all really enjoyed it, although we were taken aback at just how hostile Martha perceived Harvard as being towards family life in general and towards a baby with Downs in particular (granted this did take place during the 1980s). We also became VERY frustrated with Martha. She was later diagnosed with an immune disease that made her so sick durnig pregnancy, it seemed as if she was trying to do everything BUT take good care of herself and her daughter when her husband was out of town. If you are feeling nauseous with pregnancy, the solution is generally to eat small doses of whatever does NOT make you nauseous frequently. Knowing how extremely sick she could get, we felt it was inexusable for Martha to allow herself to get to the point where she could eat when she was the sole caretaker for the baby she was carrying and her daughter. She also neglected to go to the doctor when she was bleeding so badly, saying she knew she had been healed, which disturbed us all.Despite some of our gripes with Martha¿s actions, this was a very well-written memoir on an extremely interesting topic and I think we would all recommend it. It certainly made for a good conversation at book club, even in a book club where I am the only one married (although others are engaged) and anywhere near children.
beata on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A young scholar woman expecting a child with Down Syndrome is able to find joy and discover little miracles in everyday struggles.
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donnareads911 More than 1 year ago
Great premise. Touching story. But way too much whoo-whoo for this reader!
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SD52858 More than 1 year ago
Can't put this one down! Absolutely one of my favs!!!
pangaia More than 1 year ago
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.
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Cloud-9 More than 1 year ago
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.
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