I read a lot of memoirs. I never cry. Except this time.
Lindsey O’Connor’s memoir of awakening from a medically-induced coma did it to me. I’ve read many memoirs of medical trauma and recovery, and while O’Connor’s descriptions of her rise to consciousness are unique in their clarity and refusal to resort to cliché, it wasn’t the medical struggle that made me cry. It was the emotional struggle.
Waking up in the hospital with three months missing from your memory, a body that barely functions, and a maddening inability to communicate with others should be more than enough for one woman to handle. But O’Connor faced another, stranger truth: the day before her medical nightmare began, she gave birth to a baby girl. And she doesn’t remember a thing about her.
It’s this story that pushed me over the edge, the story of a mother struggling to bond with a baby she barely recognizes. O’Connor is brutally honest about her doubts, her shame, and her pure astonishment that she could have a 3-month old baby and actually forget about her. Even when she began to realize the depth of crisis she survived, and envision the long road to recovery, she still felt guilty that she wasn’t doing a better job parenting this baby. Of course she wasn’t! She could barely breathe! But, mother guilt knows no boundaries, and there it was on top of everything else. She was failing her baby.
I appreciated the other themes of O’Connor’s book—the strengths and weaknesses of marriage, the puzzle of faith in the face of prayers answered and unanswered—but it was the bonding-with-baby struggle that fascinated me. Perhaps this is because I adopted my son when he was 7 months old, so I know what it feels like to miss those first precious days. And to be stunned that bonding wasn’t instant the moment they finally put that much-hoped-for child in your arms. O’Connor was able to portray both this emptiness and the crystalline moment that comes later, when you fall head over heels, hopelessly in love with this child of yours. There’s no going back.