“This one, mommy.”
“OK,” I say in a voice much more cheerful than I feel.
My daughter plucks a book out of the basket in which we keep our weekly plunder from the library. The cover shows an unusually rotund woman on the front, with a cover that insinuates, “This is where all babies come from and where you come from too — your mommy’s belly!”
Except this daughter didn’t come from my belly. She came from another mom’s belly, and another mom’s home to this mom’s home. I dutifully read, carefully watching her eyes, waiting for questions. They didn’t come this time. But they have before…
“I was in your belly, right mom?”
“Not in my belly,” I say. “But I bet if you were in my belly, you would have kicked me like a ninja baby. I bet you kicked your birth mom and squirmed around in there like crazy. I wish you could have been in my belly. I would have liked that.”
It has to be confusing though, no matter how much I joke about the ninja baby she probably was. If everyone else came from their mom’s bellies, if this is normal, why isn’t it her story?
Where are the children’s stories that make her story normal?
I was so excited then when I received an email asking for my review of Wonderful You: An Adoption Story. Even more excited that they offered another book as a give-away for one of my readers.
Even though I loved the idea of a children’s book highlighting adoption, I remained just a little bit skeptical. Talking about adoption is hard as an adult. I struggle to capture the nuance of her story, the people who loved her and had to let go in order for us to love her and hold on forever. How then, would this children’s book possibly share how a child could come from one family to another, acknowledging the loss but also relishing in joy, in simple words and simple pages?
“In a faraway land lived a lady in blue with a baby in her tummy named Wonderful You . . . ”
So begins Lauren McLaughlin’s beautiful book, with yes, a picture of a swollen tummy and a women in a blue dress. At once I am slightly relieved. Because some adoption books gloss over the fact that a baby does come from somewhere and as all the other “big sister” books point out, babies come from bellies. Babies don’t come from the sky. Or from wishful thinking. They do not just appear in our home from nowhere.
Babies, like books, have a beginning.
The story progresses as the lady in blue, still swollen with child, roams all over the earth looking for the parents of her child. She wants the home to be warm and kind, with parents who will love her child forever. She is meticulous in her search. And she finds her family, with the teddy named Boo, and it’s the perfect fit for her baby named Wonderful You.
As a mom who has recently given birth, this part is heartbreaking. A mom should never have to give up a child, and yet sometimes it is the only choice a mother can make. And so the lady in blue lovingly hands off the baby who is reaching for her adoptive parents’ arms, and flies away, after reassuring herself that this family is loving and everything is as it should be. Our experience as adopting from foster care is of course a bit different than this story. And yet, I’m thankful that the birth mom here is portrayed as loving and good — because in spite of any choices or circumstances that happened along the way — I know my child’s birth mom did love her so much. I want her to know she always came from love.
I expected the book to wrap up at this point, but McLaughlin is clear that while this is the beginning of the story, it is not the middle or the end.
“We were made for each other, as families are, whether big ones or small ones, from near or from far . . .
each one, in its way, a story unfolding of laughter and teardrops and arms made for holding.”
And so we listen as the adoptive mom tells her new baby about all the adventures and fun they would have as she grows older, but most important of the love and commitment that will follow her forever.
It is a beautifully simple story, saying so much, and yet holding space for the conversations to come.
Toward the end, illustrator Meilo So includes a distant lady in blue watching the new family playing. Based on the child’s age, several years have passed after the adoption. The birth mother is watching, but she is not present with the family. While I understand not every family is willing or even able to have an open adoption, I’m thankful the author and illustrator include the presence of the birth mother in the end. Because whether she is present in spirit or in person, her existence will never be fully separated from our adopted children’s lives. She is always a part of them, and by default, a part of the family.
This book opens the door for the hard questions, without demanding they be addressed. And while my daughter didn’t ask questions on our first reading, I’m thankful this book is in our own library now. And when she wants a story that she can relate to, a story that is her version of normal, I know just the one to pull off the shelf.
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Here are the links to purchase Wonderful You from retailers:
In exchange for my review, I received one hard copy of Wonderful You to review, and one reader chosen at random will also receive their own hard copy of the book.