In honor of World Book Day, I’m sharing a book that grabbed my heart — Rock Needs River: A Memoir About a Very Open Adoption.
I met author Vanessa McGrady when we spoke together on a panel of Binders Full of Women Writers at UCLA a few years back. Though I found myself charmed by Facebook photos of her daughter Grace, I didn’t know the story behind how Vanessa and Grace found one another until I read Rock Needs River.
To whet your literary appetites, here’s a blurb from the publisher, Little A:
After two years of waiting to adopt — years spent slogging through paperwork and bouncing between hope and despair—a miracle finally happened for Vanessa McGrady. Her sweet baby, Grace, was a dream come true. Then she made a highly uncommon decision: when Grace’s biological parents became homeless, Vanessa invited them to stay.
Without a blueprint for navigating the practical basics of an open adoption or any discussion of expectations or boundaries, the unusual living arrangement became a bottomless well of conflicting emotions and increasingly difficult decisions complicated by missed opportunities, regret, social chaos, and broken hearts.
Ready to read the book (check out our giveaway below)? Good. It’s fantastic. And so is the following Q&A Parentology did with Vanessa aimed specifically at World Book Day. Thanks, Vanessa. — Bekah Wright, Editor, Parentology.
Was writing a book something you’d always wanted to do or was it birthed because of your personal journey?
I’m a journalist by trade, and a few years ago I realized how much I loved writing personal essays. Sometimes they help me sort out whatever challenge I’m going through, and often I write about something because I’m really mad about it (see the link to the article below) and need to vent.
There’s also a very lonely feeling when we struggle and feel like nobody else can possibly understand. But when we write about it and a lot of people see it, invariably someone else is going through something similar and will reach out and say thank you. I wrote about the relationship with my daughter’s birth parents originally as a blog post for the New York Times’ parenting section (see below) when Bill and Bridgett were staying with us after they became homeless. The story just wouldn’t quite leave me, even when they’d moved on, and eventually it became a book about my long stumbling journey toward motherhood and our relationship with my daughter’s birth parents.
Did your daughter give input (I know she’s young) at any point?
She was really young in the beginning (two and a half) so it wouldn’t really register when I wrote about our family. As she got older, I would check in with her, and she actually loves the idea of being included and digs that she’s on the cover of the book. She’s seven now and has come to a couple of book signings and a panel I was on, and I keep checking in with her about what’s OK to talk about. So for example, I was talking about her dad’s battle with alcohol at one panel, and asked her after, “hey, how did it feel when I talked about Daddy?” and she said she didn’t know (very sadly, he died in January) so I’ll be more careful about how I phrase things and if I talk about them at all around her in the future.
She’s also old enough now that I can ask her if I can post something – either a sweet story or a photo of her – on social media. She usually says yes but I keep trying to practice that kind of consent.
Have other parents or hoping-to-be-parents reached out to you since reading the book?
Yes! So many. It’s been really lovely connecting with people who have similar experiences. The adoption community is really a wonderful club with so many amazing people in it — birth parents, adoptees and adoptive parents.
Did you turn to any books while you were going through the events in the book?
I feel like when you start being a parent, you’re thirsty for so much information that there’s not enough in the world and you’re drowning in how-to books. And then there comes a point where you realize there’s no manual to your life and you have to wing it in live-time. Funnily enough, I write about this a little in ROCK NEEDS RIVER during a family food poisoning episode: I needed to improvise. I’d read dozens of parenting books by this point, and not one of them had a chapter called, “What to Do When You and Your Husband Are Crapping and Puking Black Death and You Can’t Take Care of Your Child.”
Top three fave books.
Wow, there are so many. That is a truly unfair question. I don’t know how to pare them down. I’ll say (today) they are The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, and I’m also reading and really loving Rigoberto González’s Autobiography of My Hungers. I also made a list on great books about adoption over at Read It Forward (see below).
*Parentology is giving away a hardcover copy of Rock Needs River. To enter, like our Facebook page and leave a comment below. A winner will be chosen on May 10.
Can’t wait? Instant gratification awaits at Amazon.
Vanessa’s Jezebel article I Won’t Let My 4-Year-Old Daughter Grow Up Stepping Aside for Sexism, Like I Did
Vanessa’s New York Times’ Parenting Blog Post The Birth Parents Move In
Read It Forward: Books on Adoption