In conjunction with National Adoption Awareness Month, Blue Moon Aurora, LLC is proud to announce the release of the truth about Hannah Rose by Naomi Kenorak, a fictionalized memoir of adoption set during the heyday of American adoptions from Russia.
Ally Eisenberg is approaching forty, recently divorced, and disconnected from her Jewish heritage. She turns to adoption from Russia to fulfill her lifelong dream of mothering. Soon she has accepted the referral of a little girl she's always known she’d call Hannah Rose. Ally successfully navigates the many hoops and hurdles of the adoption process and finally brings four-year-old Hannah home, only to realize that neither she nor her new daughter are prepared for the dramatic challenges involved in becoming a family. After months of struggling with post-adoption depression, Ally thinks things are looking up when a new complication arises in Hannah’s growing interest in her birthfamily. Now Ally must discover whether she can put aside her own expectations about the kind of mother she should be in order to become the mother that her daughter actually needs.
Buy the truth about Hannah Rose on Amazon Kindle now for $2.99, or continue reading for exclusive excerpts taken from throughout the book:
“That’s pretty intense!” says Roger, when I tell him that I spent my morning off first at the doctor’s, being examined so I could be certified as physically and mentally healthy, and then at the police station being fingerprinted for a criminal background check. I’m talking more openly at work about adoption and have been periodically checking in with Roger, the office head, as part of my attempt to grease the wheels for the requests I know I’ll be making: time off to travel to Russia, probably without much advance warning, and then later to work part-time for a while after the adoption is finalized and I’ve used up my FMLA leave. “Don’t you get fed up with all of it?”
“Well, there are a lot of hoops to jump through,” I say, agreeing with him on the one hand and yet on the other feeling like somehow it’s my duty to stand up for the legitimacy of the process. “But when you think what these kids have been through . . . I mean, society failed them in the first place in some way, or they wouldn’t be up for adoption. So society just wants to make doubly—triply—sure not to fail them again. There have been some real horror cases of kids getting adopted and then abused or even killed. That’s the ultimate betrayal. Plus, don’t forget that I’m doing an international adoption. So I’ve got to jump through county, State, Federal, and Russian hoops. Everyone wants to make sure I’m going to do a good job.”
He still looks doubtful. “Yeah, but plenty of people have kids themselves and do terrible things to them, you know what I mean? There’s a lot of shitty parents out there.” He smiles, as if to alert me that he’s about to make a joke. “Maybe people should have to take a test before being allowed to conceive.” He chuckles and I force a smile as he heads to his office.
What I really want to say: No, if you can reproduce by yourself, you get a pass. You can do it at fourteen if you want to or you can have eighteen kids and work them like farm hands. But if you can’t do it yourself, you’re going to pay for your failure. You’re going to be poked and prodded and fingerprinted, have your name checked on the New York State Child Abuse and Maltreatment Register, and be required to produce written documentation of every major life event from birth to marriage to divorce and infertility treatments. Once again I feel the burning of an invisible “B” on my belly, as if everyone can see the hollowness, the worthlessness, of the womb within. On the day that the divorce paperwork was finalized I remember thinking that I had become the embodiment of the worst of both Leah and Rachel: unloved and barren. Why hadn’t God given me some compensatory gift to make up for all that I’d lost? This adoption has to work. God owes me Hannah Rose.
She is so tiny, like a walking doll, in a yellow velvet dress with a huge pink bow in her baby-soft blonde hair. The bow is as big as her whole head. Her shoes are too big and she has no socks and the woman with her says something in Russian and guides her towards me and a smile lights her little face and she says “Mama!” and gives me a hug and I don’t care that she has no fear of strangers, I have my daughter in my arms and she is so light and I am lifting her up and she is beaming at me and I am in love.
This thing they ask you to do is huge: take two complete strangers who share nothing, not even a language, and suddenly, with no more imprimatur than a few pieces of paper, expect them to operate as a family. From nothing, I am supposed to become a mother—a calm, knowing, firm source of strength. With equally little experience, she is expected to welcome my authority with love and respect, to accept the boundaries I establish and flourish within them. It’s ludicrous. Perhaps all new mothers feel that they are being forged into new vessels. But I don’t think that the catalyst for transformation is usually so able to enforce its own will. An infant is all demand, but the demands must have a certain pure logic to them. With Hannah, the demands are just as intense, but the reasons behind them are completely screwed up. No one logically wants to make their own life a living hell, when it could be heaven on earth. And yet . . .
She is always awake before I am ready, forcing her way into the haze of sleep that I could once count on to cocoon myself from my worries. No longer. High-pitched Russian permeates both my waking and sleeping brain. I hear it at all hours, find myself unable to understand my own dreams. Worry has become so second-nature that the slightest sound jolts me awake. A car drives by outside and I’m sure Hannah has found a way past the child lock on the kitchen knife drawer.
There are mornings when the person I see in the mirror bears no resemblance to how I remember myself. When did I become this haggard, wan person—or more precisely, when did the way I actually look begin to diverge so radically from the way I picture myself? When did I start dressing like the other mothers I’d always secretly pitied for having lost all propriety?
And yet, perhaps this functional lack of self-consciousness is a self-preservation technique. The first time you carry your screaming child out of a packed restaurant, something shatters in you and something else starts to grow, something that translates into wearing stained sweatpants to the grocery store and berating someone else’s child in the checkout line for staring. It’s a rite of passage, I think in my more positive moments, or a devolution I think the rest of the time: a sinking transformation into the primal Over Mother who cannot be embarrassed, who does not fear ridicule or pain, and who knows what must be done to ensure the survival of the species. Children must be quiet, respectful, mannerly, and protected from danger and no amount of screaming is going to shake the Over Mother’s resolve.
I used to wonder where my mother got her ability to calmly clean up cat vomit in front of guests, or to stand firm when an adolescent Jake shouted that he hated her in the middle of a particularly memorable Seder when she refused to relent on his grounding, or even just to pee in the forest during camping trips—all things that made me cringe with shame. I asked her once and she said it came with becoming a mother. I thought she meant it came with having experienced the actual process of birth, doing this incredibly painful and private thing in the presence of doctors, nurses, and other total strangers. But now I know that the incredibly painful and private thing is mothering itself. We do it in public because we have no other choice and it either destroys us or we become invincible.
We are driving out to visit my Mom and I have the CD player loaded with Disney soundtracks. We are bopping our heads and singing along at the top of our lungs. I am completely happy. When the song ends, I hit pause. I have to recognize this moment.
“You know, Hannah, I always hoped that someday I’d be able to share my favorite movies with a daughter of my own and that we’d be able to sing along to the songs together. And here we are!”
I smile into the rearview mirror at Hannah, who smiles back for a moment and then says, “But it’s not supposed to be this way.”
“What do you mean?”
“Mama Natalya was supposed to take care of me.”
Tears sting my eyes. “I know sweetheart,” I manage to say. “But things don’t always work out the way they’re supposed to.”
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