On birthmothers: Loving well in the messy middle. A conversation with Michelle Thorne, and a book giveaway.

CONGRATULATIONS to Margie, who won this giveaway! (6/5/18)

And thank you so much to everyone who visited!


Today I am thrilled to introduce you to my friend Michelle Thorne. She is a wife, mom, birthmom and the author of three books on various topics on adoption, and she lives in Qingdao, China. You can find her at http://www.michellethornebooks.com.

I met Michelle online when I was doing research on modern day birthmothers for Before I Saw You. I read Michelle’s book, Delivered, and was so moved by her story of what the synopsis describes as, “the forgotten, or perhaps hidden, piece in the beautiful triptych of adoption…Raw and revealing, Delivered gives a voice to an otherwise silent population who call themselves birthmothers and inspires others to consider that the giving of life to one has a ripple effect, bringing life to many.”

I reached out to Michelle with questions I had about creating an accurate portrayal of the birthmother experience in and around my protagonist, Jaycee. She was beyond kind to respond and take the time to help me create and review a story that will hopefully reach birthmothers–and anyone who reads Before I Saw You–with hope.

I won’t waste another minute … thank you so much for being here today, Michelle!

*****

Writing is not easy. Writing about a subject that almost everyone on the planet has an opinion about is practically impossible. If you think about it, everyone is pro-life; it is a matter of whose life they are in favor of that divides the argument. As a birthmom, which is a woman who chose to place her child for adoption, I am passionate about what gets said about unplanned pregnancies and the people involved in them, and as an adoption professional, I want to protect little ears that might hear the conversations. So, when Amy began talking to me about my experience with unplanned pregnancy, I was cautiously optimistic.

Could anyone describe the sharp contrast involved, the deeply emotional polarized pulls, and the jump from a self-centered life to the total and complete care of another human in the time it takes for a pregnancy test to register a reading? I just wasn’t sure.

However, as I began to sit with Amy’s lead character Jaycee and watch her live out what I knew so well, what I lived, I got swept. I fell in love with Sudie. I swooned over Gabe. I wanted to punch Bryan and kiss Reverend Payne, if such things were appropriate.

Being in an unplanned pregnancy is a time to mourn and to rejoice, to regret and to wonder. It brings a variety of people who are accepting, reluctantly accepting, disgusted, helpful and not-so-helpful. People give you advice you didn’t ask for, and because you didn’t plan it, some can feel fear and rush to rescue you and help you figure it out, whether you want them to or not. Then, there are those saints, who give you the freedom to make your own choice, feel your erratic feelings, and aren’t bothered by the revolving door on your life. Amy portrays this so beautifully in Before I Saw You.

The story is inspired in part by Moses’s Israelite mother, Jochebed. I love this woman. I feel like I know things about her that others don’t. Like how she must have wept over her decision, and longed to be more than just his wet nurse. I feel like I know the torture of separation and the relief of choosing life.

If we think about Jochebed’s story without knowing the ending, we have a woman who can’t care for her child because the government has deemed it so. When she hides Moses for three months, we name her selfless, not selfish. When she puts him into the very same water that was killing other Israelite newborn sons, we call her faithful, not insane. And when she remains part of his life as his wet nurse for his childhood, we rejoice that they are together instead of being afraid it will damage Moses in some way.

Jochebed’s decision to save Moses’s life saved millions more. It affected generations. We know this, and so we don’t begrudge Jochebed for putting Moses in the basket and sending him down the river. We don’t say, “Moses was abandoned.” With the clarity of hindsight, we agree with Jochebed’s choices instead of wonder at them. The soothing story of Moses’s success numbs us to the gravity of Jochebed’s situation.

In Before I Saw You, Amy doesn’t let us off the emotional hook. We see Jaycee struggle and question. We know her guilt and regrets. We feel her shame. But we also get to feel her being loved by other characters. We feel the excitement of that first ultrasound and the joy that new life brings. In reading her story, we can’t deny the humanity in it, nor can we avoid the divine.

If I can encourage you in one thing regarding this amazing, well-written book, it is this: Learn from Jaycee and her experience. Facing unplanned pregnancy is hard. There is not one right answer. When you encounter a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy, don’t make assumptions about her or what her decision should be. You may not know the “right thing” to do, but God does. Trust that God loves this woman more than you do. Trust that He can help and trust that when the story is told in 40 years it will look different from what you can see from here.

Women facing unplanned pregnancy need to be loved right where they are, in the messy middle of the story, before the redemption is realized. Let go of the protest sign; hold a hand. Advocate for women through relationships, not just through the ballot box. Strive for stronger connections, not stronger convictions.  Loving these women well is loving these children well. Love big, my friends, and enjoy Before I Saw You.

*****

…anyone who comments on this post between now and the release date of June 5 will be entered to win copies of both Delivered and Before I Saw You in a prize package!

On motherhood: When God calls us to the river

***

When I first felt God nudging me to write a contemporary story about Jochebed, Moses’ birth mother, I could not have felt more unqualified.

I’ve never given up a child.

I have no experience with crisis pregnancy or adoption or birth mothers.

Though none of my novels have been easy to write, more than ever I felt just like Moses must have when he pleaded with the Lord in Exodus 4:10:

“O Lord, I’m not very good with words. I never have been, and I’m not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled” (NLT).

Still, the story would not leave my mind.

I knew I had to write it.

I researched birth mothers and read blogs and books they have written. I visited adoption agencies. I talked to adoptive mothers. I read books about crisis pregnancy. Much of what went into Before I Saw You is the result of this research.

However, the heart of Before I Saw You emerged when I realized I had more in common with Jochebed than I originally thought…

click here to read the rest of this blog post, over at Tyndale House Publisher’s Crazy For Fiction site.

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Crisis pregnancy, the opioid crisis, and… a novel? A glimpse into Before I Saw You

*****

The baby died.

The one my fellow nurses and I rocked and held and sang to, the one we fed and nurtured as best we could through her withdrawal from the constant stream of opioids that had been coursing through her mother’s blood stream and ultimately into hers.

Other babies died, too, and continue to die every day. Some in the hospital. Some in foster care. Some neglected by their parents shooting up in the room next to theirs.

As a nurse, I’ve cared for these babies.

I care for these addicts.

And the whole mess of it breaks my heart.

If you’re already a reader of my novels, then you know they are inspired by things in this world which break my heart. In How Sweet the Sound, it was sexual abuse. In Then Sings My Soul, it was the plight of the unseen elderly in our society. In Lead Me Home, it was the plight of small churches and family farms closing all around us.

My newest novel, Before I Saw You, is no exception.

Before I Saw You is inspired by the despair of the opioid crisis, as well as the silent journeys and shame of birth mothers, too often courageous but forgotten people among us.

 

To say that the opioid crisis is an epidemic full of despair is an understatement. Today’s opioid crisis is killing not only adults, but too often innocent children. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

Every day, more than 115 Americans die after overdosing on opioids.1 The misuse of and addiction to opioids—including prescription pain relieversheroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl—is a serious national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare…The Midwestern region saw opioid overdoses increase 70 percent from July 2016 through September 2017.10Opioid overdoses in large cities increase by 54 percent in 16 states.10This issue has become a public health crisis with devastating consequences including increases in opioid misuse and related overdoses, as well as the rising incidence of neonatal abstinence syndrome due to opioid use and misuse during pregnancy.

Where can people find hope?

That was–and is–the question my heart is asking.

That’s the question that drove me to write a story with characters like Jaycee Givens who are asking the same thing, searching for the same answers, seeking the same hope in the midst of so much hard.

At the same time I was researching the opioid crisis, I was researching the journey of birth mothers. I read websites and books and visited adoption agencies and spoke with birth mothers, and soon realized so many of them face a lifetime of silence and shame. While our society is quick to celebrate adoption–and rightly so–the journey of the birthmother as they carry the baby inside them and wrestle with the heart-wrenching decision to place their child is too often forgotten.

In tandem, I discovered the opioid crisis and birth mothers were the perfect contemporary parallel to the story of Jochebed, Moses’ birth mother whose story is told in Exodus 1-2. As such, Before I Saw You was born. 

 

As with all my novels, I hope readers will discover hope in the midst of these excruciating times. The more I speak about the themes of Before I Saw You, the more I’m amazed that few, if any of us, are immune to the devastation of the opioid crisis.

It seems like everyone has a loved one or a friend who has struggled with addiction, had their family torn apart by,  or tragically lost a loved one to the opioid epidemic.

Also, I pray that birth mothers who read Before I Saw You will find hope through protagonist Jaycee’s journey, in the midst of their silence, and what is often a lifetime, low grade fever of grief and shame.

All in all, Before I Saw You is a story of a small town in dire straits, and full of big-hearted people struggling to find hope in the midst.

Just like you and me.


About Before I Saw You:

Folks are dying fast as the ash trees in the southern Indiana town ravaged by the heroin epidemic, where Jaycee Givens lives with nothing more than a thread of hope and a quirky neighbor, Sudie, who rescues injured wildlife. After a tragedy leaves her mother in prison, Jaycee is carrying grief and an unplanned pregnancy she conceals because she trusts no one, including the kind and handsome Gabe, who is new to town and to the local diner where she works.

Dividing her time between the diner and Sudie’s place, Jaycee nurses her broken heart among a collection of unlikely friends who are the closest thing to family that she has. Eventually, she realizes she can’t hide her pregnancy any longer—not even from the baby’s abusive father, who is furious when he finds out. The choices she must make for the safety of her unborn child threaten to derail any chance she ever had for hope and redemption. Ultimately, Jaycee must decide whether the truest form of love means hanging on or letting go.

Available for pre-order today.

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