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The Memory Keepers Daughter: Chapter 1 and 2 February 1, 2007

Posted by Han in The Memory Keepers Daughter by Kim Edwards.

Here is where we will discuss Chapters 1 and 2 of the Memory Keepers Daughter.

What is your reaction to David handing the baby over to Caroline and telling Norah she has died?  What do you think of his History or motivation to do something like this?



1. heather - February 4, 2007

The argument you often hear for terminating a Down’s Syndrome pregnancy is “poor quality of life.” Like David, people will recite all of the clinical symptoms: “flaccid muscle tone, delayed growth and mental development, possible heart complications, early death.” (P. 16) Nowadays, the answer is abortion – terminate the pregnancy because this child would not have had the quality of life every person deserves. From this story it seems that the answer in the 1960s was to send the child to an institution: “There’s nothing they can do except try to keep him clean. They ought to spare themselves and send him to a home.” (P. 17) But whatever the decade, the real issue has much more to do with the parents’ quality of life than that of the child with Down’s Syndrome.

When I was pregnant with my second child my husband and I went to our first ultrasound screening with much excitement and eager anticipation. The ultrasound technician happened to be a family friend, and she acted normal as she told us she believed we were expecting a girl. But when she started taking measurements, it took a lot longer than I’d remembered with our first child. She seemed quiet and very focused. She left the room for a little while then came back. She told us she’d gone to talk with my doctor. She was concerned about some of Claire’s nuchal fold measurements. My doctor felt the number was not significant enough to warrant worrying us, but because Jean was a family friend, she didn’t want us to think she was withholding something. The measurements could indicate Down’s Syndrome, and she wanted us to be aware of that. Thankfully Jean is also a real prayer warrior, and she prayed for us right then, asking God to guard our minds and give us peace.

The rest of that pregnancy was challenging. It was hard not to wonder “but what if…” and it was hard not to worry. I don’t think I really relaxed until I saw, like David when he looked at his son, that Claire was “visibly perfect.” I will be really honest here and admit that the things I worried about the most had very little to do with what Claire’s life would be like if she had Down’s Syndrome, and much more to do with what MY life would be like – the difficulties I might experience, the early grief I might go through.

That seems to be exactly what David is contemplating, and it is exacerbated by the fact that his sister had died early from a heart defect, and he had watched his mother’s deep and enduring grief. He seems to think that avoiding difficulty and pain will make life better, never giving much thought to what his lies will do. He forgets that some of life’s most important lessons are learned through suffering and trial. He also never stops to consider the joy that baby girl might have brought to their family, along with the challenges. Instead, he buys into the lie that “it would be best this way for them all.” (P. 19)

Though most of us cannot even fathom sending a child off to an institution in a cardboard box, as if we were taking out the trash, I’m sure we can all relate to David’s underlying motivation. Who doesn’t want to avoid pain and grief? Who doesn’t want a life that is “visibly perfect?” It’s just shocking to imagine someone throwing away an imperfect child for the sake of an easier life. His motivation is purely selfish, but he tries to paint it as noble and good. I haven’t read on ahead, but I can only imagine the grief Norah will experience when David’s deception is revealed.

On a side note: Did anyone notice that we don’t discover David and Norah’s names until chapter two? Through all the drama of the birth, we only know them as “the doctor” and “my wife.” But we do find out the name of the baby girl – Phoebe. I just thought it ironic that the one being thrown away is not a nameless, faceless person in the reader’s eyes, but the one doing the throwing is.

2. bethany3boys - February 5, 2007

Heather I didn’t even notice the name thing!!! What a great observation. I have a confession…I started this book and couldn’t put it down read it in two days. So now I need to go back and look at things more slowly. HEE HEE. I think you had great observations about imperfect children and how we all tend to think about how it will change “our life” very selfishly motivated but I think we all would be guilty of that regardless of if we chose to keep our child. I do think David’s past had a lot to do with his choice. He was hurt and saw his mother’s grief after his sisters death his thinking is that if he can spare his family that they will be better off. Maybe if they never knew her or fell in love with her their hurt wouldn’t be as great. However, a lie never makes anything right or better it just continues to grow and cause hurt and pain and a lie can never make something right.

3. Nicole - February 5, 2007

I think this also had to do with the culture of the 1960’s. Our society has made many advances in recognizing ALL people, even Down’s syndrom babies as people. It seems like this is a bit more common back then to view Down’s babies as a “tragedy” as your life being over.

4. Jennifer Napier - February 6, 2007

Okay, I’m new to the group. This is my first entry but I must confess that this book has been really hard for me to read. I might be having a hard time not mixing my own personal grief with this book… or at least I think my personal sadness is getting stirred up by this book. I was first blown away at the idea of giving up any child and then I realize (especially as you get deeper in the book) how he was afraid of experiencing the same grief he felt in losing his sister, and that his wife in particular would feel the same grief his mother felt. It’s interesting though, that what he ends up telling her just starts the grieving process prematurely. Am I jumping the gun there? I started reading it two weeks ago so maybe I’m running ahead in chapters. Hope not. Heather, I also thought that what you said regarding the names was very insightful… I had never thought about their names not being mentioned… and I’m glad to remember that Phoebe’s was. Having lost a sister though it made me wonder if I would respond the same way he did but I realize our circumstances our different. He thought his daughter was going to have a heart defect due to Down Syndrome and his sister had a heart defect. It’s been interesting to do comparisons in the grief/pain department… some things are similiar and some are very different. Hope I didn’t create a huge tangent there…

5. Amy - February 6, 2007

I don’t know about anyone else here, but I just keep having to hold back tears! I can’t imagine giving a child away, but I also realize that were I in the same situation, my first thoughts would be for myself and how MY life was going to change.

Not having to do with the baby, but chapter 2 made my heart ache for Caroline! On all fronts, what a terrible position to be in…

6. bethany3boys - February 6, 2007

Thanks for joining in Jennifer. Great insight I do think he just started the grieving process earlier but I think his thoughts were that it wouldn’t be as bad if done early.

Amy…yes super sad.

7. heather - February 7, 2007

Nicole, I agree with you about the culture of the 60’s. Whereas in the early to mid-20th century the answer to how to care for those with disabilities was to isolate them in institutions, today we see a policy of inclusion, whether it has to do with their living arrangements, education, or work environment. And thankfully, society is recognizing that people with disabilities can thrive, given the right environment and opportunity.

I was curious when the whole philosophy of institutionalization started. I found some sources that said is started in the 1920’s, peaked in the 60’s and 70’s, and has been on a major decline since the 1990’s. So David’s decision to institutionalize Phoebe was “normal,” but I’d venture a guess that his lie regarding her death was not. I wonder what choice Norah would have made, had she been given the opportunity.

I do think all our medical and technological advances have complicated the issues. Early screening tests have changed things. Some studies say up to 90% of those who receive a positive screen for DS will choose abortion. At that stage, it probably just seems like an inconvenience. I think they avoid tragedy by eliminating the issue early on.

8. heather - February 7, 2007

Jennifer, I’m glad you are joining us! I agree with you regarding the grieving process with Norah. He may have helped her to avoid the “loved and lost” kind of grieving, but instead she has more of a “never had a chance to know her” grieving. It’s a different kind of grief, but I would imagine it’s just as painful.

I think your experiences in the grief/pain department do give you a unique perspective; I hope you’ll feel a freedom to share those things as the book progresses.

When I read about Norah wishing she could have just held Phoebe, as a type of closure (I can’t remember if she used that word, but that was the impression I got as I read it), it made me wonder about that whole concept of closure. Do we ever really feel closure with the loss of a loved one, or does the pain just become less raw? As the book progresses it becomes obvious that David wants to close the door on the past and not think about it at all (which he finds impossible to do), whereas Norah wants to keep the memories alive. Her perspective seems so much more realistic.

9. heather - February 7, 2007

Amy, I too, feel sorry for Caroline. The way that chapter ends, with her standing in the cold in an empty parking lot, crying out “I have a baby!” is just such a vivid image of how alone she is.

10. heather - February 7, 2007

Sorry, everyone, I think I jumped ahead a chapter with my comment regarding closure! I’ll try to be more careful with that!

11. Sara - February 7, 2007

Hi! Wow, my first post and what book to begin with.
The chapters seemed erie to me…everything around them was peaceful…white snow, and the quietness. What a setting for a secret/lie to be born! David even says towards the end of the chapter that that is what he would remember about the birth. Interesting…
Also I thought the decription of his character, “He liked that bones were solid things, surviving even the white heat of cremation. Bones would last; it was easy for him to put his faith in something so solid and predictable.” He got rid of the baby because of his sister and that is something he knew, the pain it had caused.

12. bethany3boys - February 7, 2007

Heather that is hard when we break into chapters. I have been having a hard time when I read the books quick because it changes your perspective on things. HEE HEE

Sara welcome!!! You are right about the opening it did seem erie. Loved your observations about the bones too, very true.

13. anne - February 7, 2007

This book has so far been a great read! I just finished the first two chapters and found it hard to put down! Well not that hard because Evan was wanting some attention!
The not mentioning of the names really struck me, especially once we found out what David decided to do with her. The author pointing out that she was a real, living, breathing human being.
It really struck me too that even though I know he wanted to protect his wife from pain down the road, painful memories of his mother and sister that he did not tell her the truth. He wanted to “protect” her from the pain, but lying to her and telling her that their baby girl Phoebe had died made me angry at him! He made the decision for himself, for his own selfish reasons…and like Caroline thought to herself later, it was a split decision and surely he would come to his senses.
Obviously he doesn’t, and if you read the back cover of the book; we will see the regret and sorrow (I am sure) as we read on.

14. anne - February 7, 2007

Oh and also on a side note…

Did anyone happen to notice where the book is set. Yes, thats right Lexington, Kentucky. The very place I currently live. It has been interesting imagining the story set back then in this very city.

“It’s the snow…You get as much as an inch here in Kentucky and the whole state shuts down. I gew up in Iowa, myself, and I don’t see what all the fuss is about, but thats just me…”

Ok. Can this be more true even today? Granted I am from Illinois/ Wisconsin but I do not get it either! They have cancelled school more than three times this past month because of the snow; which has barely covered the ground! Cracks me up!

Also, when Caroline was in the Kroger I cracked up, that is the big grocery store chain down here, as well as some of the surronding cities she spoke of…
I just read that the author teaches English at the UK! Crazy! She is origionally from Iowa. It is interesting how authors talk about what is familiar to them in their writing.

15. Jane Swanson - February 13, 2007

I started this book last night and the first thing I noticed was that it was set in Lexington, Kentucky, Anne!! I seriously wonder if Lexington has EVER seen a snowstorm such as the author described as the setting for the birth of Paul and Phoebe. Perhaps this phenomenal snowstorm is also a precursor of the significance of these births,eh? [Those of you who have read ahead are maybe shaking your heads at me, yeah or nay, right?!]
Excellent insight Heather about not using the names of the characters but giving the babies names right off!
In 1962, I was in the second grade and a Girl Scout [actually just a Brownie at this age] and for a “field trip” we toured a facility for mentally and physically disabled children. I couldn’t believe that all of those children lived there as their home and didn’t live with their parents. Many of them were roaming/running the halls and several of them “attacked” us; grabbing us and holding on and trying to hug and kiss us. I have to tell you that I was terrified and it left a significant impression on me. I hadn’t thought about that in a long time but Caroline’s experience taking Phoebe to the home brought it back. How very very sad.
Yes, David did the wrong thing in his decision to avoid pain. It is something that we all do. I am anxious to keep reading to learn a deeper lesson in my own life about the increased pain that comes through avoidance.

16. bethany3boys - February 13, 2007

Jane I love when you comment you bring such a great perspective to all of us. Your observations about the facility for mentally ill children was helpful to read. I think our generation just can’t imagine the reality of that. Thanks so much for giving your thoughts and life experience.

17. Ashleigh - February 13, 2007

I felt like I was seeing two different Davids in chapters one and two. First, there is the David who is a loving husband and expectant father. What really struck me about chapter one was how tenderly Edwards paints David’s love for Norah. In doing so, she creates this man that in all appearances has the heart and character of someone who would not so quickly and willingly send away his newborn daughter. I think Edwards did an excellent job of first enduring us to this man before giving us a reason to dislike him. Yet, we also see David the doctor. Here he forces himself to be removed from the situation and make decisions based on the factual and scientific. There is no room for the emotional if he’s to remain calm and in control.

18. Ashleigh - February 13, 2007

Oh, Anne, I immediately thought of you when I saw it was set in Lexington!!

19. Jane Swanson - February 14, 2007

Thank you Bethany for your kind comments. I, too, am enjoying interacting with you younger gals and gleaning from your perspectives as well.

Good observations about David being the “doctor” versus the “loving husband and expectant father”. Perhaps it is with good reason that physicians are not allowed/encouraged to be the attendants for their immediate families.

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