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Meeting Sophie: A Memoir of Adoption

By Nancy McCabe University of Missouri Press; $19.95

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As a single parent, I won’t claim that single parents necessarily face greater difficulties than paired parents. But some of our difficulties are more sharply defined. The sense of isolation is sometimes starker for a single parent than for a couple. Self-reliance and its flip side, self-doubt, are surely more extreme. Our moments of sheer desperation are probably more intense.

On one level, Meeting Sophie is a chronicle of single parenthood that focuses on these difficulties by recounting a period of great hardship and stress in the author’s life, the years before and after McCabe adopts her daughter, Sophie. Written in the present tense, the story immerses us in her troubles of the moment: the exhausting first weeks with her new baby; the political wrangling of teaching in a church-connected Southern college; the perversity of adoption regulations; the grief of watching her father sicken and die. Throughout, we feel her isolation from both family and community—and her fierce love for Sophie, who is as strong-willed and determined as her mother.

McCabe writes realistically about the obstacles to single parenting, and (almost too exhaustively) about exhaustion. Her descriptions of life with her daughter are punctuated by moments of giddy hilarity, the ongoing comedy of motherhood.

This book also explores McCabe’s relationship with her parents, a search for her own place, and her longing for connection. McCabe always felt an outcast, even, or especially, within her family. They are conservative, well-meaning, not very good at listening. She is feminist, prickly, intense. Her parents relate more easily to their grandchildren than to their daughter.

Her father particularly adores baby Sophie, but after a short, excruciating bout with cancer, he dies. Life falls apart—her mother’s health fails, McCabe loses her job. Her baby saves her from overwhelming anxiety. “Every day, I pull myself together to take care of my baby. The unwavering power of my love and gratitude never stops amazing me. The job I’m leaving seems trivial next to the profound presence of this child.”

McCabe’s writing is focused, often luminous, and sometimes painfully honest. She makes no excuses for herself or for others. But by the end of the book, having survived many losses and having grown with them, she has softened toward her family and her past. After so many difficulties, there is a shift toward acceptance and hope; there is a reaching to the future. In the act of creating this book, McCabe has, in her own way, secured the connections she sought for so long.

Reviewed by Eliza Thomas, author of The Red Blanket (Scholastic, 2004). Thomas lives in Vermont with her daughter, Panpan.

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