Jennifer Handford was working as a financial advisor in Washington when she and her husband decided to become parents.
They tried — and tried and tried — to conceive. No success.
They turned to adoption. Eventually, they were on the verge of adopting a baby from China when Handford found out she was pregnant.
Now, that struggle has led Handford to a new life, as a mother of two girls, one biological and one adopted, and as a novelist.
She fictionalized her experience in the new book “Daughters for a Time” (Amazon Publishing), which won an Amazon “Breakthrough Novel Award”. The story chronicles the life of a D.C. power broker who deals with infertility and adoption.
“In writing [main character] Helen, I became intrigued by the notion that joy and grief fight for space in our lives,” Handford wrote me in an exchange we had about her book.
She said she decided to fictionalize her reality because, “The fact that my husband and I adopted a daughter from China stands out as an extraordinary event in my life. Even now, a decade later, I can still recall the sights, sounds and smells of being in China. I can still remember the rushed pace of the crowded sidewalks. I can still feel my daughter in my arms for the first time.
“So when I started writing a novel about sisters, I thought, ‘Why not have one of the sisters struggle with infertility and then adopt from China?’ I had to somehow incorporate the experience into my work of fiction. The material was too good.”
The book has received a number of good reviews and seems to have touched a nerve. Handford said it has been the e-mails from readers that spoke of feeling a personal connection with her story that have given her the most validation.
Below is an excerpt:
With my nose pressed against the glass of motherhood, I was on the outside looking in, consumed with a want so big I would wake in the night, craving the fleshiness of chubby cheeks and equally chubby thighs. I had it all planned out. I knew what kind of mom I wanted to be. I’d name her Samantha, but I’d call her Sammy, The Sam Meister, Samarooni. I’d give her sloppy, wet, suck-on-her-bottom-lip, type of kisses. I’d blow raspberries on her tummy while she convulsed in giggles. She and I and my husband Tim would laze around in bed on Saturday mornings, squishing each other, arms and legs crisscrossed and tangled.
What a big girl you are! I would coo, kissing the bottoms of her feet. What a big girl!
In the early years of trying, I had become conspicuously present at my older sister, Claire’s, house, bouncing her new baby on my knee, logging each moment with my niece as on-the-job training for what lay ahead. I had become squirrelly, furtively tearing recipes from Family Circle and Woman’s Day at doctors’ and dentists’ offices, stowing away in my bottom desk drawer recipes for jack-o-lantern on a stick cookies, gummy-worm pudding, and cupcakes baked into ice cream cones.
Plans were made. My sister Claire and I would mother together, a tag team of kisses, juice boxes, and promises, loving arms circling our daughters with assurances that their childhood wouldn’t be cut short, like ours.
Years passed, and then I became that lady, the sad and desperate one, the one who overstepped her boundaries. The one in the checkout line who couldn’t help but touch a strange baby’s foot dangling from her mother’s Baby Bjorn, just to get a quick fix of that new silken skin. An anger and sadness consumed me, but the babies were always exempted from my fury. Them, I still loved. It was their mothers — those women who could do the one thing I couldn’t — who I grew to despise.
More years, and still nothing. A single pink line, a viscous swirl of blood, an ache in my heart that nearly split me in two. “Not you,” my body would cackle. “Anyone but you.”
— From “Daughters for a Time,” by Jennifer Handford