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Make Me a Mother by Susanne Antonetta

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© W.W. Norton

W.W. Norton, 2014

The personal, journal-like entries of Susanne Antonette's third memoir are divided into five parts: "Arrival," "Before," "After," "Growing Up," and "My Adoptive Family." The parts are then split into chapters for every significant time period, chronologically: One Year Old, Early Childhood, etc. The last chapter, Age 15, is Jin today. Make Me a Mother, meant to be read by Jin when he is ready, is a testimony to Antonetta's love for him – even when he would fight back, yelling "You're not my real mom!"

The memoir opens with the prologue, a scene of the author in her parents' house today. I have adopted my parents as well as my son," she writes, "...because we have a bond that I have accepted with intention."

"Intention," then, becomes her definition of adoption, and she makes it clear that Jin was always wanted, loved, intended.

Antonetta explains that more than just for Jin, this book is for everyone who pities her for never having a birth child. She wants to squelch the notions that adoption was the second choice. A screwed up childhood and a mentally-unhealthy bloodline made the adoption decision easier for both her and her husband, as they grappled over the age-old paradox of nature versus nurture.

The "Before" section explains how Antonette was what she calls a "lost child." Growing up in the 60s and 70s, she dropped out of school, picked up drugs, and joined a local chapter of NOW, the National Organization of Women, ardently supporting feminism. At home, she was constantly reminded by her mother that being a girl was not good enough – "Women want boys," Antonetta was told throughout her childhood. So it was then that she began fantasizing about adoption – about a baby who "preexisted any physical choices I might make, who clearly needs me."

She goes on to explain the torturous six-month wait to see their son after he was born, the attachment-parenting that they fell into, and, eventually, having a sometimes rebellious son who fantasized about his birth mother and the exotic South Korea.

Make Me a Mother, by its nature, is extremely personal and voyeuristic. At times, it seems simply a place to jot down memories of her son, so as to not forget them: "At seven, Jin ran a daycare center," she explains, of roly-polies under a tree.

Antonette includes the good and the bad, the happy and the painful. The reader watches as Jin turns 10 and tries to associate with his Korean identity by wearing T-shirts with the Korean flag and hang out with Asian friends, and when he begins to refer to his "birth mother" as his "real mom." There are various phases that he mostly grows out of – except for pushing his parents to visit Korea, which they do when he turns 13.

Antonetta clearly put her all into parenting Jin, with intention, often putting herself in his shoes to better understand what he is going through. For example, when writing about the period of separation anxiety Jin went through at the age of one, she writes, "And, I had to admit, I took his point. Of course you don't know if someone who's left the room will ever come back. They often don't, in his life."

However, it is clear by the end that raising a child has better allowed her to understand her own parents, whom she is now taking care of in their old age and whom she never quite got along with as a child. "We psychologically adopt everyone we invite to enter our lives," Antonette explains.

Susanne Antonetta has previously written four poetry collections and two memoirs; A Body Toxic was a New York Times Notable Book.

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