Canadian Council of Natural Mothers' Library

The Same Smile

Susan Mello Souza
with Joanne Medeiros Harrington

The cover of this wonderful autobiography shows us immediately the reason for the title of the book -- three daughters and their mother show exactly the same smile to the attendant camera as they pose in Jackie's gazebo. The smiles show the power of family to overcome separation and re-establish bonds broken by adoption.

Susan Mello Souza's story begins with her young first love for her boyfriend, Mark. She paints the picture of their affection and how it led to her pregnancy, followed by his refusal to marry her. She tells a touching story of her parents' sorrow at her circumstances, and how they supported her as much as they could in those times when girls were expected to go into maternity homes and lose their children to adoption. Susan was able to insist that she take care of her daughter for eight days in hospital before she had to leave her there. The bittersweet love and joy of that time with her daughter is an integral part of the story.

Susan's story carries on through marriage and the birth of three more daughters. Her story shows very clearly how the loss of her first daughter affects her life from the point of the loss onward. Without giving a depressing tone to the book, Susan nevertheless makes clear how mothers who lose their children to adoption shut down emotionally and become adept at hiding their emotions and their stories. As she 'wakes up,' Susan describes how she comes to be more confident in herself. Often little, almost side comments show us how she found the courage to overcome the trauma of losing her daughter.

Susan had always planned to search for her daughter when she reached 21, but just at this point, her second daughter becomes ill and dies of leukemia. This tragedy only augments the damage done by the first loss. Susan gradually comes to understand that just as Jackie never could replace her lost first daughter, so if she finds that daughter, she will not replace Jackie who died. With this understanding comes the courage to search for and find her first daughter.

The rest of the book chronicles her search and the resulting reunion. The sections on contact have a clever device: her first daughter, now named Joanne, has given her feelings about the contact interspersed with Susan's feelings as she contacted Joanne. It's very poignant to see the two sides, each speaking for herself, and how close to misstep each is with the other. In reading the interplay, I thought how Joanne's responses would have sent me off to mourn without further contact, and yet Susan and Joanne, being mother and daughter, have some intuitive sense of how to interact with each other. The contact goes well, and they begin to build a relationship.

As a reunited mother, I found it difficult to read the reunion sections -- when she talks about walking on eggshells lest she say or do something wrong and lead her daughter break off contact, I know that feeling all too well. When she speaks of her daughter's adoptive mother's discomfort, I understood only too well how unfair it is that the women who benefit by taking our children seem to feel no empathy for our lifelong loss.

This is a wonderful book for everyone to read -- Susan triumphs over her great losses in that she is able to build a relationship with her first daughter, and learn to live with the pain of the daughter she lost to death. Her younger daughters are confident and healthy, as she portrays them and as they appear in the photos in the books. Her second marriage is loving and strong enough to overcome these emotional upheavals.

Mothers who've lost children to adoption will find a companion soul in this story. People who've been adopted will find a wonderful model for a reunion. Adoptive parents will see the strength of mothers' love for the children they lose, and how important it is to their grown children to have their natural parents' love.

This book has many strengths. It's very well written. It's a good story. It shows clearly the many themes common to reunions: the tentative beginnings, the building of shared history, the reticence of the adoptive parents to understand, the absolute joys of each family member in finding similarities that show common heritage. I read it in one sitting, though it needed many Kleenex to keep reading. I would place this book high on the 'must read' list for any family member to read.

Reviewed by Sandra Falconer Pace

ISBN 0-9725100-0-1
Baltimore: Gateway Press

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