After years as a temporary college instructor with no real home—her family and longtime friends scattered—Nancy McCabe yearned to settle down, establish a place to call home, and rear a child there. A tough academic job market led her to accept a position at a church-connected college in the deep South, a move that felt like an uneasy return to the conservative environment of a childhood that she thought she’d left behind.
Nancy had many reservations about rearing a child alone in this climate, but the desire to become a mother would not go away.
Meeting Sophie tells the story of Nancy’s adopting a Chinese daughter and the many obstacles she faced during the adoption and adjustment process, renegotiating her role within her family and experiencing difficulties in her job. It tells the story of her struggle to bond with a sick, grieving baby while in a foreign country during political unrest, followed, upon her return to the U.S., by a devastating loss and a career crisis.
This is an expertly rendered story of people and the identities they struggle to establish and/or maintain, and the overwhelming heartbreak and love that can result.” — Lee Martin, author of From our House
Here is a story of a single professional woman adopting a baby from China, losing her father to cancer and moving on after being denied tenure at a conservative Southern college. But it’s also a meditation on the meaning of family: blood family, adoptive family and even the dysfunctional family-like structure of a college English department. It begins with McCabe’s (After the Flashlight Man) first moment with her new baby in a Chinese hotel. As she gradually fills in the details of before and after, the unlikelihood of this adoption attests to McCabe’s near-mystical desire for a child. A feminist liberal at a church-affiliated college, McCabe is ill-suited to her new department, whose members patronize her and hound her to act more like them: “Southern ladies.” This attitude strikingly mirrors her role in her own family, where she was cast early on as “the dumb one” and a selfish outcast, despite her good grades growing up in the Midwest and her adult attempts to help out when her father is ill. The family myth shows its effect as McCabe doubts her ability to care for her baby until, seemingly through intuition alone, she guesses, contrary to the opinions of doctors and adoption professionals, her new daughter’s allergies (to lactose and antihistamines), which are serendipitously similar to her own. As a new mother and grieving daughter, McCabe struggles poignantly and triumphantly to maintain her own identity as she creates her place within family. Her tale will be familiar and inspiring to those interested in delving into their own family relations, as well as to single women considering adoption.” from Publisher’s Weekly, Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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.” from Adoptive Families
The night before we left Beijing to meet our babies in Hangzhou, we went to an acrobatic show, all of the parents-to-be in our group vacant-eyed with exhaustion, swaying rather than walking, slumping into red velvet seats. I thought maybe I was hallucinating all the bright costumes, the traditional music, the movements combining martial arts and tumbling and body contortions. I kept dozing off while children stood on their hands, spinning cloth and tables and each other on their feet. I’d start awake to watch them walk across swinging ropes, twirl plates on long poles as casually as if they were holding umbrellas, balance on boards and barrels, build a rickety pyramid of chairs, and climb long tubes while rearranging their bodies into impossible configurations. My dreams were shattered by a table falling and breaking, a plate clattering to the floor. I jerked to consciousness to see the pyramid of chairs become so quivery that the performers gave up on it, hopped down, and signaled for the stage lights to dim.
For the first time in hours, days, maybe weeks, I was free of anxiety: fatigue and serenity felt like the same thing. Each mistake, each falter, seemed purposeful, choreographed and executed to emphasize the precariousness of objects and bodies, the difficulties of equilibrium.
While McCabe’s title may suggest a simple story of adoption, this book is anything but simple. Rather, it is a compelling journey, encompassing loss, death, the fragility of memory—a journey of shattered dreams and renewed hopes. It is the bravely truthful story of one woman’s determination to balance the plates and chair pyramids and tables of her life while embracing the unknowns of adoptive parenthood. . . .
It is our good fortune that McCabe was never ground into submission, was never one to “follow the rules,” that the rigid, Southern, church-connected college she taught at never managed to squelch her spirit. She recognized, in her adoptive daughter, Sophie, a kindred spirit, a Chinese girl who wailed loud and long to get her needs met in a world where girls are considered unimportant. McCabe’s fervent desire to make a place for herself in the world and to give her child a better life may be the result of a childhood longing to fit in, but it is the author’s strength, her wisdom to use negative experiences a springboards to growth, that ultimately deliver the tools she uses to bulldoze headfirst through every obstacle.
McCabe has managed, magnificently, a feat worthy of the greatest admiration. Her memoir suggest a life lived with vibrance, passion, and a breathtaking ability to daringly embrace “the difficulty of equilibrium.” Season Harper from Literary Potpourri