I dread it when people ask me to read their newly published adoption or infertility book. I hate to disappoint, but reading about adoption and infertility is kind of
like work for me. The only time I have to read is at night before bed, and by that time of day I want to lose myself in another world, and most definitely not my work world. Besides, my nightstand is about to collapse under the weight of the books waiting for me, and these are books I put there because I actually want to read them.
But… I remember well the excitement of having a book published, that almost desperate desire to have someone—anyone—read my precious words. So, while I almost always politely pass on reading the adoption/infertility books that are sent my way, every once in a while I cave, and boy, this time I’m so glad I did.
I hesitate to call Sailing to Jessica a book about infertility and adoption. It is more of a sailing adventure book bookended by infertility and adoption, and I’m a sucker for personal adventure books, maybe because I’m in need of a little vicarious thrill in my life.
Kelly and Paul Watts had struggled with unexplained infertility for years. The monthly cycle of constantly trying and constantly failing led them straight into a “life crisis” where bitter disappointment and grief nearly suffocated them. Rather than cope using the tried-and-true methods of therapy, more infertility treatment, wine, or chocolate, they decided to sail around the world. Oh, and did I mention that they didn’t know how to sail and that Kelly suffered from seasickness. Thus their adventure begins.
Kelly is a professional journalist and her writing chops shine through on every page. She had me from hello. She paints such a vivid picture with her words that I felt a little seasick myself. I lived their adventure–celebrating their successful passages across the ocean and suffering their disappointment with a failed IVF attempt in New Zealand. In short it’s a great read.
The only part of the book that left me wanting more depth was their adoption of their daughter, Jessica, from the Pacific Micronesian Island of Kiribati. Kelly and Paul jumped into adoption about as quickly as they jumped at the idea of sailing around the world. While jumping without much preparation feels daring (and scary) when we’re talking about sailing, it just feels reckless (and scary) when we’re talking about a child. I also wanted to know more about why the birth mother was forced to relinquish her child and what other options she had.
Yet, even as I write these words I feel like a killjoy. This really fun book deserves better. Kelly and Paul fell quickly and easily into parenthood regardless of their haste. From what I can tell they quickly learned about transracial adoption and have adapted their lives accordingly. And while I’m enmeshed in my workaday world with thoughts about adoption ethics and rights of poor indigenous people, this book is an adventure book, not intended to dissect the ethics of international adoption. No payments were made to the birth family, and the Watts scrupulously followed the Kiribati adoption law, which, among other things, required them to live on Kiribati for six months.
I have no doubt that the Watts, like many adoptive parents, wrestle with the financial inequities that allowed them to parent Jessica, and denied this right to her first parents. And maybe, like most of us, their initial thoughts were directed more towards their intense thankfulness that they were given this opportunity, rather than to the injustice of it all. Kelly simply didn’t make this the focus of this book. Fair enough. The book she wrote is much more fun to read, and I suggest you do just that.