Motherhood & Words

I’m always on the look-out for good motherhood memoirs, but I was recently lamenting the fact that there aren’t that many out there. Some would have us believe that the market is positively flooded with them, that there exists a glut of so-called “momoir,” but it’s not true. There are, certainly, a number of fine anthologies available, but really good book-length memoirs by women writing about motherhood? There aren’t that many. (And this, you understand, is not because I don’t think they’ve been written, but rather because they haven’t been published.)

So imagine my joy when I picked up Jennifer Graf Groneberg’s Road Map to Holland, which details Jennifer’s journey as a mother after one of her twin boys is diagnosed with Down syndrome.

I had read Jennifer’s writing—she blogs regularly at pinwheels and ParentDish, has a column at mamazine, and was the editor of the wonderful anthology My Heart’s First Steps. I had forgotten, however, that her twins were born prematurely, so I was startled to find myself diving into the NICU in the first part of her book. She writes it well. I kept thinking, yes, that’s how I experienced it as well. It’s full of the disorientation and confusion and the trying-to-make-sense-of-it-all to which most NICU parents will relate. And as Jennifer learns about Down syndrome, I learn about it, as well. I learned it is not Down’s or Down Syndrome, but “a baby with Down syndrome.” She writes: “I understand the desire to find language that honors the spirit of the child, and that also includes the medical diagnosis…”

All good memoirs are about an author’s relationship with the subject at hand. Thus Road Map is not about Avery’s Down syndrome as much as it is about Jennifer’s experience accepting the diagnosis and moving past it.

Road Map to Holland is certainly is a must-read for all parents whose children have Down syndrome, but parents who have lived through the NICU, parents of twins, and I believe all parents will find something in these pages that will resonate with them. It’s about more than coming to terms with a Down syndrome diagnosis; it’s about adjusting a worldview, breaking stereotypes, and opening oneself to the possibility of finding love in unexpected ways.

I had a chance to correspond with Jennifer about Road Map, and what follows is our e-mail interview:

Kate: One of the things I strive for in my writing and admire in yours is your honesty. Was it difficult for you to get to an emotional place where you could lay it all out there?

Jennifer: Perhaps oddly, no. Part of my experience with Avery had been sorting through the mistruths, and the half-truths, to find what was real. It never occurred to me to offer anything but my very most honest thoughts about it all, because to do less would just add to the problem, as I saw it.

Kate: Now that Road Map is published, how does it feel to see your lives in print and have people react to your experiences?

Jennifer: It feels very raw and vulnerable; really, a lot like it felt when the diagnosis was still brand new.

Kate: The book is chronological, except for the very beginning where you begin the story, and go back and begin again, repeating the events that lead up to Avery’s diagnosis. For me, this disjointedness so clearly reflects what it feels like to have a child in the NICU (and what I imagine it would feel like to first hear your child has DS), and it increases the narrative urgency of the book. Can you tell me a little about this? Did you always know the book would begin this way or did this opening come later in your process?

Jennifer: It always felt like the way to begin. Telling the story in a straightforward way would make it seem as if things were more clear than they were: in the beginning, I felt very lost, very confused. So the story begins with that confusion, and circles in and around itself, sometimes going over old ground, then new, then back over old territory again, as I tried to find a foothold. That’s what it felt like to me as I was experiencing it, and I wanted the writing to reflect these emotions. As I find my way, so too does the story, and it eventually lines out in a more traditional manner.

Kate: Who are some of your literary influences? Why?

Jennifer: I love strong women’s voices, and for a long while now, I’ve been obsessed with literary nonfiction. But recently, at the recommendation of my mother-in-law Joyce, I read Lisa See’s Peony in Love. Her lyricism captivated me, and I so enjoyed reading a story set in the afterlife, which is something only fiction can do. Maybe I’m switching loyalties?

Kate: Are you working on another book?

At the moment, I’m still working on Road Map. I know that it’s almost cliché to speak about writing a book in comparison to having a baby, but to me, it really feels that way. And right now, I’m in the fourth trimester. I’m not writing this story any longer, but I haven’t quite let go of it yet, either.

One thought that keeps flitting through my mind relates to education. As Avery grows, and we approach school-age, I’m finding more confusion and misinformation and even discrimination. I’m not sure that these experiences will gel into a complete book, but they are much on my mind.

Thanks, Jennifer, for taking the time to answer my questions and for writing this lovely book.


I have been teaching creative writing for almost twenty years. Reading about other women’s lives and experiences has expanded my world. To be able to walk in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s for a moment or an hour or a few days, is an incredible gift, providing me with insight into the human experience. It takes courage to write your truths, especially if it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares, as though anyone is listening. Let me tell you: your stories matter, I’m listening, and I’m here to help you find the heart of those truths, to get them down on the page, to craft them, and to send them out into the world. Together, we will change the world, one story at a time.


  1. lintofpocket on May 15, 2008 at 11:48 am

    Thanks for posting about this book, Kate!

  2. Jordan on May 15, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    Hi Kate, thanks so much for visiting The Wonderwheel today and leaving such a nice comment! I am happy to have found your blog, too!

    Isn’t Road Map to Holland excellent? I love the email exchange you added to your review.

  3. **camera shy momma** on May 15, 2008 at 5:09 pm

    what a wonderful review, i’ve heard so many great things about her book! it’s also reassuring to hear you say the market is not flooded. as you say, people lead us to believe that it is. i’m glad to hear your opinion especially when insecurities creep in with thoughts of “what’s the point?” even though i can’t stop myself from writing, it can be maddening to believe that it’s all for nothing.

  4. jennifergg on May 15, 2008 at 6:03 pm

    Gosh it’s such an honor to see my name over there on the right; thank you for reading my book, and thank you for writing about it, and thank you for asking such excellent questions.

    Soon enough I will return the favor, my friend!

  5. Melissa on May 17, 2008 at 12:55 am

    Hey! Two of my favorite online people, in the same blog post! Very nice. 🙂

  6. Monica on January 12, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    This was, by far, the most important book I’ve read in a decade. I left a comment for Jennifer that it’s also the first book I’d finished cover to cover in a very long time. Receiving a diagnosis of Down syndrome (4th child) when I least expected it was like a stab in my heart at the time. Jennifer’s book helped me realize that her thoughts and feelings have been felt my many others with similar diagnoses and that it’s OK to feel those feelings. Now that we’re on the other side of those tender first days and weeks, we wouldn’t ask for John Michael to be any different. He’s such a treasure and we’ve only skimmed the surface.