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THE GUILD OF THE INFANT SAVIOUR by Megan Culhane Galbraith


An Adopted Child's Memory Book

by Megan Culhane Galbraith

Pub Date: May 22nd, 2021
ISBN: 978-0-8142-5791-3
Publisher: Mad Creek/Ohio State Univ. Press

An exploration of adoption through personal essays, art, and photos.

The title refers to the home for unwed mothers, one of thousands across the country, where, in 1966, Galbraith’s birth mother, Ursula, was sequestered for tedious months waiting to give birth and then surrender her child for adoption. Though girls were expected to put the experience behind them, few ever could. In emotional, sometimes blistering essays, Galbraith portrays her loving adoptive parents, sexuality, and role as wife and mother. The author references her thorny relationship with Ursula throughout, from their first reunion in 1996 to subsequent fraught encounters. Galbraith, who wanted more than Ursula was ready or able to give, shares deeply personal details about both, retelling Ursula’s life story as autobiography. This section, she notes, “is stitched together from letters and journals given to me by my birth mother. It involves both our voices which blend and embellish each other.” Visual elements include photos of molded-plastic dolls Galbraith placed in dollhouse dioramas to mimic her own childhood photos. The affectless dolls and lively baby Megan—in similar dress and pose—are unsettlingly juxtaposed against Galbraith’s words. Some intimate disclosures edge into narcissism, and the author’s judgments of friends and family can be harsh. However, the essays that situate her experience as an adoptee and mother within a historical framework are resonant and consistently compelling. She critiques Cornell University’s Domestic Economics program, inaugurated in 1919, which “borrowed” infants from orphanages to serve as practice babies for female students. (Paired with program baby photos, Galbraith’s doll scenes are eerily apt.) While Gabrielle Glaser’s American Baby (2021) offers broader insights into and historical context for the closed-adoption era, Galbraith’s passionate narrative effectively shows the struggle of an adopted child to comprehend an often long-hidden history. Ursula wouldn’t allow her photos to appear in the book, one part of a pattern of denial that the author highlights at various points in the book.

Flawed but haunting, a potent reminder that adoption is founded on loss.