By Leslie Lindsay
Moving memoir about two sisters–both of whom are struggling with a loss–connect and remain whole.
When they were young, Susan and Edna, were inseparable. Growing up in the 1950s-1960s New York, they were the children of Nazi refugee parents, and became one another’s first friend. Fiercely dedicated and loyal, they protected one another. Both girls are operating on some sort of deficit–that is, Susan had no uterus (though she didn’t know this until she was nearly 16) and Edna struggles with physical and mental challenges.
When Edna is sent to live at a community for other like-minded individuals, Susan began grappling with the fact that she would never menstruate, never give birth. Yet, through their intertwining relationship, Edna becomes Susan’s biggest advocate, her best teacher –reminding her sister, that if you just remain open to opportunities, strength, joy, and wisdom just might be the end result. EDNA’S GIFT (She Writes Press, June 4 2019) is about living a life without regrets.
Edna’s Gift is an honest, unwavering love story between two sisters—one of which has developmental delays. Rudnick’s writing had me hooked from the first page.”
—Linda Atwell, award-winning author of Loving Lindsey: Raising a Daughter with Special Needs
A touching, profound memoir about the affectionate bond of sisters, but also about dealing with challenges —those one could never predict. There are /b> failed relationships, adoption, self-acceptance, death and loss, and unconditional love. Susan’s writing style is on-point and at times, I found it hard to set down. I was absolutely intrigued with her condition–MRKH–in which a woman is born without a uterus, something that happens to 1 of 4,000. EDNA’S GIFT is honest, insightful, and deeply moving.
Please join me in welcoming the lovely Susan Rudnick to the author interview series:
Susan, I am astonished. EDNA’S GIFT is such a rare and unique read. Is this something you always felt drawn to write about? What was the ‘why now’ moment for you?
I had a moment of transformation when Edna died and I saw her face in the coffin. She lived in a community that didn’t embalm, so her face had a natural expression. And I saw a beautiful strong wise face. It was the face of all she would have been if she hadn’t been brain injured, but it also included all the life experience she had with her disability. In that moment I realized how important she had been to me. I needed to express all of that, although it took a couple of years before I actually began.
You were just shy of your sixteenth birthday when you learned you did not have a uterus. Can you explain that time for us? Were you shocked? Scared? Worried? Something else? Did you tell anyone—a friend? Your sister?
I was traumatized and in shock. Luckily I had a therapist who was there for me, and who introduced the idea that I could become a parent through adoption. Until that moment I had never thought much about becoming a mother, but after learning about my condition, I became quite obsessed with wanting to be a mother. I don’t remember telling anyone in high school, but then in college I did tell friends. By that time Edna wasn’t living at home, so I also don’t remember telling her. I do remember being angry at my mother, because she had told an aunt of mine.
It wasn’t until much later—you were nearly sixty—when a doctor gave your condition a name. What was that experience like? Can you tell us a little about that—and also more about MRKH?
This experience was really two. On the one hand by the time I was 60 I was the mother of a teenage daughter, and I had mostly dealt with my disability with great psychoanalysis and therapy. In other words I was flourishing. Yet at the same time there was still a 16 year old me that felt like an anomaly. The diagnosis led me online where I discovered the loving embrace of a community just like me. I became part of and led support groups. So after all it was a great healing.
MRKH occurs, when in the first trimester of pregnancy, a duct that develops the uterus, cervix and vaginal canal, fails to develop. That left me with a double hit. I had no uterus, but also instead of a vaginal canal, only a dimple. If I wanted to be able to have sexual intercourse, I would either need to create one surgically, or manually through dilation. I chose dilation, a process that took about a year of daily insertion. Then, as my doctor told me, “ When you have a boyfriend, you won’t need it.” that was true. Also the syndrome can affect in several ways: kidneys and skeletal issues. I’m lucky not to have those.
Oh—and Edna! What a shining light! She was born with several mental and physical challenges. At one point, you attribute this to lack of oxygen during birth, but was there more? Did her condition ever have a diagnosis?
The final diagnosis that was given was brain injury and retardation. This was a way of saying, we really don’t know anything!
Does the community where she lived still exist? It seemed so wholesome, so nurturing (well, mostly). And yet, your devotion to her never wavered. You consistently visited her and brought her much joy—and she you.
Camphill Village in Copake, NY is still flourishing. It is part of a worldwide network of villages that run according to the tenets of Anthroposophy teaching developed by Rudolf Steiner, a turn of the (20th) century philosopher/mystic. In this teaching, handicapped people are on this earth as teachers. And Edna certainly was.
Eventually, you adopt. That’s what I think I love about EDNA’S GIFT—it’s a story about relationships and families—and how we can be whole, even if our families are comprised of broken bits. Can you talk about that, please? And also, can you give us a little glimpse into Rebecca’s life?
Well really, brokenness and wholeness are aspects of each other. Wholeness emerges out of brokenness. Edna was limited, yet she had wholeness of spirit. When we learn to love that which appears broken, we find our way to wholeness. Rebecca’s birth mother gave my husband and I the most unbelievable gift anyone could give. I know it was something she felt good about, but also bereft and sad. Suffering and the gift of love. My daughter is amazing. She is 31, recently married and following her two passions of art and horses. After years of coaching college equestrian teams, and working at other barns, she is currently building a barn to start her own business of boarding and training horses. I couldn’t be prouder of her. We are very close.
Susan, this has been so delightful. Thank you, thank you. I could ask questions all day, but is there something I should have asked, but may have forgotten? Anything that’s obsessing you?
I want to say that my book is a love story. I tried to capture what Edna and I were to each other and how our lives intertwined and continue to, even after her death.
For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of EDNA’S GIFT, please see:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Susan Rudnick was born in New York City to refugee parents escaping from Nazi Germany. The crucible for her major life choices has been her relationship with her sister, Edna. It sparked her desire to become a healer, and she has been practicing psychoanalysis and psychotherapy for over forty years in Manhattan. As well, Edna’s spirit of unconditional acceptance was the seed of Susan’s spiritual journey, which ultimately led her to embrace both her Jewish heritage and Zen Buddhism. Susan is a published haiku poet. Culled from thousands of submissions, one of her haikus appears in New York City Haiku: From the Readers of The New York Times. She and her husband live in Westchester, New York. Learn more at https://susanrudnick.com/
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:
- Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
- Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
- Instagram: @LeslieLindsay1
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#memoir #sisters #adoption #MRKH #disabilities
[Cover and author image courtesy of Caitlin Hamilton Marketing and used with permission. Images of Susan and Edna retrieved from Susan’s website on 6.20.19. Artistic photo of cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this.]