By Leslie Lindsay
An elegantly raw, and often brutal memoir of a mother’s loss, but also a deep gift of second chances, growth, and more.
~WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS~
Always with a Book|Memoir Monday
Leslie Lindsay & Diana Kupershmit in Conversation
Convinced of her inability to love her “imperfect” child and give her the best care and life she deserved, Diana Kupershmit gave her first-born up for adoption. But as with all things that are meant to be, Emma found her way back home. Diana is a social worker, mother, and photographer. EMMA’S LAUGH is her debut memoir.
ABOUT EMMA’S LAUGH: The Gift of Second Chances:
In this hugely moving and harrowing examination of a life, love, and loss, Diana Kupershmit takes a tragic–and seemingly–unfair situation and turns into a EMMA’S LAUGH: The Gift of Second Chances (SWP, June 2021), about her first-born’s rare, genetic condition, and the gifts she bestowed on the family.
Like most eager new parents, Diana imagined a perfect child when she gave birth for the first time to Emma, at the age of twenty-seven. She wasn’t ‘old,’ or ‘at-risk,’ she lived a healthy life and did everything ‘right’ during her pregnancy, so when Emma was born flaccid, quiet, and different-looking, she was shocked. Convinced of her inability to love and care for her ‘imperfect’ child while providing the necessary round-the-clock medical care, Diana and her husband embarked on a tragic and challenging decision.
But then, as the ties of fate often do, Emma was back and present, in so many ways.
Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Diana Kupershmit to the author interview series:
Diana, welcome! What a raw, moving, and elegant story. I laughed, I cried, I nodded in recognition. Your daughter, Emma, is the biggest inspiration for this story, but I want to know what was tugging at you—what was so urgent that it had to happen now?
At first the story evolved as a process of grief for me. I started writing it six years ago, just six months after Emma’s passing, as a way of making sense of her unexpected death. I did not intend for it to be a book, mostly because I never had writing aspirations, nor the background. But as the paragraphs turned into pages, I realized that I might have something more substantial here. So I took a writing workshop, and the positive feedback from my classmates gave me encouragement to go further and continue to learn the craft of memoir. It took all those years of writing, re-writing, learning for the book to come into the world and I could never have imagined its impact on others and on myself. What started out as a selfish exercise of healing, has become something tangible that resonates with others. The truth is, without realizing it, I wrote a book that I wish existed for me to read when Emma was born.
“Diana Kupershmit has written a remarkably honest and unflinching account of her journey from rejection to acceptance raising a special-needs child. A heartbreaking and heartwarming tribute—and a testimony to one mother’s endless love for her extraordinary child.”
– HEATHER SIEGEL, author of The King and the Quirky
In some regards, I really sympathized with your plight. My first-born daughter was perfect in every way—at least physically. But when she reached the age where she should be saying her first words, she wasn’t. In fact, she was severely delayed. We worried. She was diagnosed with a rare, but serious motor-speech disorder known as childhood apraxia of speech (CAS). We went through all of the grief of not having a so-called ‘perfect’ child. There were speech pathologists, OTs, and more, granted, not to the extent you dealt with. She probably made me a better parent. That’s what I think Emma did for you. Can you talk about that, please?
Emma was non-verbal, non-ambulatory and with a myriad of medical issues. She was also completely dependent on others for her health and well-being. By being her voice and advocating for her needs, whether it was demanding good care from her nurses and doctors or forcing our apartment building to build a wheelchair accessible ramp, I learned to ask for things that she needed, and in turn it taught me to ask for what I needed as well, but was always afraid to, for fear of offending, rocking the boat etc. Emma was intrepid and she taught me by example to be the same way. She taught me what is truly essential in life, and that’s the people that surround you. She taught me patience and resilience and true joy, not from things, but from experiences with your loved ones. With her, I did not feel the conditions to fit a certain mold, to be perfect. With her I felt enough—and that’s not nothing. With her, I learned to be present in the moment and worry less about the future as well as realize how little control we have of outcomes. That was a difficult but critically important lesson to learn.
I was struck by your photography, too, which is about portraiture—particularly photographing newborns. Like you, I am a photographer and writer—(though I focus on deteriorating architecture and nature), which—might be intrinsically linked. Growing up, my home sort of crumbled when my interior decorator mother devolved into psychosis. Do you feel it’s important to have multiple art media, to sort of balance the other out? Is it more about self-care?
I have always been a creative, but my main profession as a social worker did not offer me the creative outlet I craved. So when photography almost accidentally landed in my lap, first as a hobby that then evolved into a business, I was as surprised as anyone and found it immensely satisfying. It was something of mine. Something that I could pursue on the weekends, since my kids were older and didn’t need me to chauffer them around as much. I got to hold babies, photograph them and hand them back to their parents. I’m not sure about balancing art media. Just as photography was not an intentional pursuit initially (someone asked me how much I charge, after I posted some photos of my kids on Facebook), writing a book about child loss or raising a special needs child, was likewise not something I ever aspired to do. I guess the two mediums found me and I followed them where they lead.
What do you hope others take away from EMMA’S LAUGH?
I hope people can find comfort, solace in our experience, and the knowledge that sometimes gift show up where you least expect it. I feared a dark, insular existence with Emma, which is one of the biggest reasons we initially rejected her. I bought into society’s ableist narrative that people with disabilities live marginalized lives and are to be pitied. I feared existing in that space with her. But what I learned from the eighteen years of life Emma gifted us, was that life can be difficult, and the challenges may often seem insurmountable, but joy, hope and gratitude can also co-exist in that space. Emma illuminated the darkness. She was the light we needed to see the world better.
[Emma] taught us to embrace our humanity and make peace with the unexpected that life sometimes throws our way.
What’s next for you? What are you obsessing over? It doesn’t have to be literary?
Now I’m obsessing about rest. The last six years have consisted of such great loss—Emma, then my mom’s passing two years ago. The years have been years of deep reflection, of stepping away from the rubble and assessing the damage. They have also been years of great finds—lessons, values, evolution. The work of course is ongoing as there is always more growth that takes place if you’re open to it. But for now, I am putting everything down and enjoying life and time with my loved ones. I am learning how to be in the world—the way Emma taught me.
Diana, thank you for this. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten? Or, maybe something you’d like to ask me?
No, just thank you for the opportunity.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, TO CONNECT WITH DIANA KUPERSHMIT, OR TO PURCHASE A COPY OF EMMA’S LAUGH, PLEASE VISIT:
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YOU MIGHT LIKE:
I was reminded, in part, of Maryanne O’Hara’s memoir, LITTLE MATCHES (medical illness) (HarperOne, May 2021) and also a bit of Miriam Feldman’s HE CAME WITH IT, (psychiatric illness).
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Diana Kupershmit holds a Master of Social Work degree and works for the Department of Health in the Early Intervention program, a federal entitlement program servicing children birth to three with developmental delays and disabilities. She has published online in the Huffington Post, Manifest Station, Mutha Magazine, Power of Moms, Motherwell Magazine, Still Standing Magazine, and Her View From Home. On the weekends, she indulges her creative passion working as a portrait photographer specializing in newborn, family, maternity, and event photography. She lives in New York City
ABOUT YOUR HOST:
Leslie Lindsay is the creator and host of the award-winning author interview series,“Always with a Book.” Since 2013, Leslie, named “one of the most influential book reviewers” by Jane Friedman, ranks in the top 1% of all GoodReads reviewers and has conducted over 700 warm, inquisitive conversations with authors as wide-ranging as Robert Kolker and Shari Lapena to Helen Phillips and Mary Beth Keane, making her website a go-to for book lovers world-wide. Her writing & photography have appeared in various print journals and online. She is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech, an audiobook narrated by Leslie from Penguin Random House. A former psychiatric R.N. at the Mayo Clinic, Leslie’s memoir, MODEL HOME: Motherhood, Madness, & Memory, is currently on submission with Catalyst Literary Management. Leslie resides in the Chicago area with her family.
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