Motherhood is a joyful gift, from a cooing baby’s first smile to a tottering toddler’s first steps, through the school-age years and into adulthood. Yet accompanying this amazing gift is perhaps the worst fear imaginable: that something could happen to your child. This worry resides in the back of every mother’s mind, simmering like a bubbling stew, punching through the joy when a child is sick, injured or suffering.
In her debut memoir, This Boy We Made: A Memoir of Motherhood, Genetics, and Facing the Unknown, Taylor Harris beautifully and heartbreakingly describes how this fear struck like a lightning bolt when her son Tophs began to experience a string of health issues that baffled medical experts. She struggled through the highs and lows of one diagnosis after another, all while coping with her own anxiety disorder and the systemic racism that, as a Black woman living in Charlottesville, Virginia, obstructed her path to accessing the best medical care for herself and her son. Tophs underwent test after test, including genetic testing that revealed the presence of a dreaded gene in their family.
Harris lays all these cards on the table, telling her story with raw candor and wit. She delves into her childhood experiences with anxiety and the subsequent assistance that helped her cope, including both counseling and medicine. These honest revelations provide a touchstone to her experiences as an adult, especially the unbelievable stress she faced while dealing with the unknown.
As a result, This Boy We Made is many books in one, combining elements of science and medicine, mental health and wellness, parenting principles and institutional racism. Fusing all these themes together in an entertaining and thoughtful way would seem an exhausting task, yet Harris does it with honesty and grace. With descriptive, poetic prose, her authentic message commands the reader’s full attention.