Book Review – ‘Perfectly Human’ by Sarah C. Williams ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Thank you to NetGalley, Plough Publishing and Sarah C. Williams for the chance to read this novel.

This extraordinary true story begins with the welcome news of a new member of the Williams family. Sarah’s husband, Paul, and their two young daughters share her excitement. But the happiness is short-lived, as a hospital scan reveals a lethal skeletal dysplasia. Birth will be fatal.

Sarah and Paul decide to carry the baby to term, a decision that shocks medical staff and Sarah’s professional colleagues. Sarah and Paul find themselves having to defend their child’s dignity and worth against incomprehension and at times open hostility. They name their daughter, Cerian, Welsh for “loved one.” Sarah writes, “Cerian is not a strong religious principle or a rule that compels me to make hard and fast ethical decisions. She is a beautiful person who is teaching me to love the vulnerable, treasure the unlovely, and face fear with dignity and hope.”  

In this candid and vulnerable account, Sarah brings the reader along with her on the journey towards Cerian’s birthday and her deathday.

This book truly is extraordinary.  It is beautifully written and the author manages to take us on her heartbreaking journey while also eloquently discussing the questions that we need to ask ourselves about how we view health and life, both before and after birth.

I felt a pull to this book from the moment I read the description. I knew it wouldn’t be an easy read but it is like it came to me at a perfect time.  For me what that meant was the unexpected and incredibly powerful impact it had on how I view my own life. I was born prematurely and not expected to survive.  The doctors all said if I did somehow survive I would be severely mentally and physically handicapped. I defied the odds but was diagnosed with my first of many chronic illnesses aged just 18. To live knowing my life could have been all the more arduous is something I’m used to, as is living my best life despite its limitations.  But this book made me look at this in a deeper way. Just one example is this quote from theologist Jurgen Moltmann:

“In reality there is no such thing as a non-handicapped life; only the ideal of health set up by society and the capable condemns a certain group of people to be called handicapped.  Our society arbitrarily defines health as the capacity for work and a capacity for enjoyment, but true health is something quite different. True health is the strength to live, the strength to suffer, the strength to die.  Health is not a condition of my body; it is the power of my soul to cope with the varying conditions of the body.”

The religious aspect to this book was something not every reader would like but I feel it is vital to the story of how Sarah and her husband Paul faced their decisions and the impact they caused.  I was a Christian for many years so I could understand a lot of their feelings of wondering why God had allowed this to happen and in the challenges they faced with fellow Christians.

The only negative thing about this book for me was that at times it could get too academic. The final chapter was a big example of this and I kept zoning out whilst trying to read it.  Overall though this was a powerful, emotional and wonderful book that challenges you in ways you didn’t expect.

Out October 1st.

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