When Judith considers adoption, she asks herself questions about resemblance, genes and origin. Will her child feel at home in her family? What is it like for a child to know almost nothing about its background? Her mother, who feels an instant bond with her grandchild-to-be, is suddenly diagnosed with a tumour in the head. There is a chance she won’t survive the operation. The evening before her hospitalisation she gives Judith a box of letter from her mother, Judith’s grandmother, Bep Bloemendal.
They are letters from World War II, and behind them there is a dramatic family story. Judith realises how little she knows about her family’s history. But it is not yet too late. Not only her mother and her aunt, but also her granddad and his sister are still alive. And after all those years, they are now willing to break their silence.
A peculiar parallel emerges from their stories: in their family, children have lost their mother at a very tender age for generations. They were then looked after by grandparents and aunts, until all of a sudden a new woman popped up, a woman they had to call mummy. By adopting a child, Judith turned out to be following a long family tradition.
Resemblance. Since I started thinking about adoption, it seems like everyone around me is constantly talking about it. In maternity visits, it is the favourite topic of conversation: Who does the baby take after most, the mother or the father? Or does it maybe have its grandad’s nose, its grandma’s eyes, or at a pinch, the mouth of an aunty or uncle?
It is played at every family get-together, that ever-popular party game: Who takes after whom?
It is a firm favourite in my family too. Who do my elder brother’s four children take after most? Do they resemble each other a little or a lot? Is the resemblance maybe more striking in my sister’s family, where the children’s hair is just as red as my sister’s used to be when she was still a child? My Great-Aunt Reina coined a word for it: Some members of our family have ‘the stamp’, others don’t. By ‘the stamp’ she means the predominantly dark Elkerbout family genes, which, according to her, we have inherited from the Huguenots: the dark eyes, dark hair, thick eyebrows and chubby cheeks of my mum, my aunt, my grandad and my great-aunt. In me the stamp is only partly evident: I have my mum’s thick hair and dark eyebrows, but my greenish-brown eyes undeniably come from my father.
The listing of similarities creates a bond. We recognise each other from kilometres away. We are family, so we look like each other. We look like each other, so we belong together. We are a separate species, a subgenre, a group with distinct characteristics, stored in the genes from which we are built.
If we adopt, our child won’t bear ‘the stamp’. I shall never recognise something of myself in my child; my child shall never see something of itself in me.
No matter how much I try, no matter how loving I am, that is one thing I’ll never be able to give to a child: that cosy security of resemblance.
The woman who says she is my mother is a moving, autobiographical family narrative, set against the background of the turbulent history of the twentieth century.
A short interview with Judith by James Boekbinder about this book:
Judith Uyterlinde writes with bright openheartedness and diarming straightforwardness about joy and loss in her gripping family history. A must read for mothers and daughters. – Kristien Hemmerechts, writer
Supple and suspenseful writing. The woman who says she is my mother is definitely not the umptheenth book about the Second World War. – Anna Oolders, bookseller.
A wonderfully intimate story of an adoptive mother who makes a journey of discoverage of her own roots. – Beth Johnson, bookseller.
An impressive book, moving without being pathetic, often humoristic and very well written. – Hanneke Groenteman, writer and tv personality
This is a fluently written, openhearted and moving book, just like her first one. It reads like a novel. – Haarlems Dagblad
Uyterlinde skilfully interweaves her experiences with the adoption of her daughter with a reconstruction of the life of her family during the war – Elsevier (opinion leading magazine)
Moving and fascinating – Financieel Dagblad (newspaper)
A truely wonderful book: it made me laugh and it made me cry – Raoul Heertje, wellknown stand up comedian and writer.
This moving book is important because it helps to understand some of the postwar taboos and teachtes the reader a lot about the connection between honesty and identity, past and present. – Victor Halberstadt, internationally renowned economist.