Great Infertility & Adoption Read: Sailing to Jessica

Dawn Davenport


Great Infertility & Adoption Read: Sailing to JessicaI dread it when people ask me to read their newly published adoption or infertility book. I hate to disappoint, but reading about adoption and infertility is kind of like work for me. The only time I have to read is at night before bed, and by that time of day I want to lose myself in another world, and most definitely not my work world. Besides, my nightstand is about to collapse under the weight of the books waiting for me, and these are books I put there because I actually want to read them.

But… I remember well the excitement of having a book published, that almost desperate desire to have someone—anyone—read my precious words. So, while I almost always politely pass on reading the adoption/infertility books that are sent my way, every once in a while I cave, and boy, this time I’m so glad I did.

I hesitate to call Sailing to Jessica a book about infertility and adoption. It is more of a sailing adventure book bookended by infertility and adoption, and I’m a sucker for personal adventure books, maybe because I’m in need of a little vicarious thrill in my life.

Sailing to Jessica-a book about infertility, adoption and sailing.Kelly and Paul Watts had struggled with unexplained infertility for years. The monthly cycle of constantly trying and constantly failing led them straight into a “life crisis” where bitter disappointment and grief nearly suffocated them. Rather than cope using the tried-and-true methods of therapy, more infertility treatment, wine, or chocolate, they decided to sail around the world. Oh, and did I mention that they didn’t know how to sail and that Kelly suffered from seasickness. Thus their adventure begins.

Kelly is a professional journalist and her writing chops shine through on every page. She had me from hello. She paints such a vivid picture with her words that I felt a little seasick myself. I lived their adventure–celebrating their successful passages across the ocean and suffering their disappointment with a failed IVF attempt in New Zealand. In short, it’s a great read.

The only part of the book that left me wanting more depth was their adoption of their daughter, Jessica, from the Pacific Micronesian Island of Kiribati. Kelly and Paul jumped into adoption about as quickly as they jumped at the idea of sailing around the world. While jumping without much preparation feels daring (and scary) when we’re talking about sailing, it just feels reckless (and scary) when we’re talking about a child. I also wanted to know more about why the birth mother was forced to relinquish her child and what other options she had.

Sailing to Jessica-a book about infertility, adoption and sailing.Yet, even as I write these words I feel like a killjoy. This really fun book deserves better. Kelly and Paul fell quickly and easily into parenthood regardless of their haste. From what I can tell they quickly learned about transracial adoption and have adapted their lives accordingly. And while I’m enmeshed in my workaday world with thoughts about adoption ethics and rights of poor indigenous people, this book is an adventure book, not intended to dissect the ethics of international adoption. No payments were made to the birth family, and the Watts scrupulously followed the Kiribati adoption law, which, among other things, required them to live on Kiribati for six months.

I have no doubt that the Watts, like many adoptive parents, wrestle with the financial inequities that allowed them to parent Jessica, and denied this right to her first parents. And maybe, like most of us, their initial thoughts were directed more towards their intense thankfulness that they were given this opportunity, rather than to the injustice of it all. Kelly simply didn’t make this the focus of this book. Fair enough. The book she wrote is much more fun to read, and I suggest you do just that.


Image credit: Chris Harris, Coralie Mercier, Adam DeClercq

31/07/2013 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog, Infertility, Infertility Blog | 9 Comments

9 Responses to Great Infertility & Adoption Read: Sailing to Jessica

  1. Wow, what a great story. I’m currently in the waiting phase of adoption and really enjoy reading about others’ experiences. We are adopting domestically, though, and I started a blog about our experience because we don’t know what to expect — nor does our family. I’m hoping this will help explain my feelings and thoughts around adoption.

  2. Avatar Matt brabeck says:

    U r an inspiration. This is our back up plan. ….and yes, sailing is in the picture….out sy Nyathi

  3. Avatar Kelly Watts says:

    Hi there Jessica (great name, btw!) and Heather, thanks for taking the time to write and for reading the book – you’ve made my day!! Glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

  4. Great review! I love good books about a fellow adoptive family’s journey and look forward to reading this one. Thanks for the recommendation!

  5. Avatar Kathryn Norton says:

    As Kelly’s Mom I can say that Kelly and Paul did not jump into adoption. Rather they were thinking about it when I visited them in New Zealand. Kelly asked if I would accept a mini UN! And I of course said yes! Kelly has an international background and a great respect for her children’s cultures.
    Jessica and Nick are much loved by all of us!

  6. Avatar Heather says:

    I bought and read it after reading your review. Awesome read. Very much an adventure story that left me wanting to know more. I wish the author had a blog.

  7. Avatar Kelly Watts says:

    Dawn, thank you so much for reading my book and for your thoughtful, and honest, review. While it seems like we jumped into adoption much like we jumped into sailing, that wasn’t the case. We had been thinking and planning to adopt for nearly a year and half before we sailed into Tarawa, and were thus prepared to make this commitment. Having lived in Tarawa for 8 months, we visited Jessica’s birth family many times. I respect her mom and her family too much to invade their privacy by sharing their story and the factors that led them to their tough decision – a decision that they felt was best for Jess.

    Knowing that, culturally, Kiribati views adoption as the uniting of two families through the child, Paul and I try to hold up our end of this deal with letters and photos. We flew back to see Jess’ birth family two years ago and will undoubtedly go back again. I know that, one day, Jess may decide that she wants to know her birth family better… I want that door to be open, with hopefully welcoming arms on the other side.

    • Thanks for filling in this information Kelly. You are fortunate to be able to have an open international adoption, and because you know the island well and have access to ready translators, you can actually have conversations. I loved the book.

  8. Avatar Heather says:

    Ahhh…I see she does have a blog!

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