Monday, April 12, 2010

How many people would "send back" their kids if they could?

I read this beautiful, impassioned blog post by a woman named Jaelithe, whose younger brother used to have a penchant for setting fires...and whose son developed a brain tumor in utero and now has some special needs. She writes about her anger concerning the woman who sent her adopted son home to Russia. Here's an excerpt:

I when I was going into labor, I didn't get to check a box on some form saying "Not willing to give birth to a child with special needs." It was my choice to have a child. I didn't have a choice about having a child with special needs. It just happened that way.

No matter how you become a parent, you cannot, ever, fully control how your life with your child will turn out. Every child will have problems. Every child will cost money you don't have. Every child will exhaust and hurt you and make you secretly dream, at some point, about running away. And some children will make you have that dream more often than others.

But the point of being a real parent (no matter whether your child was born into your arms or crossed an ocean to come home to you) is that, no matter how hard it gets, no matter how tired you are, no matter how much help you have to ask for, you don't abandon a sick, hurting child who needs you. Real parents don't allow themselves that choice."

When Christopher was born, and we had those first few months when we didn't know if he would live, and a few years when we didn't know what kind of disabilities he would experience...and I would often tell myself that when parents make the choice to have (or adopt) a child, they do not get to choose what they get.

I think about Nicole Conn's beautiful movie, Little Man, in which a loving couple of moms are torn apart by the birth of their extremely premature son. One of them dedicates her life to his care, and the other one just cannot deal with the prospect of parenting a potentially multiply disabled child. We know many parents whose marriages were torn apart as a result of having a premature or ill baby, or experienced loss of a child or a pregnancy. It tests the strongest of marriages, and if any fissures existed beforehand, they grow bigger during crisis.

My brother-in-law is a gifted teacher of adaptive physical education--he travels around to several schools, teaching groups of kids, some of them severely disabled. I remember one story he told us about one of his students, a young boy who was completely "normal" until he swallowed a rock and it got lodged in his windpipe. He became brain damaged as a result of the oxygen loss. That story sticks with me because it's a perfect example of the fact we do not know what will happen. An accident could suddenly cripple someone we dearly love. Life could change in an instant, and certainly not by our choice. Does it change the depth of our love for that person? This story of the rock is why we chose not to have amniocentesis when I was pregnant well over 35 (at 38, and 41). Who's to say what a "perfect" child is? And were we to be blessed with a child who had Down's syndrome or other needs, wouldn't there be a reason for this? (That's not to say that I wouldn't have been terribly upset about it and the disruption it would pose to our lives!)

I realize that none of us know the full details of this case. I'm not one to pass judgment when I'm not fully informed of the situation. Why did they send this child back to Russia? And for God's sake, why did they send him ALL BY HIMSELF? That alone gives me pause and makes me question whether this family really loved him and wanted him, flaws and all.

Even though I'm passionately pro-choice (I consider it a lesser evil, to have a child be aborted than end up unwanted), it gives me pause to read how many pregnancies are terminated because of prenatal tests (about 90% of them when Down's syndrome is suspected). Because what is a perfect child, anyway? And how do we know that if they don't have Down's syndrome or some other birth defect (cleft lip or palate, perhaps?), they will live "perfect" lives? Isn't the point of parenting to love our children, whether by birth or adopted, imperfections and all?

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