Read this Salon article, “The Baby I Turned Away.” Go ahead, click away from my page, read it, gauge your initial reaction to it, and come back to me. (C’mon, have I ever given you a bad reading recommendation?)
I couldn’t not write about this, but even after reading it a few times, sleeping on it, reading it again, wading through the letters posted, I’m still all over the map. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:
Whether you think the author, Jessica Berger Gross, is a superficial “baby shopper” lulled by a romanticized ideal of India and motherhood or a woman who simply knew her limits and made the right choice (most reactions tended to split down these two lines), you have to respect the honesty here. It’s not easy to lay bare your most painful decisions, your fears, and your limitations, especially with such an emotionally charged issue.
I’m not interested in dissecting, praising, or bashing the author here. I’d rather explore the whole idea of choice. Choice, both within the context of this one article and in much broader terms, is a luxury. For example, the author had the option (read: financial security) to pursue an expensive foreign adoption. That alone is not something every person who wants a baby but cannot have one on their own can do, and she knows they are the “lucky ones.”
But so often the luxury of having a choice brings so many additional possibilities and consequences. In this case, the ability to pursue this adoption put them in the position to face tough, tough questions. As the author writes,
“I wished we were different people, the kind who would welcome this child, welcome the risks, with no questions asked. I wanted to help her, to make her OK. But what if I couldn't? Could I love her anyway? To a parent, this question must be unthinkable. You love your child no matter what, accepting all limits and gifts. But we had a choice, and the magical thread that had spun us around this child for the previous two days was beginning to unwind and tangle.”
Ahh, the downside of choice. It forces us to confront our weaknesses, it shatters our perceptions of perfection.
Obviously I am approaching all of this from a different perspective than a lot of people who either applaud or condemn Gross. I’m not the parent of a special needs child, nor am I currently pursuing an adoption. But the whole idea of what is “normal” or “healthy” (Editor's note: Go on and read this, too--it's relevant to my position) and what happens when the future we envision is far different from the reality we inherit is an important one to me. And I think whether you’re talking about disease or developmental delays or emotional problems or whatever the special circumstance may be, it all boils down to the same fundamental debate.
What do you do when life doesn’t conform to your plans?
On the one hand, this sentiment from a Salon letter-writer, Late Again, gave me pause:
“Why would you CHOOSE something with so much heartache if you didn't have to? Thank god there are people who do. But, really, most of us wouldn't choose a difficult path given an alternative. The major advantage of adoption over biological birth is the notion of choice. Good for you all if you would check the box on the adoption forms that says "I'll take anyone." Most people wouldn't. This is just one view…”
It’s a good point to raise in the discussion. Objectively, why take the harder road when you don’t have to?
But (and you knew there was a “but” coming) could you be cheating yourself out of unforeseen positives on that road? Could you be selling yourself and your potential to meet challenges short? I don’t know. There are a lot of parents out there who are much better equipped to speak on this, who have spent time in the trenches.
It’s tough. If I have a child, of course I wouldn’t wish for the child a life of sickness. Who would? (It certainly wasn’t in my parents’ plans for me, but then again, neither was all they have gone through and endured.) But I would be the first to say that that child’s life would be undeniably rich and fulfilling even in the face of illness. I’ve never had the luxury of health, not for one day on this planet, but I do not lament that things aren’t any other way.
The absence of choice is just an important facet of this discussion. You can’t always control the human body—who can conceive and who can’t, what diseases can be prevented or detected early and which ones cannot; you can plan for and hope for and expect good health (and all the accoutrements that loaded term brings) but that does mean it will happen, or that you have any say in that.
Sometimes you roll with the punches, and you do not have a choice. Challenges present themselves, even ones you want no part of, and somehow you meet them and keep on rolling. But if you’re lucky, you’re too busy living your unscripted life to even notice what you can or can’t choose.
Pragmatically, not everyone is this lucky. I know that. While I do not have many answers or conclusions, just lots of questions and speculations and thoughts that clearly run in circles here, I know at least one thing. I, too, am one of the lucky ones.