A Lesson in Motherhood

A Lesson in Motherhood

This essay from the New York Times (free registration required) really captured the essence of motherhood.

It’s the story of an infertile couple who goes to China to adopt a daughter. After they’ve finally welcomed their little girl, they discover that she is seriously ill, diagnosed with Spina Bifida, and probably will be disabled for life. The Chinese officials offer to let them exchange her for a healthy baby.

Months before, we had been presented with forms asking which disabilities would be acceptable in a prospective adoptee � what, in other words, did we think we could handle: H.I.V., hepatitis, blindness? We checked off a few mild problems that we knew could be swiftly corrected with proper medical care. As Matt had written on our application: �This will be our first child, and we feel we would need more experience to handle anything more serious.�

Now we faced surgeries, wheelchairs, colostomy bags. I envisioned our home in San Diego with ramps leading to the doors. I saw our lives as being utterly devoted to her care. How would we ever manage?

Yet how could we leave her? Had I given birth to a child with these conditions, I wouldn�t have left her in the hospital. Though a friend would later say, �Well, that�s different,� it wasn�t to me.

I pictured myself boarding the plane with some faceless replacement child and then explaining to friends and family that she wasn�t Natalie, that we had left Natalie in China because she was too damaged, that the deal had been a healthy baby and she wasn�t.

How would I face myself? How would I ever forget? I would always wonder what happened to Natalie.

I knew this was my test, my life�s worth distilled into a moment. I was shaking my head �No� before they finished explaining. We didn�t want another baby, I told them. We wanted our baby, the one sleeping right over there. �She�s our daughter,� I said. �We love her.�

Matt, who had been sitting on the bed, lifted his glasses, and, wiping the tears from his eyes, nodded in agreement.

Later, they discover that Natalie is not as seriously ill as they’d been led to believe. She doesn’t have Spina Bifida, she won’t be paralyzed. In fact, she is now a healthy, normal three year old.

NOW she is nearly 3, with thick brown hair, gleaming teeth and twinkling eyes. She takes swimming lessons, goes to day care and insists on wearing flowered sandals to dance. I say to her, �Ohhhh, Natalie,� and she answers, �Ohhhh, Mama.� And I blink back happy tears.

Sometimes when I�m rocking her to sleep, I lean down and breathe in her breath, which now smells of bubble-gum toothpaste and the dinner I cooked for her while she sat in her highchair singing to the dog. And I am amazed that this little girl is mine.

It�s tempting to think that our decision was validated by the fact that everything turned out O.K. But for me that�s not the point. Our decision was right because she was our daughter and we loved her. We would not have chosen the burdens we anticipated, and in fact we declared upfront our inability to handle such burdens. But we are stronger than we thought.

Read that final paragraph again. This is what love means, what openness to life means. We are all stronger than we think.

via Amy

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