Until now I haven’t used this blog to talk much about my thoughts on controversial stories like the mother who gave up her baby boy born with Down Syndrome immediately after his birth. It was all over Facebook last week. I don’t think she made the right decision, but it made me really angry to read the awful things people were saying about the mother. I recently read Jen Hatmaker’s post about how if you want to be a writer you have to say things people won’t like, so I sat down and pounded out these words.
After that I felt better.
But didn’t know if I should publish what I’d written.
As I was waiting in the preschool pick-up line I thought, maybe this is a better article for the The Mighty – an online community of stories of people finding “strength, joy and beauty in disability and disease.”
When I got home I said a quick prayer and half-heartedly emailed it to the editors thinking there’s no way they’ll pick this up. In a matter of six hours, my post was live on their website and Facebook page. After dinner my husband and I sat on the couch, constantly refreshing our phones and in fear and anticipation over what people would say.
It was just as Jen Hatmaker said, I need to get thicker skin. People’s comments however, gave me an even greater, and much sadder, insight to our society:
We don’t really want to listen to what one another have to say. I honestly wonder if some people missed my point all together.
We’ll say anything, to anyone hidden behind an online profile with very little self-respect or respect for others.
We want to be the judge of other people, instead of leaving that job up to God, the One who has the authority to do so.
If you’ve ever struggled to love well, you know that the only way to get to a place of authentic faith is to wrestle with your deepest, darkest doubts. As moms – of special needs kids, typical kids, adopted kids, quirky kids, obedient kids, and wayward kids – let’s give each other room, without judgement, to wrestle well.
I don’t know that I changed anyone’s mind with my words, but no one changed mine with theirs either. And ultimately I still believe we are in no position to judge that mother, or any mother.
Here’s the full story that ran on The Mighty last night:
I’m sure you’ve probably read the story about the mother who decided immediately after her son’s birth, that she didn’t want to parent her baby with Down syndrome. Then she allegedly divorced his father for keeping the baby. It was all over Facebook last week, along with everyone’s opinion of this terrible, awful, no good mother.
Please stop judging the mother.
You didn’t just deliver that baby, you don’t know her pain and you don’t have to live her life in her country. It’s easy to make a comment on Facebook like “heartless baby carrying machine” and “the baby is better off without her” and then go on with your own life feeling like you advocated for her child in some way. I’m not condoning her decision, but really none of us have any idea what she’s going through.
One of the things I struggle with most about being a mom within the special needs community is how everyone is willing to show off how fierce their love is for their child, but no one will say how overwhelming their doubts are. There is a dark side too. The only author I’ve found who dared admit it is Gillian Marchencko when she wrote, “I know of other mothers who had children with special needs, and right away they loved them and decided to fight for them. That’s not my story.” After I read those sentences, I remember whispering back to the computer screen through tears, That’s me too. This is the fight of my life. I’m struggling to accept this too.
It’s hard to love. It’s hard enough to love your “normal kids” well on a bad day. When they throw a shoe at you, refuse to eat the food you cook, melt down over getting buckled into a car seat, break a brand new lamp from wrestling in the family room. As a parent you love a lot, and you don’t always get it in return. Think of how much harder it is to love a child with special needs in a society that places great shame on families with kids of disabilities.
This story is getting a lot of publicity. The dad is raising a lot of money on GoFundMe. The mom is being judged everywhere on social media platforms. I think as a culture we need to be a little more responsible about how we use our words on Facebook and Twitter because by judging her, we’ve made it even more difficult for this momma to change her mind. What if she has regrets later? What if down the road she decides she wants to go back? There’s now even more stigma facing her. And remember, one of the biggest factors in her decision to leave her baby in the first place was the shame and pressure her community placed on her. We’re only perpetuating the problem with our words.
We tend to assume that the overwhelming feeling of love for your baby is immediate at birth. If you don’t feel that way, then you are a horrible mother. Yes, there is a natural bond that a mother forms with her child and a love that goes deeper than devastating diagnoses. But sometimes love takes work. Sometimes love is a choice and you have to make it over and over again every single day.
When my son was born I heard his weak, high-pitched cry and deep down I thought, “That’s not right.” I saw the back of his head with a big birthmark and strange bump sticking out and again I thought, “That’s not right.” I tried to dismiss those thoughts. Because I was his mother. I told myself, I’ll still love him. I said that within the same hour he was born. In the OR all drugged up and sleepy, I’ll still love him. I was willing myself to love him because intuitively I knew something was off about this child from moment he took his first breath. I will still love him. I will.
I don’t know how I would have made it through the first year of his life without the unwavering support of my friends and family. They held me up when I couldn’t/didn’t want to keep going. They believed there would be good in the midst of all of the pain and struggles ahead. They prayed for me when I had no words for God.
I know y’all think this father is admirable to say he wants to keep his baby with Down syndrome. I do too. I think he’s doing the right thing, and I think he’s going to need a heck of a lot of support (and not just in the form of money).
I also think we need to show a little bit more love and compassion for the mother. She’s hurting. Bad. And she wants it to all go away. In her mind the way out is to give up the baby and leave her marriage. She’s facing tremendous pressure from her family, the people who should be supporting her right now. Again, I am not saying she did the right thing — only that we all need to be a little more graceful. We all have made decisions others don’t — and won’t — understand.
Maybe you know what it’s like to deliver a baby with a devastating diagnosis, maybe you got your diagnosis much later, maybe you’re lucky enough to never have received a diagnosis. Regardless, you don’t know what it feels like to be that mother.
But you do know what it feels like to be judged.
If you’re honest, you also know how hard it is to make a choice to love even when the feelings aren’t there.
Let that be the place where your empathy grows.
And please, let’s all stop judging mothers everywhere.
My book, Beauty in Broken Dreams: A Hopeful Handbook for the Early Years as a Special Needs Parent, is now available on Amazon!
Also be sure to check out my list of Favorite Books on Disability!