toughest decisions are often the most personal

I don’t want to hear her chatter. I just want to finish the patient form and wait for my appointment.

“… and he was only 19 when I was born! After me, Mom and Dad didn’t know when to stop. They had, like, six more!” She picks up the ringing phone.

I take advantage of her distraction to complete my information until she hangs up, “… but you know, being in a large family can be hard. I’m all right with not having children at all.”

I leave the pen on the counter and turn to sit down.

“Now Mom and Dad are getting on in years, and Mom wants to sit down and talk with us girls about our little sister.” Then she explains, “She’s Down’s.”

My ear twitches. I ask how old her sister is.

“Eleven. Mom want to know what we’ll do with her if Mom dies. I really don’t know what there is to discuss. If I’m guardian, I’m putting her in a home.”

I look straight at her for the first time, “A home?”

“Yeah. The family has long-time issues with this. Mom didn’t tell us that she was pregnant for months, and although she knew the baby had disabilities, she kept that secret until it was born. It took a long time to forgive her. It made things difficult for everyone. Taking care of her just isn’t in my plans. I have other things to do with my life and I wouldn’t be able to take that on. It would be best for everyone if I found a place for her to live, like a home, where she’d get support. There are so many of those homes all over, they must be good and safe.”

“Have you lived in one?” I ask.

“No!” rolling her eyes, then adds almost to herself, “I went to a wedding at one once. The Bride … she was Down’s … was so happy! That was great.”

Turning back to me, “Anyways, my life is just too complicated to add my sister to it. I couldn’t do it.”

“You have a choice,” I mumble.

“Right,” she says, nodding, “I have a choice, so I’m making the best one for me.”

I find myself wondering what she would do if she, herself, had borne that baby, and held her in her arms. Would she have seen her for who she was? Would she have seen the priceless qualities that were captured in her little heart? Friendliness. Patience. Joy. Courage. Would she have seen the pain she would have to endure? Fear. Ridicule. Loneliness. Rejection. Would she have seen that despite this, perhaps even because of this, the child had the right to become a fully respected and supported member of our community, able to participate, expected to contribute and free to belong as a member of her family? Would she have concluded that she must do what she could to help this child achieve, regardless of personal inconvenience or mislaid plans?

“You and I completely disagree about this,” I tell her.

“You know,” she replies with tenderness, “You can’t understand until you’re in a situation like it. Everyone has to do what’s good for them. No one makes the wrong decision, just a different one.”

Quietly, I think back six years, when I held my baby and promised him I would do everything I could to launch him into a life of adventure and joy.

He didn’t have Down’s Syndrome, but his life-threatening health issues were certainly not in my plans, nor did they fit into my complicated life. Embracing him, I looked past his flaws, through his pain, to see him as perfect and brave, and I entered into a journey that would be both the hardest and richest of my life.


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