Recently I read an email from a young mother of a one month old baby born with cleft lip and palate. Her tearful post recounted a scene in her local grocery store earlier that day. As I read her account of what had taken place, I remembered a similar incident which happened to me and my son, and the anger began to build.
First, let me say that we mothers of children born with craniofacial anomalies are as proud and in love with our babies as any other mother. With today's sonograms and diagnostics, a mother often knows quite early in the pregnancy that her child will be born cleft affected. She has time during the pregnancy to mourn the loss of the child she envisioned and to accept that the baby she will bear will not be "perfect." And so, as she labors to bring forth her child, like most mothers giving birth, she is mainly concerned with birthing a living, healthy baby.
To those of us who adopt, our image of our little one changes many times with each attempt and failure at adoption until, finally, our baby is placed in our arms. When we first look into the face of our child, we see just that - our child. So it was with me when I first beheld my Christopher. To me, he was so beautiful, and I couldn't wait to show him off.
I remember the day I took my son to the grocery store to introduce him to my friends there. I had been shopping at this particular store for many years and the employees and customers had gone through each adoption attempt and failure with me. I had received a call from the manager congratulating my husband and me on our good fortune and was told that everyone at the store was anxious to finally meet the "Kroger Baby." I placed my two-week old son in the protective seat attached to the grocery cart and wheeled Chris and cart through the doors. I did not push the cart down the isles; I strutted behind it. I was a mother! Look at what I have! We did it! Isn't he beautiful! Isn't he wonderful! Isn't he glorious! Look! Already you can see how smart he is! Isn't he the most gorgeous baby you've ever seen?
Soon we were surrounded by stock clerks, baggers, the managers and shoppers with whom I often talked to in the store. There were smiles, clapping of hands, tears. All exclaimed over their joy in our happiness and insisted on holding or kissing my new son. My triumph was complete.
Slowly the crowd began to disburse as people returned to their duties. One of the managers was just turning to leave when a voice broke the spell:
"What'd you bring that thing out of the house for! Haven't you got more sense then to make decent folks look at that thing?"
I was frozen to the spot where I had stopped to face the speaker. Mouth open, eyes wide in disbelief, I stared at what appeared to be a normal, middle-aged woman whose eyes glared with loathing upon my beautiful son. There was a gasp, a stirring and, still speechless, I watched the manager and two clerks escort the woman out of the store with the admonition to never return.
The faithfulness of my friends helped, but the pain of coming face to face with such ignorance and hate cut deep. Immediately I realized that my son, my sweet baby, would suffer because of people like this woman and my heart broke. Years later, I still felt the wound from that encounter and now, here before me, was the anguished account of a mother who had suffered from the same cruelty:
"He said, 'Why didn't you abort that monster! Get him out of here!' Why would someone say that about my baby? Why would he do that?"
The wound in my heart reopened and bled as the memory of the anger and hurt I had felt resurfaced. I could feel her pain, her misery, her grief. How could people be so blind to the beauty of a child? Couldn't they see the large, beautiful eyes, the tiny, starlike hands, the soft baby skin, the fine, delicate curls? What was wrong with them that they could not see the glory of a new life?
I sat back from my keyboard. The tears were now flowing as they had the day it happened to me and Chris. I searched for words of comfort. I desperately needed to ease her pain, to tell her it was all right. But how can you tell a mother that things will be fine when you know the world is full of such meanness, prejudice and hate? What words can change the hard fact that many people cannot see loveliness unless it conforms to society's definition of beauty?
I began to compose an answer to her post and felt my anger slowly dissolve into sadness and even pity: sadness for the people who allow fear and bigotry to rule their lives; pity for the man blind enough to be unable to see the beauty of a newborn life; pity for the woman who, years ago, displayed her own stupidity and a fear so consuming that she could attack an infant.
I wrote to the young mother and told her of these things. I knew that soon her pain and sorrow would be replaced with determination and courage: determination to teach her son that he is beautiful, that true beauty cannot be defined in clumsy, grammatical terms and that ignorance is a sickness. And courage - the courage to face that ignorance and say "You are wrong!" and try to educate the victims of that pernicious sickness.
Finally, I shared with her the quote that I wrote and placed on the adoption site I ran which encourages the adoption of children with craniofacial anomalies:
"The Perfect Child is the One in Your Arms."
©2006 Debra Shiveley Welch
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