HAVING THE PERFECT CHILD
Over the past 38 years, I have participated in the care of thousands of pregnant women and have attempted to answer the many questions that each patient invariably wants answered. While these questions are often specific to each patient’s pregnancy, one common question usually surfaces at some point in our discussion, “Is my baby OK?”
Because it is so difficult for me to define “OK,” this question has always been a tough one for me to answer. At the heart of this question lies a pregnant patient’s desire to know if her unborn child will be perfect (normal and healthy), a very reasonable concern. Once again, however, defining perfect is not an easy task.
Most pregnant women do not realize that approximately 2% of the 4 million births each year in this country involve the delivery of a child with a significant congenital defect. That translates to one out of 50 births!
When you consider that each of us begins with the union of sperm and egg, which creates one cell and this one cell continuously divides to create the billions of cells that result in a living child, it is truly a miracle that any of us are born, much less that we are born perfect.
It is with this in mind that I explain to patients that each birth is a miracle and that the uniqueness of each of us is what makes us perfect. I also attempt to explain that normal is in the eye of the beholder. The gift of life can be “perfect” even in the presence of serious problems.
In August of 2003, my newly born grandson, Seth, was to help me understand this from a different perspective. Seth was born with Down syndrome.
I have spent my entire career counseling patients on the risk of delivering a child with Down syndrome. But until the birth of Seth, I had never been confronted on a personal level.
My son Tommy and his wife Lisa were expecting twins — a girl and a boy. I vividly remember the excitement as Julie and I waited during the delivery and cried with joy as we each held a child in our arms in the recovery room. Marly and Seth were perfect. What dreams and expectations we held for these two precious bundles of joy!
Several hours later, however, we were confronted with the fact that Seth carried a diagnosis of Down syndrome while his sister Marly did not. Our family was filled with emotions, from the high that came with the birth of the twins to a low at learning of Seth’s disability and knowing that he would be different with possible life-long problems.
Later that evening, holding Seth in my arms and gazing into his angelic face, I was overcome with unconditional love for my grandson. As the tears rolled down my cheek, I understood that despite his diagnosis, to me and those who love him, Seth is a perfect child, to be loved and nurtured, the same as his sister Marly. Our dreams and expectations for him may now be different from those for his sister, yet they are dreams and expectations nonetheless.
To me, Seth is perfect. His smile lights up a room and his laughter brings warmth to all who are near. He loves to cuddle and gaze into the eyes of those who hold him and he embraces his sister with what can only be described as pure affection and love.
Seth is one of many children who are born with birth defects and complications, yet, like so many others, Seth has embarked on a journey we call life. That life will be filled with challenges for him and his family, yet that is also true of each of us as we embrace life with its ups and downs.
As we enter a world in which more genetic information will be available for us to consider in selecting a perfect child, I hope we have room in our world and hearts for those like Seth who are challenged and different, because challenged and different can still be perfect.
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