Parental ADD

My cousin has two children. Her oldest, 15, was diagnosed with ADD when he was nine and has been on Ritalin since. He’s failing out of the private high school he attends in Manhattan. He lies, cheats, and steals when it suits him. He is volatile (way beyond normal teenage angst), and often violent with his mom and sister.

Her daughter, 11, also has trouble in her private school. According to her mother, she too has learning disabilities. She has very few friends, and is often cutting and cruel. She also lies constantly to get what she wants, and does whatever she wants regardless of opposition from authority.

The three of them live on the 10th floor of a posh apartment complex, in a huge flat overlooking the Hudson River in Battery Park. The Statue of Liberty, holding the torch of truth stands boldly in the bay and can be seen from almost every room of their home. My cousin and her ex-husband are very successful in their careers. She broke the glass ceiling only a few years out of graduate school and is now a top executive at the New York Stock Exchange. He is an architect. His style is distinct, and sought after, and can be seen all around Manhattan. Since both are busy professionals, the maid of the month raises their kids during the long work week.

Every time we get together they virtually drop off their kids to my care. Dad, before and after the divorce, has always been a marginal part of the scene, off to work, or squash, or rollerblading along the waterfront. Mom stays with us, but she’s not really with us. She’s on her tablet texting her secretary, or on her cell phone chatting it up with some high powered executive about market trends, or on her laptop writing reports. She goes out for a two hour run, or off to the store for diet soda. The entire time we’re together she has little to no contact with her children.

My sister also has kids, a boy and a girl, a couple of years apart. During their formative years she was a stay-at-home mom, sort of. Her husband, a successful real estate broker who used his limited free time for cycling, skiing, rock climbing, provided his family a McMansion with all the trimmings in a desirable suburb north of L.A. He hired a live-in maid to clean house and handle the mundane aspects of child care so my sister could pursue her many muses. And pursue them she did. She played tennis several hours a day. She went out with friends; shopped, and shopped; redecorated her house every year. She took classes in cooking, massage, religion. She was one of those soccer moms who sat in the stands and gossiped, or read People or Jane, or was on her cell phone every other minute, attending the game but not really there.

Unable to manage her son’s disruptive behavior, my sister took him for counseling when he was ten. He was diagnosed with ADD. He took Ritalin from 12 until he was 20. Now 27, he smokes pot every day, pays his rent and bills with poker winnings and a small stipend from an inheritance trust fund, has not gone to college and has little prospects for the future. Her daughter, 24, is still only a junior after six years in college. She lives on the money her parents provide without a clue how to make it on her own.

These two sets of kids struggle in life because their parents consistently catered to their own needs over those of their children. In doing so, they abandoned their kids to their own device, and left them to strangers, relatives, and society at large to raise them. Restrictions on behavior came from teachers, religious leaders and caretakers as commands—discipline imposed without love. Their parents didn’t bother to invest the staggering amount of time and thought required to help their kids decipher feelings, or examine abstractions like morality or values, or why they are important, or impart to them the seemingly endless list of rules we all must follow to get along.

The other day I was at the neighborhood pool watching my kids swim and play. All went well until a well-known rowdy kid arrived with his mom. She stood with her back to the pool and chatted on about her job, the upcoming hundred mile extreme run she was training 20 miles a day for, and the third Bruce Springsteen concert she and her husband had been to that week. She did not notice her nine year old son shoving kids into the pool, holding them underwater, pouncing, splashing and causing general havoc. Most everyone agrees her son, and six year old daughter, have severe ‘discipline’ problems. Though their mom labeled them ‘passionate,’ she admitted she was seriously considering her colleague’s suggestion to have her kids examined for ADD, or the latest variant: ADHD.

Even Wikipedia, can not state without dispute what ADD actually is, though a wide cross section of sources seem to agree it’s a behavioral disorder. Symptoms include Hyperactivity—like working all day, everyday, never putting your cell phone or tablet away; Inattention, the lack of ability to focus on one task for an extended period of time—like flipping from texting to your social feeds to your company message board while serving dinner, only occasionally acknowledging your family members. Impulsiveness is also an indicator, like going to see Bruce multiple nights in a row instead of being at home with your kids.

Though they possess the symptoms, these parents have never been diagnosed or even suspected of ADD, even though most have invested hours and dollars in personal therapy. Their kids did not inherit their lack of focus. The Attention Deficit Disorder they ostensibly suffer from by and large comes from parental example—adults who haven’t figured out that once they produce children, most of their own priorities must become secondary to the needs of their kids.

Rich or not, working—having to or not, parenting is about paying attention, being attentive and present— being there when you’re with your kids. Certainly, rules need to be continually taught and enforced, but also discussed at length, not handed down as edicts from on high. Kids need detailed explanations, reasons to partake in our code of ethics, and out of desire, not disdain. Society is not sustainable filled with resentful children who grow into parents that never mature beyond self-interest. Children can not raise themselves above solipsism without example from those who have.


The Terrorist Within

Strong winds shake the plane and rain sheets off the wings and streaks down the small windows as we sit on the runway waiting to take off. The 737 engines ramp to a high pitch roar. My three year old daughter sitting next to me suddenly grabs my hand as our plane accelerates, faster and faster down the runway, throwing us back in our seats.

The plane rocks with the storms powerful crosswinds as it lifts from the ground. My daughter stares at me wide-eyed and her face drains of color. Two seconds in the air and the plane drops ten feet. A quick collective gasp ripples through the cabin. My daughter is now china white and statue still.

I squeeze her hand in both of mine and tell her everything is fine and try to believe it. The plane pitches and tosses as it climbs through the clouds. Moments feel like hours as my mind plays out crash scenarios, and quiets only after the captain comes on announcing we’ve reached our cruising altitude of 35,000 feet with the promise of a smoother flight ahead.

Sunlight blazes through the windows. Above the clouds in the boundless blue our plane steadies. The collective sigh is almost audible.

Calm warms me just as my daughter announces she’s going to be sick, leans forward and throws up. Rancid chunks of egg and pancake from the morning’s breakfast soak her shirt. I stroke her head and back with one hand while frantically searching for a barf bag in the mesh pouch on the back of the seat in front of me. Two Sky Magazines and an Emergency Procedures brochure, but that’s it.

My daughter cries, ashamed, and tries to hold back throwing up more but I encourage her to let it out, though I’m helpless to contain it. Bile covered clumps drip from the armrest, her lap, and her seat to the floor. My husband sits across the isle and I ask him to go get a stewardess and a bag of some sort. He unbuckles his seatbelt and makes his way down the narrow isle to the attendants collecting snacks and drinks onto a metal serving cart.

Moments later my husband is back with five sheets of paper towel. No bag of any kind, and no stewardess. Apparently when he alerted them of our situation they told him he could find paper towels in the bathrooms.

I unbuckle my seatbelt and stand, take the sheets and start cleaning the mess. Five small squares of thin brown paper isn’t going to do it, so I ask my husband to go get more, and again request he summon assistance. He comes back with another handful of paper towels. Alone.

My ire rises. I leave my husband the task of caring for and cleaning up our daughter. The plane rides level and smooth as I make my way down the isle toward the back of the plane where a steward and stewardess on either side of the metal cart are passing out snacks. I inform them of my situation and ask for their help, or at least a bag of some sort. Both curtly assure me they’ll get to me when they can and tell me to return to my seat, as ‘federal law’ says passengers can not be standing when the fasten seatbelt sign is still on. As I turn back up the isle to go back to my seat a little bell rings and the seatbelt sign goes off.

It takes quite some time to strip and clean my daughter. I dress her in the only shirt I have available- the over-shirt I’m wearing. I feel cold (and naked) with only my sheer camisole. I clean the seat, the armrest, and am on my knees for another 10 minutes cleaning the smelly mess off the floor. My ire grows to anger when the cart stops at our row and the stewardess asks me if I want chips or cheese and crackers. I want to spit at her. Again I ask her for a bag and indicate the pile of soaked paper towels I’ve collected on the floor. She pulls a small plastic bag from a cabinet in the metal cart and hands it to me without comment. I glare at her as she moves on.

My husband fills the bag with the messy towels to capacity. Appeals for additional bags are ignored and eventually I go to the kitchenette and get them myself. The stewardess refuses to dispose of our waste and tells me where to throw it away myself. I have to get up to ask for water, for some crackers to settle my daughter’s stomach, for blankets and then I’m told to search the overhead compartments to see if there are any left. At no point during the five and a half hour flight does anyone respond to our request for assistance light, nor inquire as to my daughter’s welfare though I’d reported her ill.

The plane finally lands and we all shuffle out. The crew stands by the curved doorway with smiles and standard quips. The captain is young, good-looking, smiles broadly at me and nods. Three stewardesses and the steward stand together. They smile at me, then down at my daughter asleep in my arms. Both women thank us for flying with them, then their eyes drift to my husband behind me and their smiles remain as they repeat the phrase to him.

I manage to refrain from flipping them off as I hustle my child off the plane.

I’m halfway up the collapsible corridor when I ask my husband to take our daughter and wait for me at the top of the gangway. Before he can question me I turn away and head back toward the plane. There are just a few passengers still exiting and I make my way around them until I’m standing in front of the cabin crew.

I tell them my name, that I was on their flight, and that my daughter threw up shortly after take-off. Then I ask why, after repeated requests, they did not offer any assistance. They look at each other, then at me, and then the captain speaks. If I have a complaint, he instructs, I should write a letter to American Airlines.

I just want an answer to my question, I insist.

His eyes narrow, his handsome smile evaporates. He tells me under the Homeland Security Act if I don’t exit the aircraft immediately he’s going to call airport security. I stare at him. He’s serious. I’m too scared to laugh. I glare at the attendants one last time, shake my head and leave the plane.

My recent flight experience is typical of late. I hear complaint on complaint about the growing lack of service, and often the down right rudeness of most major airlines these day. Consumer advocacy groups are forming against them. Even if these groups manage to push through legislation defining acceptable conduct for airlines to adhere to, the problem, systemic to our society today, runs deeper than that.

We can’t legislate people to care.

Recognizing and responding to each others needs is a personal choice. It is also a global imperative for humanity’s survival.

Extremists from the outside are not all we should fear.

Indifference is the terrorist within.

How Men Are

Journal entry to my 2.5 yr old daughter, for her to read when she’s of age, on ‘the nature of men.’

I have this lump in my throat as I write this. I want to cry, for the ‘Thousand Slights’ you’ll suffer. I want to shield you from that pain. But I can’t. And it makes me feel helpless and hopeless and scared. I love you, J.

You were in the playroom when I came in last night after shopping. You were building with Magnatiles, this beautiful amphitheater structure. Dad and your brother were playing Stratego on the kitchen table. At first I thought the scene was good and you were happy down there on your own. But as I put the food away, I noticed your face, I saw your sadness, and as I write this I can’t stop my tears.

Daughter of mine, I want to tell you about a billion things here, things I got along the way, and ponder with you the world of things I’m still missing. But one thing I know for sure, men are not wired like women. They’re not. They’re not connected outward, outside themselves most of the time. Most men anyway. And that is going to come back and bite you again and again. And hurt you. And I’m sorry. I wish it was different.

The thing is, throughout your life you’re going to have to work really hard with most men to bring them outside themselves. I’m not indicting men. After knowing many in my 45 years, marrying one and raising another, I’ve come to see that there really are genetic differences between us.

Men are genetically wired inward, their senses connected to their body, and inside their own psyche. Men have historically focused on tasks, not so much emotional connections. Our technology driven society no longer requires brute force to survive. Singularity of focus to battle the Mastodon is no longer necessary. This is not an indictment. Both sexes have many gifts for the other. Each of us needs to be more aware of, and responsive to others in our now blended roles.

Perhaps because women give birth, we are connected outside ourselves, naturally maternal, hardwired to be caregivers, paying attention to everyone in the scene for the most part. And even though women work along side men now, at this point in human development, it still falls on women to help men become more aware of others, plug into the complexities of their environment and everyone in it.

Dad and E were plugged into themselves last night. I’m sorry you were excluded. And I’m sorry I wasn’t there to make them more aware of how that affected you. And I know it doesn’t really count to say they had no intention of hurting you, but this is the work to which I’m referring. You’re going to have to bring most men to you— make them aware of your needs, even the needs of your kids. You did that when you asked dad to be on his team, but when he said no, you should have told him how that made you feel. Don’t just walk away and feel hurt. For one thing, they didn’t even notice they hurt you.

J, you are my ray of sunshine. You’re positively delightful by everyone’s reckoning who has the privilege of knowing you. I fear the ‘Thousand Slights’ will rob you of your lightness. I hope you don’t let them. Express what you need, how you feel. Keep pushing the envelope of awareness, and know evolution takes millennium. We are all works in progress, and we must learn from one another to thrive.

Raising Kids Without Religion

As atheists we are considered by many to be heathens– uncultured, uncivilized people.

My husband and I are the ONLY parents I know raising our children without religion, or even a religious identity (as in claiming to be Christian simply because your parents claim they are). We’re both devout atheists, and I use the term devout with purpose. We don’t believe in a higher power, or any gods, or even the possibility of one. We are not agnostic. We believe awareness begins at conception and ends at death. Our combination of chemistry defines individual uniqueness, so often mislabeled as a soul. No heaven, or hell, no rebirth awaits us after death. There are no second chances. We all end up the same place as Hitler. We cease to exist. Only our contributions in life remain when we die.

Frightening and harsh though this may seem to believers, the implausible bible stories and the ‘jealous’ (Exodus 20:4-5), malicious god described in them never resonated with either of us. Much to our parent’s chagrin, we grew further from all religious ideology with our spiritual indoctrination. Ancient dogma conjured by men to control the masses by creating an outside deity that could not, and by its own commandments, must not be questioned, religious leaders were telling us not to think, and neither my husband nor I were willing to do that.

We agreed before having kids that we’d raise them without religion. We would not teach them what we do not believe and what we both feel is fundamentally destructive at this point in human development. The value system we hope to impart is based on a keen awareness of our world, and our immense responsibility to preserve it.

Picture a bull’s-eye, we tell our kids, like the Target logo. You’re the center dot, obviously, as you can only perceive and participate in life while living. The first ring out from you is your immediate family; the next is your extended family and friends. The next ring is your community, then your country and then the world. And all rings must be considered when making choices and taking actions.

The Target philosophy is a model for a thriving society. Stopping to consider the radiating effects of our actions forces us to think before we act. Our ability to think conceptually is what separates the human race from all other life here. There is no need to sell our kids on religious dogma such as promises of heaven, or threats of hell. We teach our kids not only to be considerate and responsible to family and friends, but to humanity and all things on earth. We expect them to honor their debt to those before them by striving to deliver a better world to those yet to be.

As atheists we are considered by many to be heathens– uncultured, uncivilized people. Our parents are constantly trying to convert us to Judaism, under the delusion that we are whether we admit it or not. They vehemently express their disgust in our ‘denial’ and barrage us with threats that our children will be lost without a religious upbringing. My brother, a born again Christian, assures us that Christ died for our sins. He promises my children will be ‘saved’ after death from all wrongdoing if they just accept Him as their savior, without considering the catastrophic lack of responsibility this ideology instills in individual behavior.

By everyone’s reckoning who knows them, from family to teachers to friends, my kids are well liked and well respected. They are courteous and conscientious, and more considerate than most adults, and 90% of their so called ‘god-fearing’ peers. They are team players in sports, strive for excellence in their studies [to enable them to become contributing members of society]. They share what they have, and compromise to ensure fair play. And they do all this because they understand their role in, and responsibility to humanity and this planet we inhabit, not by threats of eternal damnation. My children are not lost and experience no spiritual void. They find beauty and wonder in many things, like nature, and sometimes even in the nature of man.

With the advent of technology and advanced weaponry our world has become so very small and fragile. We must stop pretending we are powerless, under the will of various deities, or follow the divisive rhetoric of religious leaders who preach if Christ exists than Judaism is wrong. If Allah rules than Christianity is a lie. Religion has become the problem, giving excuses, or worst, forgiveness for whatever crimes we commit. Christ will not save us from global annihilation. We are all responsible to save us from ourselves.

My husband asked our 3 and 5 year old kids a simple question: “What are you?” Both answered: “Human.” Touché! Religion, skin color, and/or economic status, my children see no division between themselves and other people. This position is mandatory for the survival of our race. We teach our children to recognize their radiating effects on all they touch, and not only acknowledge their mighty power, but embrace the responsibility that comes with it. Humanities future depends on each of us taking individual responsibility for the actions we take in life, not for rewards in an afterlife, but to make it possible for those yet to be to experience living.

Raising Atheists in a World of Believers

I didn’t stop to consider the religious leanings of the San Francisco suburb we chose to raise our kids. I am deeply saddened that my children are being ostracized because our beliefs don’t fit in with the neighborhood.

It was early December in 2001, three months after 9/11, when I went down to the end of the cul-de-sac to meet the new neighbors. We had just moved into the seemingly family friendly San Francisco suburb a few months earlier ourselves. It promised good public schools, and a safe environment in which to raise our kids. Several others from our block were hanging out with the new neighbors that afternoon, sharing beers and casual conversation, watching their children play together. I joined them, introduced myself, my 1 year old daughter and 3 year old son, who both ran off to play with the other kids.

The new neighbors asked me about my children, their ages, where we had moved from, and the like. Then the woman asked me to repeat my last name.

When I told her again she said, “Oh, you’re the Jewish couple then? I heard that there was a Jewish family that had moved in recently.”

It was clear that she was tickled by the idea of living near Jews. Unlike L.A., or New York, the Bay Area has little Jewish population to speak of. Suddenly, the three other couples standing there plugged into our conversation. Though our last name was often mistaken for Jewish, it’s derivation was German, and isn’t always a Jewish moniker. The woman’s assumption was ignorant, but typical, especially in an area where Jews were such a novelty.

“Actually, we’re Atheist. We don’t practice any religion.” I tried to sound casual.

Blank stares. Total silence. It was like I had just said that we were registered child molesters. My words hung like lead in the dead air until one of the neighbors we’d previously met broke the silence.

“You know,” she tried to sound casual too. “I heard this broadcast on NPR the other day about Atheists. They’re actually very non-violent, friendly people. The Atheist on the air pointed out that you never hear of Atheists blowing up buildings.”

The vacuum that followed her comment made it clear that the new neighbors would have preferred we were practicing Jews, or Mormons, or even Muslims at that point. “You mean you don’t participate in the holidays?” the new neighbor asked, mystified. “Not even Christmas?”

“No. Not even Christmas.”

“Well, Christmas isn’t a religious holiday.” As absurd as her comment was, I hear it all the time. I refrained from reminding her that Christmas celebrated the birth of Christ, the very foundation of Christianity.

“We have five nights of winter presents which compensates quite nicely,” I explained. “And we celebrate birthday’s, special occasions, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and so forth.”

She bobbed her head up and down, but I could tell I’d already lost her. I was the anti-Christ, the infidel, the soulless she was so afraid of. And though her fear was unwarranted, there isn’t a religious person I can recall that I didn’t get the same bounce from when I revealed I was an atheist. No God? No values. It’s common wisdom, right?

I didn’t set out to set myself apart. My brief stint in Sunday school was forced upon me until I was 13, when my parents had to acquiesce to my unshakeable conviction that there was no God. My mother spent the next 30 years convinced that I would come back to religion when I grew up, got married, had kids. But the certainty of a godless universe, one ruled by entropy, not empathy, still resonates with me.

Moving in months earlier, I noticed several of the families in the cul-de-sac had adorned their front lawns with small cement statues of Mother Mary and Baby Jesus. They were subtly placed, though clearly visible in clumps of bushes and at the base of towering Redwoods. Christmas lights went up weeks before Thanksgiving on most of the houses in our neighborhood.

I expressed my warmest welcome to the new neighbor, then excused myself from the deafening silence, called my kids and went back home. Since that first encounter, the new couple has gone out of their way to avoid our family. She and her children ignore us, even my kids casual waves in passing are met with blank stares, or outright glares. They do not acknowledge us at the store, in restaurants. The other neighbors do not include our family in their neighborhood parties, nor have they asked my husband to join their Sunday golf group.

When we choose to move here, I didn’t stop to consider the religious leanings of the community. As an atheist, in a monotheistic society, wherever I live I’m on the fringe. I am deeply saddened that my children are being ostracized because of our beliefs. In allowing them to define their own spirituality, I fear I have inadvertently set them up for rejection, condemned them to the fringes, which is a very lonely place to live. But I do not foresee bringing religion into my home. I cannot teach them what I do not believe.

This last holiday season, in a brief lapse of reason, I thought of throwing a Hanukkah party and inviting the neighborhood. If they needed us to be something, we could pretend to be Jewish. But, the thing is, I am proud of who we are and our spiritual choices. It’s unfortunate, as an American, where we are free to practice any religion, or none at all, that that freedom is often an illusion, challenged by ignorance, and tainted by blind prejudice.

Welcome to Earth, my Beautiful Son

I had 6 pregnancy loses between 36 and 40 years old. I was half way through my 40th year when my son was born. C-section, after 5 DAYS of labor. I was part of a Harvard study on Pitocin. It didn’t work on me. This blog post is my first journal entry to my new son.

Hi E,

First, I want you to know how much I love you. It’s the weirdest thing. I’ve only known you for five months but I love you more deeply and more profoundly than I’ve ever loved anyone or anything in my entire life.

I also want you to know that I will be the best mom I can be to you. I know that I will screw up a ton, and I apology for it up front, as I will again and again throughout our time together, whenever warranted. As your mother, I will be your primary teacher, as my mom was mine. I hope by the time you read this that you will understand that my guiding light is my love for you, and the choices and disciplines I imposed on you always were based on this love.

Your grandmother taught me how to see the world around me. She’d point out sunsets, or stop to admire the roses, point out their intricate pattern and vibrant colors. She turned me on to music, dance, song, laughter, loving life. And these magnificent gifts I hope to pass to you.

Your grandmother also taught me to feel bad about myself. She did not do this consciously. She had expectations of who she wanted me to be, and when I did not meet them, her vacuum of disappointed felt as if she were sucking away her love.

I hope to be a better parent, as most every parent does. I know that I too will have expectations of you. I know that at times I will impose my vision of who I want you to be, instead of seeing who you are. I blindly hope that you do not suffer too greatly for my humanity. I wish for you to grow proud of who you are. I love you E.M. My deepest desire is that you have a life filled with happiness and fulfillment, that the times you feel lonely are few and short lived, that you never know hopelessness, and that you embrace living with passion and purpose.

I promise you I’ll work hard all our time together to observe, listen, and plug in to you emotionally, to learn about who you are. In this journal, I will try and chronicle our times together as accurately as possible, but remember these words are my interpretation of our experiences, and should be read with this knowledge at the fore. Seek answers to questions of your history from as many sources as possible. Don’t blindly believe me. Don’t blindly believe anybody.

So far, you seem like a pretty happy kid. You smile a lot, and laugh, too. You seem to really like when I sing to you. You like being held and nuzzled, and that’s good for me because I love holding you, and snuggling, too. Sometimes at night when you wake crying, I bring you into bed with me and your dad, and you push your little body into mine and fall asleep. I really love having you there, feeling you breathe, knowing you’re safe. It’s a blast taking you out and about, turning you onto the world, and you seem to like it, too. Shopping with you is pure fun, showing you things in the stores, encouraging you crinkle the plastic chip bag or touch the cold ice cream container. I love watching you discover.

I hear you rustling around in the bassinet now, just waking from your afternoon nap. (Almost an hour today, but you’ll still be up at 3:00 a.m. looking for attention.) Anyway, got to sign off. Want to be there for you before you start crying. Alone is scary, for me, too. I’ll try and be here when you wake, at least initially, let you know you’re not on your own from the beginning, hopefully provide you some ground. I’ll write to you here when the muse strikes me. Depending on what gets written in here over the years will depend on when you actually get to read this. But I promise you, you will get to read it. After all, this is for you.

I love you, my beautiful son. Welcome to the world, and thank you for gifting me the opportunity to share this uniquely fantastic level of love.

Technology and Choice

Technology, like amniocentesis, gives women a window into the future of their child’s health. But it also poses an impossible choice when the view is not the healthy baby all parents pray for…

I was 17 weeks pregnant, with my first baby, when the results of an amnio told me that the wanted child I was carrying was not healthy. I have always been pro-choice, and never considered it a moral dilemma to terminate a fetus with severe Down’s Syndrome, or other life threatening, or debilitating abnormalities. Although I was aware that my advanced age of 39 increased my risk of potential problems, I was totally unprepared for the results from this technology, and the choice I would have to make.

We received the news on a gray Thursday afternoon in late December that the baby girl inside of me had an extra X chromosome, also known as Trisomy 47, XXX. While waiting for clarification from a genetic counselor on the following Monday, I spent the next three days searching for information. I sat in the old, stone library crying uncontrollably with each line I read from a Psychology Today article on XXX. “Severe learning disabilities.” “Severe emotional disabilities.” “Slow motor development.” “Shy.” “Withdrawn.” I rubbed my swollen belly, trying to feel my daughter inside of me, fear welling up and gathering momentum. My stoic husband sat next to me, silently reading along. On the way home we talked, we cried, we argued about what to do next. We decided to wait to make any decisions until we could get more information, except there was little out there, and everyone we spoke with had some kind of agenda.

The genetic counselor insisted that the information we had gathered over the weekend was outdated and biased. A few minutes later she called in a staff OB/GYN who showed us a picture of a beautiful 8-month old XXX baby, swinging in her electric swing on a whitewashed, sun drenched porch, smiling happily for the camera. The doctor then asked us if we would be willing to participate in her study if we decided to “keep our daughter.” During the following week, we spoke with doctors from around the world with any knowledge of XXX, who gave us a positive or negative spin depending on their personal views on abortion. We spoke with a social worker that dealt with the parents of handicapped children, who was subtly but clearly for termination. I solicited advice from my parents. My father (who never changed a diaper in his life) told me to keep her. My mother said not to. We spoke with parents of XXX children. All of the children had suffered learning disabilities, delayed motor skills, were withdrawn, and had required special education. But all the parents loved their daughters.

A decision had to be made quickly, before I felt her moving inside me. I knew if I felt her I could never give her up. To a certain degree, she was still an abstraction, even though on ultrasound I had seen her entire body, each vertebrae of her backbone, the two hemispheres of her brain, her tiny feet and hands moving about. “The ghost in the machine,” my husband had called her. I held my belly and begged my daughter to tell me what she wanted me to do, knowing the decision would be mine, feeling the weight of that decision ripping apart the fabric of my tightly woven self-image. What kind of person was I that I would kill my daughter because she wasn’t perfect? Faced with the probability of a slow child, I realized my expectations for [and from] my children were more than I had considered. Maybe too much.

It occurred to me that most of us go through life thinking we are generally good, honest, caring people because this view is rarely challenged, as most of our actions aren’t based on critical, pivotal, character-defining decisions. From the moment I got the amnio results, I knew my life would never be the same again. Technology had given me insight and now forced me to make a choice.

Fear of the unknown was the catalyst for our decision to terminate the pregnancy. Disappointment in our expectations, and doubting our own abilities, pushed us into the decision that to this day I find shame in. But I honestly don’t know how the other decision would have played out. One of the mothers of an emotionally and physically disabled 8-year old XXX child told me that if she had known that her child had the anomaly before she gave birth, she doubts she would have chosen to keep her. I guess when we make a decision with no good choices, the decision we make will never be okay. The trick is, finding a way to live with that.