That’s been my experience in the last year with Jeannie Ewing. Though we have never met face-to-face, seeing her name in my inbox puts a smile on my face. She’s an old soul and I can’t knock that she has family in the great Buckeye State of Ohio. (There’s hope I could meet her in person someday!)
Today, Jeannie’s sharing some of that wisdom with us. It struck a chord with me (Jeannie’s writing usually does), and it made me think about how I respond to pregnancy and to the babies who follow. I’ve long been guilty of the “only a healthy baby, please” mentality, and Jeannie’s a witness to me of the courage and faith that a different path might hold.
* * *
It’s Not About Me
I was browsing through one of my myriad magazine subscriptions last week, attempting to catch up on my periodical reading. One article caught my eye, because it was about surrogacy.
Ethical and moral concerns regarding artificial reproductive technologies aside, a particular quote pierced my heart as a sword:
“…if the baby had any genetic defects, I [surrogate] agreed that they [biological parents] would decide whether or not to terminate the pregnancy.”
I have two daughters with very different special needs: our oldest, Felicity, was born appearing “normal” according to medical standards, with the expected ten fingers and toes and excellent APGAR ratings. Yet in the course of her first year of life, it was very evident to me – even being a somewhat neurotic first-time mom – that something in her development was awry. After various evaluations, we discovered that she has a neurological condition called Sensory Processing Disorder, which is fairly nebulous to describe, because it affects both external and internal senses (such as balance and coordination) and, therefore, isn’t visible to the human eye. Most kids with SPD truly appear “normal” and yet they struggle immensely with ordinary tasks.
Our second daughter was born with a very visible, albeit rare, chromosomal anomaly called Apert Syndrome, which causes premature fusion of the skull sutures, as well as syndactyly (mitten hands) and webbed toes.
Sarah is who the woman in the magazine article considers “genetically defective,” but in my limited experience as a mom, God has allowed me a particular insight into humanity based on having one daughter with an invisible cross and another one with a very obvious medical condition: life isn’t ultimately about our fears or controlling the outcome of some dreaded, lifelong struggle, but rather it is about our “fiat” to God, our “yes” to whatever He actively and permissively wills for our lives.
You see, when I was pregnant with Felicity, people came out of the woodwork to congratulate me, followed by the common cliché, “I’m praying for a healthy and happy baby for you!” At the time, I would thank them, interiorly joining my prayer with theirs, and promptly forgetting it.
After Sarah was born, however, I began saying to others, “Why don’t we pray for God’s will instead?” And I paused to consider my own question; the truth is, every parent wants their children to be healthy, happy, and generally have a “good” life, and I believe this is our natural inclination as good moms and dads. But in harboring this type of perspective or philosophical ideology, we unconsciously and perhaps unintentionally hinder God’s beautiful plan for our children’s lives.
No one is born without somehow, at some point in their lives, experiencing the consequences of original sin. Just because a person may be born without genetic “defects” does not exempt him or her from suffering, pain, and anguish in this life, nor does it automatically imply that he or she will never develop some type of physical or psychological condition down the road.
With the secular mindset that prenatal testing can positively determine the genetic potential of my child, it’s important to remember that these tests are not without fail. In fact, I have several friends who were told after opting for prenatal testing that their children had a high probability of having Down Syndrome or some other trisomial disorder that was potentially fatal. All of them gave birth to perfectly healthy babies.
In my case with Sarah, we had no prior knowledge of her genetic condition; I had a healthy pregnancy and ultrasounds indicated no concerns from medical personnel. So I asked myself, What are we really implying when we choose to put all of our faith in prenatal genetic testing? When I look in retrospect after giving birth to a “normal” daughter who then developed a very hidden (but very real) neurological deficiency and then giving birth to a daughter who has very obvious birth “defects,” I now see the lesson God was trying to teach me all along.
It’s not about me.
It’s not about my concept of perfection or ideal of what a healthy and happy child should be. It’s not about adopting our societal view of humanity – that those who are imperfect or flawed in some way are thus disposable – and it’s not ultimately about what science knows or is capable of achieving in the realm of human sexuality and reproduction.
Ultimately, it’s about my desire to hand over my expectations, my dreams, my fears to a God who knows what He is doing, whose plan for my life – and the life of my children – is eternal perfection. And that is why I pray for those who view human handicaps as being “defective” and even justifiable reasons for terminating a pregnancy, because I have been given two beautiful blessings who struggle in very different ways. But somehow I know that it is precisely because of their adversities that they will achieve their personal path of sanctification.
So even though I still struggle with my personal fears and expectations of how I want my life to be, now I pray for God’s will when I pray for those who are expecting a baby, but even more, I pray for God’s will in each moment of my daughter’s lives and in my own life.
Jeannie Ewing holds a Masters Degree in Education for School Counseling and after working briefly is now happily a stay-at-home mom to Felicity, 3, and Sarah, 8 months old; Sarah was born with a rare chromosomal anomaly called Apert Syndrome and will undergo between 20-60 surgeries throughout her life. She is married to Ben, a materials engineer and volunteer reserve officer. Jeannie blogs about her family’s faith journey as it pertains to Sarah’s medical care at Love Alone Creates.
Read more posts in the Mom to Mom series.