Friday, March 14, 2008

A fine line between bravery and betrayal

Over the last few weeks I’ve spoken very openly about my experiences with depression and about my relationship with my son during that time.
I have, I admit, thought an awful lot about how Joseph will feel when he is bigger and reads about our tricky start together and I hope he will understand that mammy was sick but got better and all’s well that ends well. (Certainly my own mother’s cries of ‘Youse wains will leave me in Gransha’ had no lasting ill effects on me.)
There have been people out there who have said I am brave to talk about depression so openly - but I don’t see it like that. I see it as being honest and I hope that by speaking openly about my own experience, other people with depression will fee less alone.
I’m saying all this because an article I read this week, about another mother who spoke openly about her relationship with her child, has had me taking deep breaths to calm the growing rage in the pit of my stomach.
Julia Hollander, if you’ve not heard about her, is a mother of three girls, Elinor, Imogen and Beatrice. However it is Imogen (or Immie as she is called) who is the subject of her new book ‘When the Bough Breaks’. When Immie was born, she was deprived of oxygen and left seriously brain damaged.
While this damage was not immediately apparant, Hollander soon began to notice her daughter was not developing in the way her older sister had done. Immie screamed for five hours a night (having had a colickly baby, I know the feeling) and would not settle.
Eventually her parents were told the devastating news that during birth her cerebral cortex had been virtually destroyed and her prospects of leading a productive live were virtually non existant. Immie will never walk or talk, but she will live - until her 20s. Hollander’s reaction to this news was to tell doctors she could not cope.
She left her daughter in the special care unit of the local children’s hospital and she went home. She then piled her daughter’s belongings - her cot, her high chair, all her equipment and drove to the dump and disposed of them.
I can’t help but feel she dumped her daughter too. She did not read to me as a woman who ‘bravely’ asked for help, just one who walked away not knowing, or caring who would look after, or what would become of her child. She referred to Immie as an animal. She went on to have Beatrice who, it seems, fitted the bill of the perfect child. Beatrice has been welcomed into the family and Hollander (and her exceptionally self centred partner) are delighted with her and even more delighted that Elinor now has a perfectly capable playmate.
Now I’m trying to remain unjudgemental but as a mother - even one who had a tough time - I cannot understand the apparant ease with which Hollander dumped her child. And what I can’t understand more is why she has chosen to write a book about it.
Sure, Immie will never read and will never have an understanding of the cruel and emotionless way her mother has spoken about her. Sure Immie probably won’t even have a notion that her foster mother is not the woman who gave her life, but there is something distasteful about a woman making money from describing her own child as an animal.
There are those, of course, who saw Hollander is brave and breaking the last taboo. She is talking about the fact that some mothers just do not love their children but I think that is oversimplifying things. It is clear Hollander loves her children, especially those who are “normal”. It is also clear that she does have a maternal instinct - for the right kind of child. And what this book is doing is suggesting, or reinforcing, is the idea that because of her disability Immie is somehow less of a person than her two sisters.
This is not a case where a mother tried and failed and has regrets that she could not love her daughter. This is a case where a woman walked away almost as soon as a diagnosis of brain damage was made and then went on to try and make money from the situation. This is a woman who seems to have no qualms whatsoever in letting the world know that you don’t have to keep an “abnormal” baby.
There is nothing brave, or admirable, about that.
I cannot see what positive message could come from her book, or indeed who on earth is benefitting from reading about her experiences. Immie most certainly isn’t.
Of course I do not have a child with special needs. And I admit that he is still a handful and at times I have fleetingly wondered what it would be like to hand him over to someone else. But I could not imagine just leaving him somewhere, alone and defenceless while hoping someone else will sort out my issues for me.
I have often spoken of my initial difficulty with motherhood but I reget every day that wasn’t filled with maternal feelings towards my son. Perhaps that is clouding my judgement of Hollander or perhaps that is why her case angers me so much. Every child, regardless of ability, deserves love. Every child deserves to be treated as an equal with his or her peers and to have the respect of their parents. To talk about her child is no mark of bravery in my eyes, it is the ultimate betrayal.

1 comment:

Grannymar said...

Write a letter to your son. Write it now about your feelings for him now, and of all the hopes and dreams you carry for him.

Put it in an envelope and seal it, Put his name and date when you want him to get it on the front.

Think about this date, 18th, 21st birthdays of even on your death.

What better gift can a mother give!

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