A letter to my special-needs son

The day I heard Roe v. Wade was overturned, I felt compelled to write a letter to my son. This is strange because, being only 16 months old, reading is a bit beyond him. But I knew I had to write it for the future. You see, my son is different from most children. He was born with a host of medical difficulties and has spent much of his short life either living in the hospital or making far too frequent visits there. We still don’t know quite what causes his many ailments, and we’re learning day-by-day how to live with and love through them. But we do know that he is the best of gifts. Still, his little life has pushed against my assumptions about God, suffering and the meaning of life in ways I never anticipated. My long-standing pro-life convictions similarly have undergone the crucible of deep questioning that only suffering can really elicit. This letter, then, is my attempt to communicate to my son what his life has taught me so far about this crucial, divisive and profoundly personal issue. I am forever grateful to him for the many lessons he continues to teach me every day.

My dear son,

When I learned of your existence, you felt so abstract. A baby? A person? You seemed more like a bad case of nausea and bloating. I feared that when I met you, you would feel like a stranger. Then I heard the news: You were hurting inside me. Your stomach was in the wrong position. Your bowel was bursting through your abdominal wall. You were too small. We wondered if your genes were broken. Would you die? Would I be repulsed by you and your ailments? Would you be a burden I didn’t want? Would it have been better if I had miscarried you? I had all of these thoughts. I judged myself for thinking them, but I had them. I wept for them.

But I also feared for you. Grieved for you. Wanted you. Needed you to be OK. I was scared of what your life would ask of me, what sacrifices it would demand, what pain it would cause. I knew you would cause me pain. You have caused me pain — the worst of my life. I have watched your ribs surface under your thin skin as you have gasped for air. I have watched helplessly as gastric fluid gushed from the hole in your stomach. I have watched you violently vomit every day of your little life. I have frantically called 911 and watched your little body get strapped onto a gurney. I have suffered as I watched you suffer.

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It has cost me to be your mother. But I have a good life and always have. Born into relative wealth and privilege, I have education, a stable marriage, financial security, a supportive community. Even so, I remember lying in bed cradling my pregnant belly terrified of what you, my son, would ask of me. I felt alone even as my loving husband held me and told me we would figure it out. And I thought of all the other women. Profoundly scared and actually alone. A child growing in their womb with no one to comfort them, protect them, provide for them. Wondering, like me, what you would ask of them. Wondering if this suffering was worth it. Or begging to get out of it.

These women are hurting and afraid. They deserve compassion and support. They need help and love, not judgment. They need daycare. Paid leave. Financial help. Mental health resources. They need the support of us all as they stare into the abyss of their future, wondering what suffering awaits them. But they also need people to come alongside them to remind them to face that suffering with courage. They need to cling to the truth that in suffering there is meaning, even when it feels utterly meaningless.

It is not fair that this has to be asked of these women. Much of life’s suffering is undeserved. It is not fair that the men who impregnated them can easily abdicate responsibility. It is not fair for the women who had this forced on them by men of violence and hate. It is not fair that some women conceive children that are malformed and destined to die far too soon. It is not fair that some women give their lifeblood to their babies only to give them to strangers to raise them. It is not fair that mothers have to watch their children suffer. None of this is fair.

Yet, it is also not fair that a child must die to spare us of these things. We have little control over the inevitable suffering that comes our way. But we do have control over what we do with that suffering. Do we let it destroy us and the others that we are responsible for, responsible to?

Sometimes, the cross of my motherhood has felt hard to bear. It digs into my shoulders and makes my steps heavy. But for you, my son, I would do it all again. You deserve to live a full and meaningful life, and it is my job, my life’s noblest purpose, to try to give you that. To lay down my life for you. I balk at this sometimes and shudder at its weight. But I know you are good. I know to be wounded by my love for you is purifying, redemptive and infinitely worthwhile. I am glad that today you have been given more of a chance. That your dignity has been recognized.

But I am also grateful that my dignity as a woman has also been upheld and recognized by this decision. It calls me and others to humanity’s highest aim: sacrificial love. I pray others receive this as that, a call to love sacrificially — whether as a mother, a father, a husband or a friend. None of us is immune to the demands of love. So, let’s love the women in need of support, and let’s love the babies they carry. My son, I pray that I become a woman worthy of this task and that one day you become a man worthy of it, too.

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