Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Sick Kids

The 6-year-old son of a friend-of-a-friend passed away yesterday. His older brother has the same fatal, degenerative disease that he has and probably won't make it much past 10 years old, if that.

These are the kids no one tells you about when they're trying to convince women like me that motherhood is amazing. I know motherhood is amazing. It's not as if I doubt every woman who says they love being a mom.

But it's more complex than that. It's complicated. It's a crapshoot.

Sometimes it's not a life of Kodak moments and milestones. Sometimes it's a life spent shuffling between doctors and hospitals instead of ballet and birthday parties.

What are the chances of me having a sick kid? What are anybody's? There are the kids who are simply chronically ill with no major disease or disorder, who require more constant one-on-one care than a generally well child, and there are kids who, because of genetics or circumstances during delivery will need care not just until they're 18, or through college, but for the rest of their lives. And then there are the ones like this poor family's, who are so sick with incurable conditions that their lives are cut tragically short.

And it's not just the stuff that happens in the womb. A classmate who was in the same gifted and accelerated classes in elementary school got hit by a car, spent 6 months in a coma and woke as a severely retarded 12-year-old. Something as simple as a bee sting or a rogue peanut butter cookie changes some family's worlds. Anything can happen, and it does. Life is complicated that way.

I'm not suggesting kids like these are unworthy of love, or anything of the sort. Being sick isn't their fault, and it's not the parents' fault either. I'm saying that their care should be left in the hands of someone who wants the job and can handle the job. The possibility that my hypothetical children won't have the easy temperament, curious mind, and uneventful development as yours is something that I need to address. It's one of the driving forces behind my choice.

Because, honestly? I could raise the "perfect" child, maybe.

But that's not how this works. I can't save up a little longer, pay a hefty premium to get the luxury model with all the extra features, and have the best one delivered. I can't plug in the traits I find appealing or ask that someone clone my niece (because if I could guarantee that I'd get one just like her I'd sign up in a second). That's not how it works.

Also I know myself. I know how I think. Some women can handle a sick child with grace, even those who require full-time care. They are committed to their role as mother. To do that without a great deal of resentment would require such a dramatic change in who I am as a person that I just don't see it ever happening.

Unless I'm willing to take that risk, that something might happen to a child of mine that forces me to upend my life so completely that I can no longer have a career, or a social life, or a balanced partnership with my husband, or the travel that soothes my wanderlust, I have no business having a child. Unless I can say that yes, I'm willing to have a child and to love that child and care for him no matter what happens, I can't go there.

There is too much risk for a reward I do not need in order to be happy.