I didn’t realize my arthritic body took so long to get out of bed until it was too late — after I saw my 10-month-old son, Tristan, flip over the rail of his crib. When my husband deployed, I moved the crib into our room as a precaution. It felt like the safest thing to do. But by the time both my feet were firmly planted, Tristan had already somersaulted onto the floor. As he sat right back up and began to cry, my biggest fear as a mom with a disability became reestablished — I was incapable of caring for a baby.
You see, I have diastrophic dysplasia — a rare form of dwarfism. During my childhood, doctors predicted my height would end up somewhere between 3 feet 6 inches and 3 feet 8 inches. Painfully, I was able to lengthen my limbs an astounding 14 inches and I am now 4 feet 10 inches tall. But I still never thought I would have kids.
Thankfully, my mom (a nurse) had moved in across the street. I called her and within minutes, she was by my side and checking every part of Tristan’s body. And though we had him seen by a doctor and he checked out just fine, I became overloaded with stress and guilt. What would others say of my capability as a mom? What would my husband think when I told him about Tristan’s cartwheel?
As the week went on, the memory of his tiny body vaulting over the crib plagued me. And I was painfully reminded of what many moms like me are asked when we learn we’re pregnant: Have you considered abortion?
It’s a thought that did seriously, seriously cross my mind. And how could it not? During my first pregnancy with Titan (Tristan’s older brother), there was so much uncertainty that surrounded my husband and me; we barely had time to find any joy. To be honest, I had no clue I was able to get pregnant, but when Eric returned from his yearlong deployment, we were both unexpectedly proven otherwise.
For our family, pregnancy meant coming to terms with grave health issues; could I carry to term? There would undoubtedly be breathing problems because there isn’t much room for the baby to develop. How would we survive? And if we did make it to term (which was doubtful) what options were there for delivery? An epidural was ruled out because of the curvature of my spine. Was there any other way? Finally, the one question no mother wants to ask; would my child also be born with a disability?
Test for birth defects would have to be done “sooner rather than later,” one doctor said to me. It seemed the list of What Could Go Wrong was never ending. It outweighed so much of the positivity. And I still remember when he said this, “The state of North Carolina allows abortions up to 20 weeks.”
To me, when it comes to intertwining health and motherhood, society seems to favor total perfection. Women who do not fit in with society’s idea of A Perfect Mom and who have a disability are too often encouraged to not follow through with their pregnancy. Sometimes it feels like we are encouraged not to get pregnant at all. When the story broke on People.com that I was pregnant with my second child, hateful commenters didn’t hesitate to remind me that passing my less than perfect genes onto my offspring was “harmful” and “shameful” and “irresponsible to the human race.”
On the way home from that doctor’s visit, there was a billboard that read: “Take My Hand. Not My Life.” It hit me square in the heart and changed my perspective completely. I cried well after I arrived home. Yes, my husband and I considered an abortion, because we were scared into believing there might not be any other alternative. But pregnancy as a whole is risky business for all women. And like that billboard, I have come to realize that being a good mother has nothing to do with physical ability and everything to do with being a good partner — albeit between mother and child or mother, child and community. Yes, following through with my first pregnancy was risky. And, yes, allowing myself to get pregnant a second time felt much like testing fate. But God — was it worth it.