Adoption is a powerful and sometimes very painful thing to do, whether you are a birth parent or someone who is trying to adopt. It can be a tough decision, a nightmare to navigate and compounded by an entire spectrum of emotional experiences that range from heartbreak to unspeakable joy. And that’s when it goes well.
When something goes wrong, the game changes completely. That’s what Christina Fisher, a Florida woman, found when the mother who was supposed to adopt her baby left the hospital in tears after she saw her would-be daughter’s face, cutting contact completely.
The beautiful baby girl, Abigail Lynn, was born with a facial deformity called Treacher Collins syndrome. If Abigail’s story ended there, it would be a heartbreaking one. But it doesn’t end there. Fisher, who initially decided to place her baby for adoption because she was in dire financial straits that left her “practically homeless,” interpreted the other woman’s actions as serendipitous and decided to keep little Abigail with her after all.
Treacher Collins syndrome is a rare genetic disorder that’s characterized by the unique malformation of the face. Babies born with TC are usually missing their cheekbones or may have a small jaw, absent ears or a cleft palate. Sometimes it’s necessary to correct the cleft palate or to give kids with TC cochlear implants to help them speak and hear, but other than that, children with TC are like any other kids. They live perfectly normal lives and do not typically experience development delays. They just look different.
It’s easy to demonize the adoptive mother, but it’s much more complicated than that. We don’t know much about her, but that shouldn’t prevent us from trying to empathize with her. Just like mothers who are related to their children biologically, mothers that adopt at birth spend a lot of time envisioning their child — naming them, dreaming for them and loving them. To have that come crashing down around you is certainly a trauma in its own right.
Perhaps she wasn’t educated about TC, or perhaps the shock was just too great. It doesn’t matter, because ultimately it’s for the best. Children deserve to be with people that want them unconditionally. Guilting or cajoling a woman into adopting a child when she doesn’t feel she is capable of doing so is a recipe for even more heartache and pain for both mother and child.
Fisher isn’t angry or hateful toward that mother either — she’s grateful. She called the decision shallow, but it helped her see that Abigail was “the most amazing baby in the world.” There are times in life when you just can’t know for sure what you can handle until it’s thrust into your arms. That time came for both women in the hospital, and both got their answers. Abigail will never feel like a burden. She will be loved unconditionally. Why be angry about that? Be happy for her instead.
It’s possible too that with an ally like her mother at her side and more awareness of what Treacher Collins is, Abigail will grow up in a world that is increasingly populated by people more like her biological mother than her would-be adoptive mother. The main character of the hugely popular juvenile fiction book Wonder is a boy named Auggie who happens to have TC and advocates with the syndrome — like Jono Lancaster — to inspire kids to embrace themselves and others. She is growing up in a world where a lot of the ableist garbage we’re used to seeing is being questioned and eroded, and people with disabilities are given a voice and a platform to use that voice. It’s happening more slowly than we’d like, but we’ll take every millimeter of progress we can get.
Whatever happens next, there’s one thing we’re betting on, and that’s little Abigail. She’s got a bright future ahead of her and a mom who will fight her corner every step of the way.
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