I never gave too much thought for the Kennedy women. Ray has a certain affection for the Kennedy legacy, specifically, an admiration for the general philanthropic nature of the clan. The accomplishments of the men (as well as their foibles) are legend.
But the women? Eh.
Then today brought the news of the passing of Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Much will be — and has been — written about the various accomplishments of this grande dame. She was clearly someone to admire and applaud.
Were there more like her! And why had I never cared before?
Her passing calls to mind many issues she championed, but most strongly the need for valuing those in our society who are born with differences.
Four times I have been blessed with healthy children, a son and three daughters who so far have needed little extra care (okay, there were a few hospital stays with nasty diseases, but those were thankfully few). But I could have gotten a different hand.
After all, all but Mitzi were, well, surprises, babies conceived when no babies were expected. (Ages 7, 5, 4, and 3 — do the math!) And I’m not a perfect person. That no mistakes made were held against us is a miracle.
When we learned about Ellie, I was more than a little upset. My life was chaotic. I already had two small children, one for each hand, who in themselves were a struggle to manage most days. Ray was finishing law school and took a job far away from our young home, requiring us to stay with my parents for a long time. Grandpa had just died. My heart was stretched, torn beyond anything I’d ever felt, and suddenly I was expecting a miracle?
I was a little less than enthused. ”Miracle” was not the word I would have chosen just then.
The pregnancy was very stressful. My life was very stressful. So when Ellie finally came (neo-natal team at standby due to a small complication), and she was normal, healthy, I was grateful. (I was also grateful that my birthing complications were destined to become faint memories in the grand scheme of parenting.) Sure, she suffered from extreme reflux which led her to prescription formula and two medications, but she eventually became a happy baby.
Today at four, she remains happy, healthy and on track. So many mistakes by mom, yet this bundle of complicated perfection.
The same is true for each of my babies, all my surprises and the planned baby. I should be more mindful of the daily gifts, but too often life gets in the way for that.
When Joanna was identified as having positive testings for cystic fybrosis, I was not entirely panicked. Through earlier testing with my first pregnancy, I knew I carried the CF gene, but Ray did not, so we were confident baby number four was healthy. And she was. She’s a carrier, like her mom, but no disease. Still, the newborn had to endure a painful (and scarring) procedure that would not have been necessary without that test.
Today, the passing of Mrs. Shriver highlights that were my experiences different, my world would be no less filled with grace. I always had prenatal testing to determine various health factors of each baby. For me, I needed to be prepared for what might come (including which gender baby box to open). For some, this information too often leads to a decision about whether that particular pregnancy is continued.
I am a huge supporter of women’s rights, particularly of the right to choose what happens with one’s own body, be it booster shots or pregnancies. Since becoming a mom, my views haven’t entirely changed, but my heart has. Looking at my kids’ sleeping faces, no matter what this day has given us, I couldn’t imagine life without any of them. Warts and all. Hospitalizations and all. Whatever has come, it has brought me to today.
I can’t judge others for their decisions. But somehow I wonder if we are burdened with too much information these days. It’s easy for me to say that, having a fairly typical experience of motherhood. I’d like to think, though, that I would still be me if the cards were different.
I see the children of friends who are challenged in any number of ways. Perhaps my own are challenged in ways yet to be revealed. Do those differences define the children, determine their fate, or are they simply a facet of that complicated mosaic that makes up our souls?
Mrs. Shriver, and so many like her, answer question, reply, no. Differences are not determinations; facets are not fate.
Look into the eyes of any child, and that’s all the answer you need.