I found out the other day that our neighbours put their little baby in a foster home. And my immediate reaction shocked me, and made me feel very ashamed of myself.
Carole had her baby last winter, and I knew something was up when the ambulance pulled up to her house late that night and drove away with her on the stretcher. Ten days later, I saw her husband Ed on the street, and I asked about the baby, whom they had named Patricia. Apparently, the cord was wrapped around the baby's neck about six times. As well, as luck would have it, the cord had prolapsed, so that it was coming out ahead of the baby, which is never a good thing. What it meant was the baby was deprived of oxygen for a long time. Brain damage ensued, resulting in cerebral palsy. Carole and Ed didn't know at the time how extensive the damage was, and were in a wait-and-see limbo, which I assume can only be described as the worst hell on earth imaginable.
As time went by, they realized Patricia was going to be severely handicapped. She could not eat or swallow properly, needing a naso-gastric tube. She couldn't hold her head up. Her body was in constant spasms. They weren't even sure if she could see. I would see the family walking in the neighbourhood once spring arrived, Patricia snuggled closely against Carole's chest. They looked so "normal". I spoke to them a couple of times, asking how things were going, how was Patricia, how were they managing, and Carole always said things were fine, they were exhausted, it was a trying time, but things were okay. They had a nurse coming to the house every day to help with the baby.
I guess the thing I found strange when I spoke to Carole was that she seemed very distant, very unemotional, very uncaring about the whole thing. When she spoke of her little girl, you would think she was discussing the weather, it was that blase. It disturbed me, but when I thought about it some more, I realized that is probably exactly what I sounded like when everyone would constantly ask me about Dennis and how he was doing. You are a robot when trauma strikes, and the automatic gear is switched to the 'on' position.
I didn't see much more of them this past summer, and when I did, it would only be Ed, Carole and their other child. One day, I got up the nerve to ask again about the baby, and when Carole told me they had put her in foster care, my knees almost buckled. She then proceeded to tell me, again in a flat, monotone voice, that Patricia was just too much work, she would just cry all the time, and Carole couldn't handle her anymore, and it wasn't fair to the rest of the family. And she told me that what was even worse was that they would have to give up parental rights to the child if she remained in foster care for the next year.
I went home in tears. Initially, I felt terrible for them, but then as Carole's words went through my mind again and again, I started to feel anger. Lots and lots of anger. I could not believe she could give up her baby, and on top of it, speak of it without so much as a twinge of regret or emotion. I was flabbergasted. None of it made sense to me. What irked me most, I think, was the way Carole talked about it, like she was rhyming off a grocery list. It was beyond strange.
I am not normally one to judge others because I know no one can really speak for another person. This time, however, I felt sure in my passed judgment, sure that this woman didn't love her child. How could she if she apparently gave the baby away so easily? I knew firsthand the number of parents who were not able to deal effectively with their very ill children, and would leave them alone in the hospital for days on end. And I didn't understand them either. I had never left my son's side when he went through his trial with cancer, not once. And regardless of how ill he was or might get, I could not see myself giving him to anyone else. That is, not until I really thought about it, about all the probable repercussions.
If Dennis had not successfully battled his cancer and continued on his merry and relatively healthy way, what would have happened? Would our family remain intact? I know financially it would be a major issue, since only having one breadwinner in the household would certainly not be enough. But beyond that, what would the emotional and physical toll be on the rest of us? How would we manage? Dennis' illness had already taken a huge chunk of our physical and mental health away from us all, and it took us years to get it back. It changed us forever.
Milly couldn't be away from me for more than a minute without crying. She couldn't sleep by herself for years. She was afraid I would leave and never come back. She had nightmares for years about Dennis dying, about all of us dying and leaving her behind to fend for herself. Mr. Handsome withdrew into himself, put his doctorate on hold, and sat at his desk staring at his computer screen for days on end at times. And I became very depressed, unable to function, feeling nothing but gloom for more than two years. I could barely move, let alone take care of a baby and a three-year-old.
So, yes, illness affects everyone. It is not a singular, independent event. Would we have been able to manage had Dennis not gotten better? Had he needed daily extreme measures just to survive? The more I thought about it, the more I realized the answer, and that answer was 'no'. I am pretty sure we would have fallen apart as a family, as a cohesive unit, and we would have most definitely fallen apart as individuals as well. Mr. Handsome and I would have divorced and gone our separate ways no doubt, Milly would have become a very insecure and dark child, feeling invisible and lost, and we would all feel pretty crappy pretty much all of the time. And really, I am pretty darn sure that that would not have done Dennis one ounce of good.
So, I guess what I'm saying is that, if we were presented with the same terrible fate that Carole and Ed were presented with, I think we probably would have ended up doing the same thing (although when I read that sentence over, I still cringe at the thought and feel sick to my stomach). Patricia is now happy, in a foster home with people who know how to care for children with cerebral palsy, and Carole, Ed and their little boy can keep living a more "normal", albeit never the same, life.
We never know why others do what they do, make certain decisions, say certain things, or behave a certain way. They may seem cruel, insensitive, and uncaring, and maybe they are. But chances are the reason is they are just doing what they need to do to get through the day in one piece. No one can know the personal hell another individual may be going through. I will remember that next time I find myself judging another person's actions, and I will refrain from pretending I know anything about anything at all.