The Defective Child
Guest Post by Jarrod Norris
Having a child is kind of a big deal. I know I’m stating the obvious here, but it is life altering. As a man, you have a big responsibility to take care of your seed. You know what I mean. If the seed sprouts, you’ve got some big decisions to make. Whether you choose to keep the child, abort, or put the baby up for adoption your life will never be the same again. The fact is you have choices. I don’t think all of the options are particularly awesome, but this is not a political rant. This is about choosing to keep and be a father to the “unwanted” child. The one you likely never thought you’d have; the child with special needs, complications, birth defects, and/or some sort of disability.
Generally speaking, in the beginning when our lady breaks the news to us that she’s pregnant, most of us probably imagine a developmentally healthy baby. We daydream about what the child is going to be like. We think of all the ways we are going to provide for them and what we’re going to do to keep them happy, healthy, and safe. As dads, that’s kind of our duty. For the most part, those are definitely aspects of child rearing that we can control to some degree. However, there are some things that we cannot.
In the back of our mind, there is that haunting “what if” question. What if the baby is born with this, or without that? In regards to having a baby, some sayings I often hear are: “as long as the baby is healthy”, “10 fingers, 10 toes”, and “thank God everything is fine, we are so blessed”. I would consider all of those thoughts to be normal and justifiable. I’m sure there is a rare minority that actually wishes for their child to have some sort of disability.
However, what if everything is not fine? What if the baby is not healthy? What if the child is missing limbs, or has extra ones? What if the baby has a syndrome or a disease? What if they have an intellectual or physical disability? The truth is, we can submit the mother and baby through a multitude of tests and screenings in utero, but nothing is certain until birth. Even then, only the physical traits of the child are most notable. There are intellectual and other issues that often do not surface until several years down the road. Sorrow can come, and the haunting “what if” stuff does happen.
The Center For Disease Control (CDC) states that 1 in 33 babies (roughly 3%) are born with a “defect”. Some defects are preventable, but many are not. The word “defect” is harsh, but such is life. Life is not perfect, nor is it always positive. The sooner we come to grips with that, the better off we’ll all be. When your baby is born with a “defect” or your child begins to show signs of significant special needs how are you going to deal with it? Much of what makes life positive is how we choose to deal with the negative.
I know a thing or two about kids with defects and disabilities. I guess you could say I’ve devoted my life to them. I promise you that having a “defective “child is not the end of the world. In fact, for me, it was the beginning of a new one that I prefer to live in and be a part of anyway.
I became a daddy for the first time over 11 years ago. My oldest child is a beautiful, gifted, smart, independent, and very talented young lady. She was born at full term and healthy as could be. She looked like a porcelain doll when she was a baby. My third kid is very much the same way, but with her own flavor. She is 7 years old. Both of my girls are completely different from each other, but have many of the same outstanding qualities that most parents would be thrilled to have in a child. I love them to the moon and back and I’m very thankful to have my two girls.
Of course, as life often does, we were thrown for a curve when my wife was pregnant with our 9-year-old son. While in the womb, our little guy had some complications early on that threw up some red flags and made the reality of those “what if” questions that much more possible. We were suggested the various options, but for us there was never any other decision to be made than giving him a fair shot at life. We wanted him no matter what, come what may. As those “what if” scenarios rushed to the surface of my thoughts I became worried and anxious with frequent panic attacks. Personally, I felt completely inadequate or prepared to be a daddy to a “defective” kid.
During delivery as his head peeked out, I’ll never forget the look on his face. He makes the same look to this day. His eyes were open and he glanced slowly from side to side. It was overwhelmingly obvious to me at that moment that he had Down syndrome. He needed some help breathing when he first arrived and had to stay in the hospital for about a week because of jaundice. I actually passed out amongst all the commotion. My son also had a hole in his heart, and extra fluid on his kidneys. Many of these complications have only recently subsided or been corrected. None of that is the worst, but it certainly wasn’t the best-case scenario either. At the time, my wife and I felt totally incapable.
The midwife that helped deliver our baby boy noticed our sullen state of mind. She was very blunt with us as she basically told us to chin up and quit whining. She proceeded to explain that there are parents on waiting lists to adopt a child like ours. She also told us about a friend of hers whose husband left her after having their child with special needs. The midwife said that the father was the one missing out because the child he left had grown into a beautiful young adult that has brought life and love to the home, despite his absence.
I don’t have too many regrets in life, but my attitude about having a “defective” child when my son was born is one of the few. I believe those “what if” questions and the feelings they bring are normal to have, but they’re ultimately selfish, in the sense that we ask “what if” because of our own hang-ups and insecurities. My life has changed drastically since becoming a father, but especially since having a defective kid. My life has changed for the better. I am a better man because of my son, a better husband and father. We are also better together. He’s my sidekick, my right hand man, and my favorite dude to hang out with. My outlook on life is completely different. I have more compassion and I continue to learn to put the needs of others before myself, starting with my family. I have more joy in life, and I laugh more heartily because I’m grateful for the children I’ve been given, the one with special needs and the ones without.
That’s just me though, and it’s a bit selfish to just write about what I’ve gained from my little super man. His life brings joy and happiness to nearly everyone he comes in contact with. His smile and laugh are infectious and he’s a fun, rad little guy. The thing is, I’m not alone. I’m just one story amongst many. I have since become a teacher for children with intellectual disabilities like my son. I also coach basketball and volunteer in our local Special Olympics program. I am in contact with, and connected to families nearly everyday with similar stories to my own.
These “defective” people have consumed my life and each one has their own story. Dads, I can tell you about awesome families that have thrived because of their defective kid. I can also tell you about those where the father dropped out, left a beautiful situation, and the child suffers from that absence. I’d also like to be able to tell you that there are no challenges, suffering, or heartache, but that’s not the case either. Each kid is different and comes with unique surprises, but that pretty much goes with any child. I can say that the joy and positivity far outweigh, and completely make up for, the negative stuff.
I’ve used the word “defective” through out this because that is how many outsiders see our children. I prefer to see them as “effective”. The lasting positive change and effects they leave on the people in their life are immeasurable. You will never really know the magnitude of it until you are affected.
So dad’s, having a child with special needs is not the end of the world. Take some time and have a cry about it if you need to. Then dry your eyes, put your big boy pants on, hold your head up and do the damn thing. Your kid needs you. Over time you just might begin to feel that you need them even more. Find a local group or organization specific or close to your child’s diagnosis/needs and get in the mix. It helps to be surrounded by others going through a similar situation. Stick around for your kid and be an integral part of their life. Cowards tuck their tail, leave, and expect someone else to take care of their responsibility. Every child needs their father, no matter how special their needs are.