The Observer—Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Rockford
Publication date: May 5, 2006
By Patricia Pitkus Bainbridge
Director, Respect Life Office
As Mother’s Day approaches, I am reminded of some special moms I have had the privilege of knowing. Having spent many years of my professional life working with the disabled (from infancy to middle age), I have learned important lessons about what it means to be a mother from joyful, brave, tenacious, and sometimes heroic women.
Some of the children I remember had mild to moderate disabilities, but some were severely disabled—unable to perform even the simplest activities of daily living. Many had cerebral palsy; some had hearing loss, cognitive impairment, or Down Syndrome; one was deaf and blind with mild spastic quadriplegia.
While professional intervention was crucial to their habilitation, the importance of the love and support of their mothers could not be over estimated. These women dedicated their lives to their children. Although it was not always easy, they never viewed their children as “burdens.”
Many of the moms told me their families were blessed by the presence of a child with special needs. They felt they became less selfish, more flexible, and more loving.
Another special mom—one I have not had the privilege of meeting—is Melissa Wiley. Melissa is a mother of five, accomplished author, and in her “spare” time maintains a blog (melissawiley.typepad.com). Her daughter, Jane, was diagnosed with leukemia when she was just a toddler. One of her sons is disabled. In her February 16, 2006 entry, she writes about him—affectionately referring to him as “wonderboy.” He has a number of conditions including hypertonia, developmental delay and a hearing loss.
Melissa’s writings are not bleak or disheartening. Instead, they are hopeful, uplifting, encouraging, and sprinkled with humor.
She sums it up when she writes, “Being entrusted with the care of a child who is not physically perfect can be yes, painful and scary, but also one of the sweetest, most rewarding experiences a person can have. Do you know how much they teach us, these small, brave, persevering persons? I hadn’t begun to grasp the meaning of that whole ‘Count it all joy’ business in the book of James until I met these children. Now I get it, or at least I get a glimpse of it. There is immeasurable joy not just in the overcoming of trial, but even—I know it sounds implausible, but it’s true—in the trial itself.”
Thinking about her then-unborn daughter, Anne, [born April 14, 2006], Melissa writes, “Of course I hope, for her sake, that she will be a healthy child. No mother hopes for her children to have to walk a difficult road; it is our nature to want their paths to be as pleasant as possible. But no longer could I say and mean (even if I didn’t know the gender of the child): ‘I don’t care what it is as long as it’s healthy,’ with its tacit suggestion that an unhealthy baby means only tragedy and sorrow. If that wish had come true last time, I wouldn’t have my Wonderboy. If this child—or any of my others, for that matter, for Jane is proof that being ‘born healthy’ is no guarantee of perpetual good health—should encounter serious medical difficulties, I know now that no matter how hard the road may be . . . there can be humor and camaraderie and courage and hope among the band of travelers—especially the smallest ones.”
This is just the attitude of so many of the special moms I have known. Of course, there are challenges. Of course, there are disappointments. Of course, there can be heartache. Yet, their demonstration of unconditional love is a testament to the dignity of human life and the value of motherhood.
By these examples and those from my mother, I have learned about sacrificial love, determination, loyalty, and humor. I also learned the importance of standing up for the weak and vulnerable—and this is one of the reasons I will go to my grave fighting for the “little guys.”