I used to make babies. In an IVF lab. Of course, four-cell embryos couldn’t gurgle in the incubators but it was always nice to think of the potential. In my twenties and early thirties, I was part of the embryology team, collecting eggs, preparing sperm, mixing, injecting, checking and ultimately transferring the embryo back into the patient’s womb. I think it’s fair to say that this was the sort of environment where you strove for perfection. We wanted normal babies please. Healthy babies. We kept a register of births. We looked other things too; including success rates, the age range of mothers and types of infertility. Most important though was the baby’s health. But here’s the thing. My own baby wouldn’t have been included in the normal category. She had a number of oxygen starvation-related issues before she was born. She’s ten-years-old now and of course we know her as curly-haired, funny, and full of attitude Delphine. But having this less than perfectly healthy child was never part of my plan. I was knee-deep in work mode. Healthy baby please.
And the truth is that after it happened, I felt kind of abandoned. I felt a sort of unreachable distance from my old life. For me, it was no longer about living a boundless, everything-is-possible kind of life. It was more about things going wrong. Suddenly, I had a problem I couldn’t solve. Not readily or by sheer force of willpower anyway. It left me, as it leaves many parents of disabled children with this one unanswerable question: why us? After all, being a parent of a disabled child is statistically low enough a number in the general population to feel different. Sure, we parents can provide our own answers. Some of us might feel chosen for the role. Certainly, the temptation is to feel this way with Delphine. We can tell ourselves that because we are good parents, she is lucky to have us! But the truth is, I am lucky to have Delphine. She has taught me a million things about kindness and humour. Who needs normal anyway? Perfect?
We were at the beach at the end of last week. A Bajan lady asked Delphine to fill up her empty water bottle with sea water. She wasn’t dressed in beach clothes and had been sitting at the top of the beach with a friend. I stood back and watched Delphine fill the bottle and then walk up the beach to hand the bottle back.
When Delph came back, she told me that they’d asked her if she’d had an accident.
I raised my eyebrows. ‘What did you say?’
‘I said yes, that I did have an accident when I was a baby ‘
This was a first. Delphine had never told a stranger this before. And she didn’t seem that upset about it. I took a deep breath. ‘What did they say to you when you told them that?’
‘They said I was blessed.’
Just recently, I’ve been thinking about returning to my old job. This is largely because I noticed the Barbados Fertility Centre on our travels on the bus. Just outside Bridgetown, it’s the closest IVF unit I’ve got to since I worked in one. It looks nice too. Really clean and welcoming from the outside. Not just welcoming to its patients… it’s sort of been welcoming me too. It got me thinking. About re-training. Whether I could do it again. It seems that the things a person did can become like the clothes they wore. Before they are placed on hangars and filed away in brain wardrobes. Could I fish this one out and wear it again? Would I even want to?