“Baby! baby!” It was one of my earliest memories, if not the first. Petey and I were sitting on the steps with our grandma, waiting for our parents to return with our new baby brother from Mercy hospital in Urbana. Theodore (“Teddy”) Laurence had just arrived to our delight. As Petey and I jumped up and down on our front lawn to take a peek, we began to run around, again screaming, “baby! baby!” Excitement aside, the depth of what my parents had just willfully undertaken never occurred to me. Back then, there were no sonograms, no genetic tests weeks into pregnancy to reveal any abnormalities. Rather, by choosing to get pregnant again after having a daughter born with ectrodactyly, this was probably the most significant symbol of my parents’ complete acceptance of me.
“Daddy, why does Meg have only one finger on each hand?” Teddy was not even four-and-a-half. The two of us and my older brother Peter were getting out of our family’s Plymouth Volare station wagon to eat at “The Red Wheel,” my favorite local restaurant in Champaign, IL. I didn’t love the Red Wheel for its food. In fact, according to my mom, it was so unappealing that my parents felt badly for the owners and never used the coupons that came in the mail.
No, I loved the place because in the front entrance was a big wooden wheel loaded with red lollipops for the taking. As we arrived, I was shaken by Teddy’s new realization that his older sister looked different. Not even grabbing a lolli did the trick. I immediately wailed. “Daddy, even Teddy is talking about my fingers. It’s just not fair.” But, by the time our food arrived, Ted, Peter and I were eating our fried chicken and giggling about nothing important.
I was already huge. Nearly six months pregnant, my every step across the grocery store was slowed by the weight of the baby who would become Charlie, our second son. I had just gotten off the phone with my brother’s wife, and felt a jolt of excitement. I simply knew what I needed to do. Oh yes, and I needed to inform my husband….didn’t want to forget that. My heart began to race at such a wild pace, I couldn’t stand it anymore. “John, John!” I practically yelled from my cell phone in the middle of the pasta aisle as soon as he picked up. “What is wrong?” Given my condition, I could hear my husband’s voice rise with a detectable tension. “Nothing! Guess what honey?” “What?” “We’re going to have another baby!!!” It was at that moment, I believe John became less concerned about my physical state, and more concerned about my mental status. “Of course we are having a baby. What are you talking about?” I began to laugh, and noticed a few people staring. In hindsight, perhaps they were staring already at my hands and not disturbed by my merriment, but now I actually noticed. “Oh, not this one in my belly. We are going to adopt a baby! Babe, are you there?” Silence.
When people learned that John and I adopted Savanna from birth, sometimes I wish I could read the thought- bubble over their heads. Okay. Some might very well have had a sincere bubble filled with nothing other than, “That is so great, good for you John and Meg!” But realistically, other bubbles probably read, “Oh, I guess she wanted the girl,” while other bubbles might have read, “I bet they wanted a child that had no physical limitations.” My father-in-law’s bubble almost certainly read, “I did ask you at your wedding for grandchildren, but so many so soon? You already have a three-year-old and a newborn! Are you both nuts?”
There were actually a lot of factors that went into our decision. We always figured we’d want three children, just like the families we had each grown up in. But I was afraid. An ectopic pregnancy years earlier had led to emergency surgery to save my life. And sure, I also wanted a girl, if possible. Oh, and I probably had raging hormones, let’s be honest. But there was another factor that also influenced my thinking and it came to me as I stood in that grocery store speaking with my sister-in-law, who was herself adopted. I realized that one of the reasons that I feel so comfortable in my own skin today is because I grew up with siblings that did not have my condition. By having to face their reactions early on and also seeing how soon they could get past my physical difference and just treat me as me (their annoying sister), I knew that I could be a part of that norm.
And so, our beautiful Savanna was born in the Fall of 2006. As I held tightly on to her birthmother’s hand, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. Just like I had my brothers, Ethan and Charlie now had their baby sister–a kid born with all fingers and toes intact, who would embrace them unconditionally. As much as John and I have been grateful they have had one another, her questions would both prepare and even empower them for the world that waited.
One surprising thing about raising Savanna has been that as her mother raising her, I am newly offered the perspective of the 10-fingered sibling, something I never fully considered with regard to my own brothers. Last season, she confided in me that a boy at soccer had noticed me, Ethan and Charlie and began to make fun of us in her school. “Mommy, he was so mean about the fact that you and Ethan and Charlie were born with different hands. He said you looked weird!” I paused and gave her a hug. “Hon, what did you say to him?” I told him he is not my friend anymore.” I wondered later with John how many times my brothers must have defended me behind my back or endured thoughtless comments and certainly countless stares from people. I always hoped that our kids would love one another. Through Savanna’s eyes I am seeing how she not only adores her brothers, but honors them. Happily, I see that the benefits flow both ways.
The Greek origin of the name “Theodore” is “Gift of God,” and “Peter” is “rock” or “strength.” My two brothers were and have remained one of my greatest gifts, people who I have leaned on, providing me a lifetime of unconditional support.
And by the way, the origins of the names “Ethan” and “Charlie” both mean “strong.”