By Jean Garton
Editor’s note. This first ran in the December 1998 issue and then again (with an update) in the December 2001 edition of National Right to Life News. Read it and you will quickly see why it’s one of the stories readers have most asked us to reprint. “Who would want a child like that? We would” is a natural for our year-long “Roe at 40” series in which we are reprinting the best stories going all the way back to 1973. If you are not a subscriber to the “pro-life newspaper of record,” please call us at 202-626-8828.
Let me introduce you to two little girls affectionately called “Hot Potato Soup” and “Dessert.” Their real names, of course, are far more traditional.
First, there is Carissa, now seven years old, born in Taiwan. Carissa was placed for adoption when she was diagnosed with Treacher-Collins Syndrome – – a genetic disorder resulting in severe deformities of the head. Who would want a child like that!
Her face is misshapen because it lacks cheekbones and a lower jaw. Her ears are in the wrong place (long hair takes care of that), but even with hearing aids she only hears every third word. Instead of hearing “on your next birthday you’ll be eight,” to Carissa that eight-word sentence sounds like “On … birthday … eight.” Who would want a child like that?
Her speech is further hindered because, when her cleft palate and missing lower jaw caused her tongue to slip back and cut off her air supply, someone in Taiwan sewed her tongue to her lower lip. As a result, Carissa’s poor hearing and mutilated tongue combine to make her speech difficult to understand. Who would want a child like that?
Who would want a child like that? Lots of pro-life people would! My daughter and her husband are among them, and they made Carissa part of our family through adoption.
She was almost two when she arrived from Taiwan. We greeted her with balloons and bears, but after months in an orphanage crib she was a frightened, withdrawn scrap of humanity. It wasn’t until her new Dad, George, cradled her in his arms, jiggled her tummy, and said, “You’re full of hot potato soup!” that she gave her first hesitant little smile.
George’s words didn’t make much sense, of course, and certainly not to Ann Chi, as she was known then. She couldn’t hear and, even if she could, she couldn’t understand the language.
What she could understand was the deep love and acceptance behind that fatherly exchange. So it was that Ann Chi became Carissa who became the family’s treasured “Hot Potato Soup.”
It is grossly untrue, as abortion advocates claim, that pro-lifers only care about children before birth.
What pro-lifers care about is helping all children to live better and to the best of their abilities. Not surprisingly, many of us live better lives ourselves because children with disabilities have enriched, enhanced, and ennobled our families.
We’ve learned that a child’s character and courage are far more important than physical limitations. We could never have guessed how awesome is the power of a loving family, how it can take a less than “perfect” life and change it into a life of happiness and blessing.
Carissa was joined a year ago by Claire, who is the caboose in a family that also consists of four biological children: triplet boys – – Joshua, Jonathan, and Jeremy – – and Caitlin. All four are now teenagers.
Claire was born in Korea and was not easily adoptable. Her unwed mother was in a relationship that had ended, so “termination of pregnancy” seemed the obvious solution to everyone – – except to unborn Claire. She miraculously survived an attempted abortion during which her right arm was severed. Claire joined our family through adoption at age one. A year later she “celebrated” her second birthday by having hip surgery.
Physicians discovered that her right leg wasn’t in a hip socket; it turned out there wasn’t one there. Undeterred, doctors built a hip socket, pinned her leg in, and sealed her in a shocking-pink-colored full-body cast. For six weeks she couldn’t walk or even sit.
Picture an active, energetic two-year-old with only one arm confined to a reclining position for 42 days! Her feet, which usually serve as her missing hand, were locked in plaster far out of reach.
It could have been a Maalox Moment or, more accurately, a Maalox Month-and-a-Half had it not been for Carissa. But because she is home-schooled Carissa became Claire’s other hand. With infinite patience she would hold books, get toys, turn on Veggie-Tales, and pick up the remains of hundreds of dropped cookies.
Surprised By Chaos
Emerson once wrote that there is “a crack in everything God made.” None of us is perfect. We’re all “cracked” in some way. It’s just that some cracks are more visible than others. What distinguishes pro-lifers is our recognition that for a society to be truly human and humane we ought to help “fill in the cracks” and provide what is missing.
And that’s what happened during Claire’s six long weeks of confinement. What could have brought chaos to the family turned into something wonderful: Carissa became Claire’s missing hand and Claire became Carissa’s voice.
The unusual way Carissa speaks became, in effect, a second language for Claire. When others in the family can’t understand what she is saying, Claire pipes up with the translation.
Recently, Claire gave herself a new nickname. Jeremy, one of her triplet brothers, was teasing Carissa. He said, “Be quiet, Hot Potato Soup.”
“You’re hot potato soup,” she shot back. “No, I’m not,” Jeremy replied, “I’m tuna fish salad.” Claire’s small voice unexpectedly chimed in, “Well I’m dessert!” Claire, once Hye Min of Korea, is now fondly known as “Dessert.”
And so she is! Claire is a sweet addition to a family that looks like a beautifully woven garment of different shapes, sexes, ages, and races. The pro-life family is like that, each with a gift that can be used on behalf of the powerless.
Some of us, like Claire, are voices. We are the speakers, writers, teachers, and preachers of the movement. Some of us, like Carissa, are hands, hands linked in chapter work or in a January march or in reaching out in crisis pregnancy work or post-abortion care.
There are lessons we who are “abled” can learn only from those who are disabled. It is the wound in the oyster that produces the pearl.
While nature seems to provide compensation for its deficiencies, we learn from the disabled that a “deficient” body doesn’t produce a “deficient” person. We need so much to insure their right to be born, first and foremost because they have a God-given right to life but also because they can teach us humbling lessons.
The real strength and uniqueness of the pro-life movement is in its inclusivity. Its heart is big enough for those who are “different.” We know they have every right to be here. We also know that physical perfection is a very shallow goal.
Had the exclusivity of today’s pro-abortion elitists prevailed, we would not have had the blind poet Milton, the deaf composer Beethoven, the author Helen Keller…or those two fabulous kids, “Hot Potato Soup” and “Dessert.”
It seems as if nothing but nothing can get the best of these young girls. Five-year-old Claire, even with only one arm, is the best dribbler on her basketball team. She now has a mind to have a go at gymnastics.
Ten-year-old Carissa is the star of her gymnastics class and can do six consecutive back flips, Jean says. She plays basketball too! Carissa is scheduled for surgery early next year in hopes of improving her hearing.