My Sister's Keeper/Handle With Care
I stared down at the blooming bruise on my daughter's back in shock. My little boy tottered up behind me
"Mommy, I tried poking her and everything! She won't wake up!" I look at the four-leaf clover near her spine, thinking I must be imagining it. My mum started developing the same thing, and then she got sick. I was only nine years old when she died, and I was pretty much passed around to different family members till I moved out at sixteen. The same thing had happened to my aunt, and a few of my cousins. Leukemia was encoded in my genes, and I was foolish enough to believe that since I got lucky, my children would be safe too. Alright, I thought to myself, Deep breaths, you're not a doctor, you don't know for sure, maybe it is just a bruise.
"JESSE!" Stop hurtin' me!" I hear Kate suddenly yell.
"Baby, it's okay, we're gonna take you to the doctor now. It's okay, sweetheart, go get dressed, it's fine" I keep up this stream of constant, mommy-style babbling as I run to the kitchen and pick up the phone to call my husband, even though I've left her hearing range.
"Brian! You need to come home. Something's wrong with Katie." I say.
A pause, followed by Brian's calm, logical voice
"Babe, I'm sure she's fine, just call Dr Martinez, and give her some of that baby-sized Advil."
My husband was the stay at home daddy in our household. I had only been left at home for the weekend with the kids. Brian was camping with the boys.
"Hun, I have to go," he said after I'd explained it to him. "I'm sure its nothing. And if it's not, I'll be home on Sunday night."
I hung up the phone, and went to check on Kate. She was dressed, and sitting in her room, playing with her Barbie dolls.
"Mommy!" Mhe cried, running over and tangling herself in my legs.
"Hi baby girl, how ya feelin?" I asked, rubbing her back.
"I'm bored." She replied, in her baby-like tones, making me laugh.
Her voice reassured me, and I padded downstairs to focus on my work. Being a lawyer was a time-consuming job, and even though I'd cut back on the number of cases I'd taken since Katie was born, I still ended up taking a lot of work home with me. As I looked through the manila envelope of paperwork in the table in my sunny kitchen. One of them caught my eye. It was the beginning of a wrongful birth lawsuit. It was a term I'd studied, but never come across in practice. Basically, the torte stated that some children who were born severely handicapped would have been aborted if their parents had been informed of the child's condition early in the pregnancy. It literally made me sick to my stomach to think that there were people out there who would get rid of their own children because of their illnesses. I looked at my little girl, and thought that even if I knew earlier what I suspected now, I did not regret having you, and I would never have considered having an abortion.
That Monday, I went in to the office for the morning. Brian and I were going to take you to our family doctor in the afternoon, because he insisted that you didn't need to miss preschool for an appointment about a tiny bruise. I was going to meet with Charlotte and Sean O'Keafe, the couple who wanted to file the wrongful birth suit. Honestly, I had no intention of taking on the case, but I really wanted to see what kind of people would want to do this. As soon as I walked into the conference room, I locked eyes with a little girl, and my breath was taken away from me. She was absolutely beautiful, with big, blue, almond-shaped eyes, a tiny heart-shaped face and slim little limbs. Didn't look much past toddler-hood, so I was shocked when she introduced herself without baby intonations
"Hello. I'm Willow. My mom's over there. She wants to talk to you."
She went back to reading
"Mr and Mrs O'Keafe? Do you mind if we speak privately?" I don't bother to hide the frosty tone in my voice.
"Alright," says Sean, obviously relieved. "I'll go outside with Willow and Amelia."
I looked back, slightly shocked. I hadn't even noticed another girl in the room, but there she was. Blue-haired and angsty, she gave me a glance as she stalked out of the room and I guessed that she noticed me staring. Shaking off the uncomfortable feeling I got from Charlotte's first born, I sit down, and wait for her to speak. When she finally does, I'm floored.
"I don't mean it, you know." She says quietly,
"Why are you saying it then? Do you realize what this torte means? It means that if you' known about her illness, she wouldn't be here. She's old enough to understand what you'll be saying. She must be like, four, right?"
Charlotte gives me a weak smile. "She'll be seven in august. She's just small. It's part of her.. problem."
"mine's sick too," I find myself confessing. "She has leukemia, and I know it's going to be hell, and she'll suffer a lot, but I would never wish that she weren't here."
"I don't either. I'm just trying to keep her from suffering." She explains.
After we talk some more, I realize that we're doing the same thing. Both of us are just mothers trying to protect our babies. I find myself considering the case, and the arguments I'd make in court. If I took it to court. Which I really thought I wouldn't do.
"mommy, tum tuck me in?" I hear Kate's singsongy voice ask. I didn't even realize she'd been in the room with me.
After she's fallen asleep, I watch her. She looks so peaceful; totally unworried by the gloomy prognosis forced upon us this afternoon. We still have to get some more tests done, but my intuition and my doctor have both told me that this is serious business, and that we need to take Kate to a specialist. I suddenly realize that this is exactly what Charlotte did. She was worried, and decided to take her child to someone who had the ability to help her.
…Maybe I will take on her case. Maybe I can help her daughter, like she hopes I can. And hopefully someone can help mine. I've never been a big believer in karma, but at this point I have nothing to lose.
The next morning, I call Charlotte to tell her the news. She only asks one question.
"Honestly, I don't know," I lie. I can't put my decision into words, so I just leave it at that.
"Are you sure you're ready for this?" I ask her.
"She's my daughter," Charlotte replies simply, "I'd go through hell and back to save her."
Exactly, I think. "Well, you might just have to. The public backlash will be pretty harsh. "
"I just want to make her life easier. Not everyone will understand that, but if I can improve her life even by a little bit, it will be worth it."
I think of all of the intense chemo treatments I'd researched, and found myself agreeing with her.
"Even if she's hurt at the time, she'll have a better life because of what I'm doing, and that's my motivation at this point. I just hope she won't hate me later for this," Charlotte laughs nervously, but I can tell that she's not one hundred percent kidding.
"I know. I hope so too." I say, before I can stop myself
"What?" Charlotte asks, confused by my insight.
"Oh, nothing. Don't worry about it. Do you mind giving my office a call? Someone can schedule you in this week." I say, my tone inviting no more personal questions.