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Is It Okay to Deprive Four-Year-Olds of Their Mother?

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Dr. Wendy Walsh: Abbie Dorn is a mother. She may not be able to play with, hug or feed her children, but she is, nonetheless, a mother. After giving birth to triplets four years ago, Abbie suffered from a series of medical errors that left her with brain damage and an inability to move or speak. Her only way of communicating is through a series of blinks. According to her mother, she can cry and even smirk with her eyes. Abbie's parents care for her in their home in South Carolina.

Abby and Dan Dorn

Abbie's husband, Dan Dorn, called Abbie's parents from his home in Los Angeles when the triplets were a year old and told their grandfather, "I need to move on." He then divorced Abbie and has refused to allow the children to see their mother, saying it would traumatize them. They do not even know she exists.

Everything about this case disturbs me. It begs questions about the nature of motherhood. The rights of children and grandparents. And perhaps the most striking thing about this case is what it says about our attitudes toward the disabled.

Before we had institutions to house people with mental and physical disabilities, the disabled were a common sight in our society. Even Shakespeare created characters with physical disabilities. I'm concerned that the more we insulate people -- young and old -- from seeing disabilities, the more we limit our capacity for compassion.

Abbie may be a single case of family trauma. But her situation makes me wonder about the thousands of dedicated young men and women who are continuing to return from Iraq and Afghanistan with disabilities. I happen to support an organization called the Iraq Star Foundation (which gives free plastic and cosmetic reconstructive surgery to soldiers wounded in the war) because after risking their lives for our country, injured soldiers are severely discriminated against when they come home disfigured. Our society has become intolerant of the disfigured or disabled.
Are Abbie's children too young to see their mother? NO WAY. Everything is new, strange and normal to kids. Any form of a living mother -- her bodily warmth; her breath; her tears -- will have deep meaning to her children.

I happened to have grown up with a mother who had a chronic illness (lupus). Consequently, she spent a big chunk of my childhood on the living room sofa, too weak to make dinner. Did I feel ripped off? No. This was normal to me. We snuggled under quilts on that couch and read books together. This was my version of a mother's love.

Who are we to decide what these children will take away from a relationship with a living being? Couldn't it be more injurious for them to live with adult anger once they learn they were deprived of their mother? Is a lifeless teddy bear more acceptable for comfort than a living, breathing, feeling mother? And what about the healing benefits for Abbie? Losing one's health and one's children is a double loss.

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5 comments so far | Post a comment now
Amber July 10, 2010, 12:25 PM

I think they should be able to see their mother. If the husband wants a divorce and not have the family together, that’s one thing, but these children should not be deprived of their mother! They should be able to visit her at the grandparents’ house often. I do not think they would find their mother’s condition devastating, that’s their mommy and children love their mommies unconditionally

ladynajera July 10, 2010, 5:39 PM

I am with Amber on this one! No what happen to me. My daughter would want to be their by myside! I don’t think it would scare her one bit. Because she knows I love her no matter what! Same with Abbie. Abbie loved her children and her husband before this happened! Probably still does! So she probably misses them and their sounds. All mothers and fathers should get to see there children unless they did something to them were they dont.

Truly July 10, 2010, 6:31 PM

It saddens me to think how these kids will feel when they grow up and realize they were deprived of their mothers presence. I’m sure they would have wanted to know her no matter what her condition was.

Maisey July 10, 2010, 7:03 PM

This disgusts me, if her husband wanted a divorce(for whatever reason) that’s his choice, but abbie didn’t choose for these things to happen to her! Be unable to communicate doesn’t mean she can’t feel(clearly by the fact she still cries), not only is this poor woman unable to talk/walk/function as she did before…but she can’t even communicate the loss of her children? Karma to her exhusband & my prayers to her & her sweet babies

Anonymous July 11, 2010, 10:05 AM

What a coward! Plain and simple this man is a COWARD! What about till death do us part? And to refuse to let the children see their Mother? That’s not for their protection, it’s for his. So he doesn’t have to answer the questions, deal with the sadness & face the fact that he is, in-fact, spineless and left their Mother when she needed him. Weak, weak, weak!

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