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.
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.