Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Heads up, those who love someone with a severe disability

I was searching for something else, and rather serendipitously ran across a newspaper blog called Crocker Stephenson:Meeting Baby Doe at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. (Gotta love the Internet.)

The blog description made me uneasy, but when I got into the posts, I got a different picture.

The blog description:

Join Crocker Stephenson behind the scenes as he pieces together the story of a young man, Tim Krahling, whose birth 19 years ago sparked a headline-grabbing debate over the rights of parents and society to care for a child born with severe abnormalities. Watch, even participate, as Stephenson gathers the facts he will use to tell Tim’s story, and explore with him the ethical, emotional and moral issues that inevitably arise when a reporter journeys deep into the lives of private people to make public their most personal stories. Crocker can be e-mailed at cstephenson@journalsentinel.com

I am not a 'reporter journeying deep into the lives of private people' person. I nearly dove for the exits. But I'm glad I didn't. The blog itself, at least so far, shows a depth and openness (and humanness, for that matter) I have come to not expect from reporters these days.

From Oct. 20, 2006:

I drove to Waukesha, where Kathy lives, expecting to spend, at most, a few hours with her.

On the ride there, I felt a little nervous. My feelings in the presence of severely disabled children are unresolved. I worry that I will insufficiently recognize their humanity. I worry that I will do or say the wrong thing. I have three children of my own, and I wrestle with the idea of fairness in a world where innocents are born to a life of struggle.

And so I knocked on Kathy’s door. A few hours and I’d be gone.

Kathy opened the door and invited me inside, invited me into a world I could never have imagined, one which I expect -- even now, even as I am learning it -- will remain with me for the rest of my life.

In the next post, Oct. 23, he lets Kathy Krahling explain in her own words why she decided to work with him on this.

In the next post, Oct. 24, he lays out more background on how he got to where he's following up on this story, although he hadn't meant to at first. At the end of the post:

Also in my notebook, near the end, after Kathy had described all the children she had given birth to, adopted, or cared for, I wrote, in large letters: “WHY?”

I must have asked her. For in my notebook is this quote:

“When your first child is born with disabilities, you learn two things. One, you learn not to be afraid of people with disabilities. Two, you learn they can be God’s greatest gifts to us as people.

“This is from my perspective. We can reach out and touch God – ‘Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.’ In everybody’s life, something speaks to them. And that is what speaks to me.”

Months later, Kathy would tell me: “Caring for these children is the closest I can come to touching God himself.”

When it comes to religious matters, I am not so much cynical as I am perennially baffled. I believed her, of course, but I also wondered what it was about Kathy in particular that she found God’s presence, of all places, here among these children.

I have no idea, of course, where this reporter might head with all this. But I think the opening volleys are encouraging. I've read/heard one too many accounts of a mother of a disabled child being asked to justify why she didn't have an abortion. Anything that counters that cruelty is a step forward, I think.

I wonder if a little encouragement from people who have 'been there' when it comes to living with disability wouldn't be in order? Be polite, please. It's not Mr. Stephenson's fault that so many other reporters are jerks and/or euthanasia fans.

Previous related posts:
Children with extra challenges, and the parents who love them
Person First, Disability Later
Team Hoyt
Tom McMahon: What I Have Learned in 15 Years
Book notes: Fragile Innocence by James Reston Jr

Update: Another previous related post is The Disappearance of the Disabled.

For a particularly heart-rending story of a couple being pressed to abort their possibly-retarded baby, see Tragic, over at The Common Room. For the sad follow-up, see the second half of Heartbreak, same place.

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