Some Fridays ago, I was exercising my new Snap N Go (hideous name, useful stroller) and decided to drop in at the supermarket for some pre-shabbat groceries. I walked into the produce section, where a woman was interrogating the staff on the best apple for apple crisps. She settled on Macintosh, and walked past me, clutching a bagful. As she passed the stroller, she craned her neck to look inside and smile at the baby.
[Note: there is something about a baby that makes it public property. The mere presence of one in a tummy removes all hope of personal space, and encourages perfect strangers to talk about episiotomies and hemorrhoids. Once the infant has emerged, the mother fades into the background, only to look on in horror as strangers touch, breathe upon and instruct her in the care of her child. In our town, we have three supermarkets: the ruinously expensive one, the standard one and the wanna-be grandparent one. Alas, that last is also the one with the cheap produce. So, once a month I go there to protect my budget while being instructed that the baby is too hot, too cold, hungry or requiring sleep training by horrifying method du jour. Ah, the sacrifice that our bean counter will never truly appreciate....]
So there she was, Apple Crisp Lady, peering into my stroller. 'He's beautiful,' she cooed. I happily agreed. 'And you are a wonderful mother,' she informed me. I cocked an eyebrow, waiting. There was a pause and then: 'My daughter can't have children.' She stopped, looking surprised. 'I haven't told anyone that before,' she said. I suggested, gently, that perhaps it is sometimes easier to tell things to a stranger. Relieved, she agreed. And then it all came pouring out: her daughter's fertility issues, whether or not she should talk to them about donor eggs, adoption, and of course, her daughter's recent miscarriage. 'Turns out,' she confided, 'there was something genetically wrong with the baby. Better it should have ended than there to be a baby with something genetically wrong, you know?'
Internally, I sighed. I weighted my options and considered smiling and nodding. But then I remembered all the well-meaning people who commented on my pregnancy, telling me to hope for a healthy child. But in my family, we know that the body's health is less important than spirit's. And I remembered the man I met on a plane once, who admired my older son, then 8 months old. He'd been with Medecins Sans Frontieres, and he confided his belief that carriers of genetic conditions should not be allowed to reproduce. So easily can caring turn to a kind of euthanasia, or ignorance lead to a fear or misunderstanding of what imperfect health, chronic conditions can mean.
I looked at Apple Crisp lady, and began, 'let me tell you about my older son. He's four years old...'