Excerpted from Loving Lindsey: Raising a Daughter with Special Needs, a new memoir by Linda Atwell
In July, one week after our visit with Gabe and his parents, Lindsey appeared in our kitchen while I was rinsing a handful of spoons and forks and loading them into the dishwasher.
“If I have that flop-on operation, will you still bring me presents and flowers?” my nineteen-year-old daughter asked.
I sucked in air, holding my breath for a moment, before releasing it more loudly than I’d planned. Lindsey probably thought her question had annoyed me, but that wasn’t the case. I’d been thinking about the Clearblue pregnancy test she’d taken two days before. Based upon the description she’d given of her sexual encounter with Gabe, my husband and I didn’t think she could possibly be pregnant. And we were right. When it turned negative, Lindsey clapped her hands and jumped up down like a kindergartner. But what if the stick had turned blue?
I turned off the water and regarded my daughter. Khaki shorts and a pink cotton, button-down flowered shirt. The shirt needed ironing, but, other than that, Lindsey had done a good job coordinating her outfit. Her anklets were scrunched, not folded over once, like she’d been taught. Half up, half down, the right sock partially disappeared into her Nike tennis shoe. Her body wasn’t trembling much, and her eyes were more focused than usual.
“Yes, we will bring you presents and flowers,” I said, feeling exhausted and sad and pleased all at the same time. “Have you decided?” I asked, a bit afraid to hear the answer. Either choice was heartbreaking. I tried to keep my face blank.
“Yes,” she said. “When can I do it?” Her voice sounded eager, like she’d have the operation that minute if I said, “Let’s go.”
I wondered if her Hello Kitty bag was already packed, but there was no suitcase in sight.
I wanted Lindsey to have the operation for the right reasons. Not because of presents and flowers or because she thought it would make her dad or me happy. When I asked her why, she repeated all her previous reasons.
“Babies are a lot of work,” she said with conviction.
My worry relaxed some.
“Besides, I’m already a mom,” Lindsey said. “I don’t need a baby of my own.”
“I ’dopted Kayla, from Children International,” she clarified, after seeing my confused expression. “’Member?”
I had forgotten. Lindsey had just turned sixteen when she saw a commercial on television about children in faraway lands who needed sponsorships. I wasn’t keen on the idea at first, thinking she’d commit to the program for a while, then lose interest. And I wasn’t sure if the majority of money went to the children or toward hefty program-director salaries, but Lindsey wouldn’t give up.
For several weeks she begged, “Mom, I wanna sponsor a child. I wrote their toll-free number on this.” Lindsey dug a crumpled piece of paper from her jeans pocket and showed me. “I’ve carried it around so I won’t lose it.” The handwriting was poor. I sometimes struggled to read my daughter’s words, but Lindsey had no trouble deciphering the cryptic message. I asked how she planned to pay for this child.
“I’ll use part of my allowance,” she said. “It only costs twelve dollars a month.” It surprised me that my teenager would want to devote a portion of her pocket money to a youngster in the Philippines. My heart melted.
During the first week of every month, Lindsey walked to Safeway and purchased a money order, mailing it to the Children International Headquarters. In exchange for twelve dollars, she received a school photo of a smiling seven-year-old girl with straight black hair, intense, dark brown eyes, and skin the color of light brown sugar. Two times a year, Lindsey also received a letter and a more recent photo in the mail. The little girl’s handwriting was childlike but precise—nothing like Lindsey’s trembling scrawls. I peered over my daughter’s shoulder as Lindsey read Kayla’s words aloud. Her sponsor child lived with her sister and mother and dad in a small village. Math, reading, and geography were her favorite subjects.
My mouth turned into a smile. I guess Lindsey does already have a daughter.
“Mom. Are you listening to me?” Lindsey waved both arms in the air, trying to get my attention.
“Yes. Now I remember.” I closed the dishwasher door, recalling the day Lindsey asked to frame all of Kayla’s photos so she could display them in her cottage. “You’ve been very responsible. I’m proud of you.” I studied my daughter’s pure blueberry eyes, admiring her dark, thick lashes. “Are you sure? About the tubal?”
“Yes, I am.” Her voice didn’t falter.
“Then you’ll need to talk to Dr. Sanford. You can make the appointment yourself.”
“I get to go by myself?”
Lindsey had never scheduled her own doctor’s appointments before. I wondered if I should call and decided no. She was making an important decision, and she needed to be responsible for it. And since she lived alone in the cottage in our backyard, now was the time for her to start doing more things on her own.
I wrote Dr. Sanford’s number on a Post-it and handed her the yellow paper, explaining he’d ask her questions and discuss the pros and cons of this decision.
“Like we did,” I said. “If he agrees, he can call and schedule a time.” I examined Lindsey’s face for any indication she felt pressured to go through with this. “I want to make sure there are no other conflicts. Dad and I want to be at the hospital.”
“Really? I can do everything myself?”
“You’re nineteen. If you’re old enough to decide to have a tubal, you’re old enough to visit Dr. Sanford on your own.” My voiced cracked. My mind said this was right. My heart wasn’t so sure. I cleared my throat and explained she needed to give him permission to talk with me. “You’re an adult,” I said, wondering exactly what that meant in Lindsey’s situation. “So he’ll want to make sure you understand this is permanent.” I reached over and gently brushed a wayward curl out of my daughter’s face. “And that this is truly your decision.”
Lindsey crossed her arms. “It’s my idea. You can’t make me do it.”
When she dialed the Silverton Family Clinic’s number, I hovered, listening.
“This is Lindsey Atwell. I want to make an appointment with Dr. Sanford. I want my flop-on tubes tied.”
“Fallopian,” I whispered. “It’s called a tubal ligation.”
Lindsey’s eyes darted in my direction, irritation all over her face. “I mean tubal li-ga-shon.” She turned her body away from me, bent over the kitchen counter, and wrote something on a piece of paper.
Four days later, I watched the back of my daughter’s brunette head, curls bobbing, as she marched, arms swinging with purpose, out our driveway and down Eureka Avenue. The doctor’s office was eight blocks away, an easy trek for Lindsey “I love you,” I yelled.
She turned and waved. “Love you, too, Mom.”
Waiting at home was torture. I sat in the wingback chair, staring out the living room window at nothing. This tubal meant my daughter would never feel a baby grow inside her; she’d never hold a child of her own in her arms, nor would she pass on those slender legs, her movie-star eyelashes. I hugged my chest and rocked back and forth. My gut ached. But she also wouldn’t pass on any of her disabilities to a child, either….
Dr. Sanford called before Lindsey returned home.
“She says you’re comfortable with this decision,” he said. “Is that correct?”
“Well, I wish she could handle a baby, but that’s not likely,” I said. My legs felt as if they might collapse under the weight of my body. “So, well, yes. John and I have talked about this, and”—my voice quavered—“we think it’s best.”
“I know she has disabilities, but she also gave valid reasons for not wanting kids. In Oregon, the pendulum has swung toward extreme liberal thinking in this area. Some special-interest groups do not like doctors performing sterilizations on mentally challenged individuals—”
“What?” I interrupted. “Are you saying someone might try to stop Lindsey?”
“Like I said, the pendulum swings both ways. Right now, the current opinion is that every person has the right to procreate. I’m just saying, if this got out, someone might oppose the operation.”
I was speechless. Was a special-interest group willing to take on the responsibility of raising her child when Lindsey couldn’t? I was incredulous that someone who had not walked in our daughter’s shoes could meddle with her decision.
“Based upon my conversation with Lindsey, I’m comfortable performing the procedure,” Dr. Sanford said. “She asked me to work out a time with you.” Papers shuffled in the background. I grabbed a calendar. “Silverton Hospital has availability a week from Friday.
Linda Atwell‘s Loving Lindsey is out now from She Writes Press. Follow Linda’s work at http://www.LindaAtwell.com.