Mothers of Down Syndrome Babies Have Options in Ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem

Some Give Up Children in the Insular Religious Community

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By Leslie Kolbrener

Published July 18, 2013, issue of July 19, 2013.
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What the family planner cannot provide the mother with is an alibi to explain to her remaining children where the joyously awaited babe has gone. It is a tricky question indeed, one best left to the inspiration of the “bereaved” mother.

The family planner does, however, advise to begin by saying that the baby, whom nobody has ever seen, is to be reared in an undisclosed location by unknown people, to be taken back at a more suitable though unspecified time. Everyone, including the parents, can live with this fiction for a while.

But the child is almost never returned home.

The family planner isn’t the only one in my neighborhood who sees the mothers of Down syndrome babies as a charitable cause. After I gave birth to Shmuel, I had an early morning hospital visit from my friend, a nurse. She took a look at him and wondered aloud whether he really had Down syndrome. (An examination of his hand convinced her. “Well, if it’s only in the hands,” I must have thought.)

Then she made the staggeringly handsome offer to take the baby off my hands at once, and with him, time itself — the time of his birth so freshly remembered, and the time of my life to come, wedded to a child unsound by nature, unseen and unsung. Did she indeed despise the baby, or did she suspect that I did?

A great smile spread across my face, the first since his birth. “Do I get to choose then?” I marveled to myself, as I bantered with her. “Can you really make good on all that?” I asked. And so it seemed she could. But like the elderly guest at a wedding party, who eyes the indigestible but alluring morsel laid down before her and politely waves it away, I rejected an offer that something told me I could not accept.

Ten years later, on a recent brisk Sabbath afternoon when the streets were already bristling with strollers and the parade was in full swing, I recognized the family planner. There were two children with Down syndrome gamboling at her legs; over the years, she had taken in four of these castaways herself.

I wanted to show off my own immaculate foundling if only I could locate him. Lately, his “three minute” strolls around the neighborhood had lasted hours. I spotted Shmuel pretty soon, in the embrace of another boy entering a building, but he had his back turned to us, so his full glory was shielded. “

Ah, I recognize them by their gait,” she remarked innocently. I was abashed and angry. “I am not accustomed to referring to my children in the third person,” I sharply replied. “You have no idea what has gone into the grooming and education of this child.” But she was not particularly impressed, so I let the conversation flag.


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