If you could save the life of just one of the many people you love, whom would you pick? If you’re a parent, the answer is non-negotiable. It’s not just in a Karan Johar move that mothers sacrifice their lives for their unborn child. After the 2004 tsunami, the air was rife with stories of people who had chosen to save their children over themselves, their partners and other family members.
This past week, the international papers have been full of stories about baby Leo, who was born in Armenia in January, with Down syndrome. When the father first saw the baby, he instantly fell in love—as parents are wont to do. The doctors told him about the genetic disorder, but it made no difference to him. “I looked at this guy and I said, he’s beautiful—he’s perfect and I’m absolutely keeping him,” said the father, a New Zealander living in Armenia.
The story with the mother, clearly no Nirupa Roy, couldn’t be more different. She’s Armenian and, in that country, babies with disabilities are considered unlucky and abandoned—with the consent of the authorities. Not only did she refuse to keep the baby, she threatened to leave her husband if he did. He stuck to his guns, unsurprisingly, and so did she. Last heard, the wife had filed for divorce and Leo’s father was raising money to return to New Zealand to raise his child as well as fund facilities to help Armenian parents with disabled kids.
Though the articles refrained from comment, the mother is clearly the villain of this story. Yes, life is very, very difficult for both parents and children with serious disabilities, but abandonment is too cruel to be an alternative.
Cruel is too kind a word, though, when you’re talking about a parent choosing between his children. Can you pick one child over another and not have guilt, like cancer, gnaw you through your heart and body? William Styron’s novel Sophie’s Choice, later made into a film starring Meryl Streep, made the WWII protagonist save her son and send her daughter to the gas chamber.
In England a few years ago, a mother, whose car fell into deep water, had to decide between rescuing her 16-year-old son and her two-year-old daughter. She managed to pull out the little girl and swim with her to the surface but had no place to stow her safely and go back for her still-trapped son. “I knew if I balanced her on a wheel, she would fall, so I could not go back in. I just waited and waited,” she said. The boy was later brought out, dead, by a police officer.
Four years later, the mother says she spends every waking moment wondering if there was any way that she could have saved both her kids. The most heartrending detail? Her last memory of her son—who was sitting next to her—was of him putting out a hand to protect her as the car began to tumble into the water. This mother will no doubt live out her life guilt-ridden, confined in a prison of memories.
And what of a child who is left to die—but survives? Kerala’s Alyemma Kurien was holidaying in Sri Lanka with her husband and sons, aged 10 and four, when the tsunami struck. She grabbed both the kids but later had to let one go. She chose to hold on to the younger. The older boy tried to cling on but was swung away by the surging waters. Miraculously, he survived. But, knowing that his mother picked his brother over him, can his old feelings of familial affection? One has to wonder.