My daughter can move her legs.
I figured she would. Why wouldn’t she? Lightning doesn’t often strike the same place twice.
And by lightning, I mean spina bifida. And by place, I guess I mean… me.
I knew she would move her legs. Still, I was not prepared.
For the triumphant force of it. For the sight of kicks and squirms. For the ultrasound tech’s cheery exclamations saying, “Look at those legs move! She is kicking up a storm in there…”
I wasn’t prepared for how those words, lovely and true, would tear at my heart. It was just too much, and I wept in that soundless way – the way that collapses your insides and leaves your belly tensed and quaking. The crinkling of the butcher paper gave me away. The room went silent as my husband and I joined hands.
But it’s not what you think. Or at least, it’s not what I would have thought. If someone had asked me to predict how I would feel the moment I heard those words, I would have said one word: relief.
But relief was not the thing that hurt. Neither was joy. Neither was gratitude.
I did not feel relieved at all. I felt torn. And protective. And jealous somehow. I was watching my daughter flit around the screen, but I couldn’t stop thinking about my son.
The thing is, my daughter still feels abstract. My son does not. I know my son. I know him in a way that I do not know my daughter – not yet. And I know that I love him. I know he has value. I know he will face challenges in this life that his sister will not. Somehow (although even as I write this it sounds strange), rejoicing over legs that move felt wrong. After all, my son can’t move his legs – but there is so much more to him than that.
I guess I didn’t want to admit that legs matter and when those joyful words fell upon my ears (“Look at her legs move!”), I felt a protective urge to say – so what?
But I knew “what.” I knew the moment I heard that knee-jerk question burst inside my head. The “what” is the running. It is the hopscotch and the trampoline. It is taking the stairs. It is reaching the highest shelf.
Still, to me, those things are unremarkable. They are secondary. They are not the real “what” – the “what” that I wept for.
The real “what” is in how she will be treated – because this world is designed for people like her. And it will value her automatically, in a way that it is still learning to value her brother.
Relief was not what moved through the air that day. I think that’s OK, though. There was still wonder. There was still anticipation and excitement for this new life, and we were thankful. I am becoming a mother of two – two people who will be different on the outside, just like on the inside. I am still learning what this feels like.
I should mention that my daughter is beautiful – I can tell already. She will have her own struggles and flaws. Her life will not be completely typical or completely perfect – at least, for her sake, I hope it won’t be.
And she will move her legs.
But there will be so much more to her than that.
For those of you with multiple children, did you ever worry about (or feel protective of) your first while waiting to meet your second?
If you, like me, have a child with a disability, was it hard knowing how to feel about baby #2 being “typical?” Did you feel relief? Joy? Mixed feelings?
This post originally appeared on What Do You Do, Dear?
Want to end the stigma around disability? Like us on Facebook.
And sign up for what we hope will be your favorite thing to read at night.