The birth of a child with special needs is ripping one family apart.

In a letter to the Guardian’s advice columnist, Mariella Frostrup, one woman explains why she blames her sister-in-law for her nephew’s disability.

Bridget Coila/Flickr

After needing an emergency Cesarean section for her first child, the mom in question (and wife of the letter writer’s brother) wanted a home birth for her second baby. Although the doctor recommended against a home VBAC (vaginal birth after Cesarean), the expectant mom insisted on it. Unfortunately, the birth came with complications:

The home birth went terribly wrong and my nephew has been left permanently damaged. It’s a tragedy almost Shakespearean in its proportions.

Moreover, the letter writer clearly feels that her brother is so henpecked that he “allowed” his wife to make a dangerous choice:

I knew my brother was browbeaten, but not to the extent he would let his wife harm their child.

The woman freely admits that she is angry and thinks her brother’s wife is to blame for the child’s health issues. She adds that she isn’t the only one to feel that way. The conflict is now dividing their family:

It’s caused major rifts in the family. I think my brother didn’t feel supported and has pretty much cut me off because I was so upset.

Although her brother’s cold shoulder makes her unhappy, she can’t let go of how upset she is over the birth:

My heart is breaking over this. I feel my nephew was exposed to severe parental negligence and I cannot get past my anger over it.

However, Frostrup isn’t sympathetic to the letter writer’s anger. Instead, she questions why the woman isn’t more sympathetic to her brother’s pain:

The far more natural reaction to such a misfortune within your immediate family would surely be empathy. Instead you’re raging and blaming, making assumptions about your sister-in-law’s culpability and generally acting like a demonic harpy instead of a concerned in-law.

She also takes issue with the idea that the comparatively minor risk of VBAC home birth amounts to horrible negligence. Putting aside the statistics and politics of birth, Frostrup believes the parents had the right to choose a home birth regardless of the letter writer’s feelings. Frostrup wrote:

Nobody could have predicted such an eventuality, not even the doctor and, although you feel strongly that they made the wrong decision, it’s one that was theirs alone to make and then to live with the consequences.

Moreover, even if the mom really is as selfish or indulgent as the letter writer suggests, Frostrup doesn’t agree that her birth decision is the real reason for the family split or the letter writer’s anger:

Whatever your sister-in-law’s past misdemeanors it strains credibility that your current strife is rooted in this poor woman’s regrettable decision, which even in your description can’t be considered much more than miserable misfortune.

Instead, she suggests that the letter writer do some self-evaluation to try to figure out why she’s reacting with fury instead of understanding and compassion. She concluded by suggesting the letter writer become less concerned about other people’s lives:

Any excess emotional energy would be better directed to helping them cope with the challenge of your disabled nephew rather than chastising them for their culpability in his condition.

However, in the comments, it’s clear that the situation could be more complicated than that. While there were many who echoed Frostrup and labeled the letter writer as insensitive, self-centered, or even “cruel,” there were also those who thought her anger was justified. Commenter Bernardthepoet wrote:

The sister-in-law’s first pregnancy was problematic and she had to have an emergency C-section. She was advised not to have a home birth for her second child, but decided to ignore her doctors. This is a bit more than a “regrettable decision” — it was reckless and selfish. I’d be angry too.

Commenter Andy Roberts added:

Home births are very risky and should be illegal. To have one against medical advice after c section is completely selfish and incredibly irresponsible. If this choice contributed to permanent disability she should be angry.

Without more information about how risky this particular home birth was, many commenters felt they couldn’t judge how reasonable the letter writer’s anger was. But on both sides of the issue, people agreed that dealing with that anger was the key to resolving the family crisis.

Some even thought Frostrup’s answer wasn’t helpful because it did little to show the letter writer how to work through her feelings.

In fact, a few commenters who generally agreed with Frostrup saw a positive in the letter writer’s anger. Commenter Malunkey wrote her own response to the unhappy letter writer:

“Digest your anger bit by bit, try to build bridges with your brother and your sister-in-law, and try to be the best auntie a little boy has ever had. Sometimes anger is a sign that you care. Channel that feeling into support for your brother and his wife.”

Leave a comment

We are excited to announce Dearly has joined forces with Mama’s Uncut. Helping Mom’s across the United States answer questions on life’s big challenges.

DEARLY JOINING FORCES WITH MAMA'S UNCUT