The night my son Nathan was born he made a sour face.
The labor and delivery nurse said to me, “That’s a face only a mother can love.”
I was too drugged post-surgery to process what she said, let alone respond with something I would’ve said to my then three-year-old like, “That’s not very nice!”
Almost four years later, her words still sting when I think about them, especially because we were in the midst of discovering our little boy was born with birth defects. Nathan has abnormalities affecting his brain, spine, heart, and kidneys. He was later diagnosed with Cri du chat syndrome, a rare (1 in 50,000 births) chromosomal disorder.
Almost everything about him is different. Aside from his obvious facial differences, he eats with a feeding tube, needs to be catheterized intermittently, and still isn’t walking or talking. Yet these differences are no reason to say he’s a child only a mother can love.
In his short life, Nathan has managed to win his way into the hearts of family members, friends, therapists, caregivers, medical professionals, and teachers. His eye contact is piercing at times. He freely gives his affection to people by making kissing sounds and leaning in for hugs. And although he generally has a flat affect, when he does smile it lights up a room and leads people into sweet, joyful laughter.
His presence is a gift. It’s not because of what he does or doesn’t do. It’s because of who he is–a very sweet boy buried within a syndrome that entraps his mind and body.
All too often, I think that nurse’s comment reflects a general attitude many people have toward those who are different – oppressed, needy, weak – whether they would openly say those things or not. As a society, we are often afraid and put off by other’s differences, rather than in search of their beauty.
Looking back, I see how God was working to redeem and heal that nurse’s hurtful words.
Three special friends offered to come to the NICU and hold Nathan when we couldn’t be there. They rotated through a schedule of early morning and late nights shifts. These ladies showed up to love Nathan, proving that he wasn’t just a baby only a mother can love.
It was a beautiful expression of love for a boy who will likely be overlooked and judged by many. NICU nurses would later talk about these three ladies as the “baby holders” and “church ladies” who took such good care of him. Their love for Nathan impacted not only our family, but the NICU staff as well. They chose to openly care for him even though he is different.
From the outside, my son isn’t the typical portrait of beautiful. But on the inside he offers great beauty. My little boy is teaching me there is beauty in differences and that he is most definitely not just the face only a mother could love.
Kathy McClelland is the author of Beauty in Broken Dreams: A Hopeful Handbook for the Early Years as a Special Needs Parent. Her second son was born with a rare (1 in 50,000 births) chromosomal disorder which catapulted her into the world of special needs parenting. A former marketing manager, she now blogs at kathymcclelland.com about finding beauty and hope in the midst of broken dreams. She is also a regular contributor to PreemieBabies101.com and has published on TheMighty.com, EllenStumbo.com and Sparkhouse.org. She lives with her husband and sons in Austin, Texas.