Four years ago, my dad called me on a sleepy winter evening with some pretty unsettling news. Apparently, my parents had had a meeting at my then-eight-year-old adoptive younger brother’s school that day, and it was in that meeting that he was officially diagnosed as intellectually disabled. The news itself didn’t come as a particular shock; my brother had been way behind in most academic things for awhile. However, with something like that, it doesn’t really matter how prepared you are. Once it becomes real, so much changes. Once it becomes real, there’s no going back.
The revelation hit me hard because of this: that should’ve been me.
See, back when I was a fetus, I had a condition known as hydrocephalus, or water on the brain. I don’t want to go too in-depth, but basically I had too much fluid and not enough brain in my head. Assuming I survived the pregnancy, I would have been born with severe mental handicap. With the fragility of my skull and brain, sports would have been completely out of the question. My parents were crushed.
And then one day they went for an ultrasound, and—inexplicably—I had a typically-developed brain. Eventually I was born a healthy baby with a perfectly functioning brain, and a gigantic head the only residual effect of my prenatal tumult. It was a medical miracle.
But then, flash forward two decades to the aforementioned telephone conversation. I was immediately wracked with intense guilt, because in my mind I had stolen my brother’s miracle. Somehow my brain had gotten healed, and yet his hadn’t. How was that even fair? What had I done to deserve that?
For a couple weeks afterward, I struggled to come to grips with this new reality for my family. What would it mean for us, now that it had been officially declared that my sweet little brother had deficits in his ability to function? And still: why him and not me? I haven’t deal with a lot of tragedy in my life, and those weeks were some of the most difficult I’ve faced.
I don’t remember how I came to understand the situation in a new light. It could’ve come via a word from a friend, or from my own personal musings. Either way, I came to realize that things would’ve been completely different if I had been born with hydrocephalus.
I was already my parents’ third child, and had I been born with the complications that were expected, my parents probably wouldn’t have had my biological younger brother, and certainly would not have adopted my youngest brother. My adoptive younger brother’s biological family consisted of five older biological siblings, a niece or nephew, and no stable father figure. In that context, a boy with my brother’s intellectual disability would probably not have gotten the attention he needs.
I’m not trying to say that my family was the heroes in this story. I’m not even trying to say that everything happens for a reason, because I’m not sure that’s even true. But sometimes I think things do happen for a reason, and when they do it usually turns out better than you could’ve planned for yourself. In this case, I’m very glad they did.