When our first child was born 17 weeks’ premature, our reason for trying for our second was largely practical: if we lost our precious daughter, having another child might help to ease the pain.
Esther weighed 1lb 5oz, spent over 6 months in the NICU, and though her life was in danger many times, she miraculously pulled through.
She has cerebral palsy (CP), which entails medical intervention, but instead of merely adding to the workload, we have found more children to be a help in many ways.
We learn from their attitude, Esther is motivated by their strengths, and we have seen how growing up with Esther’s condition is giving them an excellent start in life.
I became pregnant weeks after Esther came home from hospital, and Thomas was born healthy and full term.
Esther soon came to adore her baby brother, or “Bubba”.
I talked to her as I fed, burped and changed the baby, and she loved helping care for him.
This motherly trait has continued since we have our third baby.
While Debbie is crying, Esther is calm.
She even puts her arm around her.
Esther still has crying spells herself, but while Debbie is fussing, she is brave and helps look after her.
Thomas has always liked having a big sister.
As babies, they would lie and play happily together.
When Thomas started to outdo Esther in crawling and walking, she was motivated to learn skills, such as holding her head up and trying to crawl.
Thomas, at 19 months, knows that he has to involve Esther.
He drags her around, pushes her wheelchair, and offers her food or her bottle.
He knows which toys Esther can operate, and shares them.
Thomas makes her laugh when they are in the car, and she giggles like a schoolgirl on her first date.
Thomas is her hero - despite his occasionally rough behaviour - to Esther, he can do no wrong.
I have always taken all the children with Esther to appointments.
Waiting rooms, wheelchairs, doctors and patients are a part of our lives, and as Thomas and Debbie grow up, I see them becoming more considerate of others as a result.
I wish that I had grown up around more people with disabilities as I am not naturally a patient person.
I want our children to learn early to be friends with people of all abilities.
No, I’m not glad that Esther is disabled, but I am glad that we are learning from it.
When Esther was diagnosed, we asked the doctor, a neonatologist who had diagnosed CP in hundreds of babies, how siblings would affect Esther.
His words were, “It is good for the child with CP, but their siblings usually benefit even more....”
We know this is true, and I would add that parents benefit as well, because the normalcy provided by our other children means our life does not revolve around Esther’s condition.
Yes, it hurts each time they surpass Esther, yet the affection between all three of them is beautiful.
Thomas and Debbie have taught me more about love and selflessness than professionals or books could have done.
Children are a big commitment, but their joy helps through the hard times.
They have shown me how beauty can be found in trials, in the relationships between children with vastly different abilities, strengths and weaknesses.
Does your child travel to school using school transport?