“People were always saying they’d love any baby that came along, but that wasn’t necessarily true. Sometimes, it really did come down to the particular child in question. There had to be a reason why blond-haired, blue-eyed babies got plucked out of adoption agencies like ripe peaches but children of color and children with disabilities might linger in foster homes for years. What people said they would do and what people actually did were two very different things.”
Charlotte O’Keefe desperately wanted a child with her husband, Sean. She already had a daughter, Amelia, but she believed a child with Sean would complete their family. So when she learned she was pregnant, after so many months of trying so hard, Charlotte was ecstatic. Her best friend Piper would be the obstetrician, and young Amelia would have a sister to play with. How much happier could their family be?
Riding high on her good fortune, Charlotte passed the weeks in excited anticipation. That is, until she and Piper decided to do a spur-of-the-moment ultrasound one day. Charlotte could tell from her friend’s expression that something was wrong. Very wrong. The test showed that the O’Keefes’ baby had a rare disease called osteogenesis imperfecta, or what is known as brittle bone syndrome. In brief, if the baby lived through childbirth, she would face a lifetime of broken bones. Just the birthing might cause several painful fractures. Activity would be limited, sports almost taboo, and even turning abruptly might be the cause of another break.
Still, this baby girl was theirs. They named her Willow and devoted themselves to keeping her as comfortable as possible, treating her as normal as possible, and helping her stay as safe as possible. Charlotte quit her career as a talented pastry chef, and Sean put in for extra duty at the police station. Willow’s sister learned to watch out for her and put her own desires second.
But the stress of raising a child with so much of a handicap, not to mention the financial strain, finally proved too much. When an attorney planted the seed of hope in Charlotte’s mind, she discovered that she could not let it go. Once she had seen the possibility of obtaining the means to support Willow by bringing a lawsuit for malpractice, Charlotte envisioned her daughter having options that otherwise would be prohibitive in cost. But winning would come at a high price. The doctor she had to sue was her best friend Piper. Plus, the legal cause was called wrongful birth. Just the label made people think that Charlotte wished her child had never been born. Could that possibly be true? Sean starts to doubt his wife’s truthfulness, begins seeing her as a money-grabbing opportunist, and wonders who this woman he loved is.
If the O’Keefes thought the stress of raising a child with osteogenesis imperfecta was tough, they hadn’t seen anything like the stress of suing for wrongful birth of that child. How can you say, on the one hand, that the child should not have been born, yet try to reassure the child that you love her fiercely? Actions speak louder than words, and children learn by watching. Plus, while Charlotte and Sean argue about what’s best for Willow, older sister Amelia gets overlooked. She has needs too, and she starts to look for ways to gain the attention and comfort she pines for.
HANDLE WITH CARE presents a host of thorny problems. Jodi Picoult has come up with another family drama that will leave her readers reeling. This, her latest novel, is a page-turner that covers subjects that can spur heated debates. So what would you do in Charlotte’s shoes? I dare you to figure it out easily. Picoult proves once again how powerful a force she is in the world of fiction.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on March 3, 2009
Handle With Care