Who is the best person to raise your children? You, right? And what if something happens to you? Your spouse, right? Most people can answer these questions without hesitation. Our involvement in the lives of our children is instinctual and our inalienable right, right? But those questions have become murky ones for Abbie Dorn, her ex-husband, and her parents/caretakers.
In a tragic and Terri Schiavo-esque case, legal teams for both sides are trying to answer that very question. It is one of those cases that have no right decision and no happy ending.
In 2002 Abbie Cohen and Daniel Dorn whipped their way through a whirlwind romance and were married after six months. After becoming pregnant with triplets via IVF in the fall of 2005 Abbie delivered their babies via C-section in the summer of 2006. The first two babies were delivered without incident. But while delivering the third the OB nicked Abbie’s uterine wall with a scalpel causing Abbie to bleed severely and go into cardiac arrest. She was revived after 20 minutes, but the duration of time that her brain went without oxygen left her severely brain damaged.
On the triplets’ first birthday Daniel Dorn submitted divorce papers to his wife (now in her parents’ care, funded by the proceeds of a malpractice lawsuit). The divorce was granted, but now the question on the table is whether or not Abbie should be granted visitation rights with her children.
There are conflicting reports regarding Abbie’s mental capacity and progress. Neurologists have described her condition as permanent. Yet her parents and nurses tell of great strides in her brain function and communication.
But I am not here to tell the story. I am here to ask the questions. (The story is available here and here in much greater detail.) I’ll tell you right now that I don’t have the answers, that is above my pay grade. But it is not above my pay grade to weigh them out with thoughtful consideration. And so…
What, in the name of all that is holy, is the right way out of this mess? The damage is done. Abbie Dorn will never parent her children in the way that she dreamed. That is a given. But is there a way to make this right? Or at least more right? Will exposure to their mother bring anything good into the lives of her children? Will exposure to her children help the health and well-being of the mother? And whose best interest matters more?
For Visitation. Abbie Dorn is not asking for any portion of physical or legal custody, only visitation. She carried and bore these children, and lost her life as she knew it in the process. It is her right to see her children periodically; to watch them grow, hear their voices, and see their smiles; and to understand – at whatever level she is capable – that her loss was not in vain. There is little, if any, risk of harm to the children through time with Abbie. And the children themselves have a right to know their mother, even if she is but a shell of her former self. Arguably, with proper coaching and understanding, their lives could be greatly enriched by the addition of their mother’s presence. Additionally, Abbie herself could improve significantly if inspired by the presence of her children.
Against Visitation. Daniel Dorn is a single father doing the best that he can in an impossible situation. The conditions his wife now suffers are tragic, but they should not interrupt his ability to parent his children in as normal a way as he can, given the circumstances. Cross-country travel to visit a woman who cannot sit, stand, speak, or eat will be disruptive to their upbringing and will never result in a meaningful relationship. Furthermore, it is not the responsibility of these young children to inspire progress in their mother.
Again, I do not have the answers. I feel sympathy for Daniel Dorn who lost his spirited wife and is left to parent his children alone. And yet I feel anger toward him for approaching this decision with so little compassion for his wife and the woman who nearly lost her life to give him his kids. I feel incredible sympathy for Abbie Dorn, and for her parents who have become full-time caretakers in their retirement years. And yet I wonder if they have put themselves in Daniel’s shoes and considered the difficulty of single parenting on its own, much less after introducing the complicated topic of a severely disabled parent.
There is no right answer. There is no happy ending. And despite the recognition that there are no good answers, I cannot stop myself from asking the questions.