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November 29, 2012

Loving a child on the fringe

PARIS — If you'd told me five years ago that I was soon to bear a disabled child with blood cancer — for whom I'd have to surrender, possibly forever, career and love life — I'd have contemplated suicide. Moreover, I would have thought this a level-headed response: not an act of despair but a lucid sort of Swiss-style euthanasia.

I was a driven freelance writer and a headlong romantic with no interest in children. I had always assumed I'd have a husband (or perhaps three) and no kid. It had never occurred to me I might have a kid and no husband. Not me, the expectant mother with the nursery decorated in 12 colors four months ahead of due date. I didn't have a nursery. I didn't even have a separate room in the bohemian studio I inhabited in Paris, where I eked out an income scribbling for America's embattled book reviews.

The fact that I continued my pregnancy was a reckless romantic gesture: It was my Greek partner, not I, who wanted a child and who had implored me to keep this one in spite of our tempestuous relationship and slender means. Almost everybody else sounded the red alert: "You can't have a kid in such unstable circumstances!" they said — which only hardened our determination. I'll take responsibility for child care! I'll give the child whatever she needs, vowed the father: "And when all the naysayers see that healthy little blond child running over the cobblestone, they'll eat their words."

Our child, as it turned out, was not blond; she was not healthy, and the only person running was her dad. He headed for the hills of Crete when his daughter was 16 days old, changed his phone number, eliminated his email account, and instructed his family members to have no more communication with me. From that day on, it was the two of us girls in Paris: the mentally challenged infant and the know-nothing mother. A match made in hell. Or was it?

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