I was threatened with abandonment by my parents if I refused to donate a kidney to my ailing younger brother and ended up making a decision that changed my life.
I was five when my little brother Jeremy was born. I was very excited, waiting for my mom to come home with the baby, but Jeremy had to stay in the hospital. What I was too young to realize at the time was that Jeremy was very ill.
My longed-for baby brother had been born with spina bifida and required a lot of care. Jeremy would never walk, or play, or chase me around the yard. For my parents, Jeremy’s illness was all-consuming and I became the invisible child.
From the time Jeremy was born, my parents focused on him, on his many problems, and his all-consuming needs. Looking back now as an adult and a mother, I admit I understand some of their preoccupation — some, but not all.
Surely they could have spared a few crumbs of love and attention for me? I didn’t need much. I understood that Jeremy was very frail and very sick and that he needed a lot of care. All I wanted was to know I was loved too.
I now know that my mother felt guilty because she hadn’t realized she was pregnant until she was five months along, and hadn’t taken the folic acid that would have helped prevent Jeremy’s condition.
My mother’s guilt translated to obsession, and my father followed her lead. My parents focused on my brother to the exclusion of all else, and the only person in that house who cared about me and smiled at the sight of me was Jeremy.
I loved Jeremy so much, and his fragility made me even more protective. When he finally went to school, I was his shadow despite our age difference, and he was my best friend.
A sacrifice cannot be demanded, it must be an impulse born of a loving heart.
Every year seemed to bring Jeremy new health challenges, and the family’s entire resources were channeled to his care. I was aware of that, so when the time came for me to go to college, I applied to colleges with generous scholarship programs.
To my astonished joy, I was offered a full science scholarship at one of the country’s most prestigious Ivy League schools. I shared the news with my parents but their response wasn’t what I’d expected.
“College?” my mother asked. “What do you mean? We were counting on you taking a gap year to help us out with Jeremy! You know how overwhelmed I’ve been!”
“I’m not giving up a scholarship at Princeton!” I yelled. “So forget it!” And I didn’t. I stuck to my guns, and Jeremy backed me, but I saw the rage and the hate simmering in my mother’s eyes. She would never forgive me.
Six months later, I had a call from my father asking me to come home because Jeremy was very ill. I was home five hours later. I learned that Jeremy had a bladder and kidney infection and that he needed a transplant.
My parents and I were submitted to compatibility tests and I, of course, won the prize. “You’ll have to miss out on this semester,” my mother told me. “We’ll have the transplant scheduled immediately.”
“Excuse me?” I asked. “Did you just decide that I was going to donate a kidney?”
“Well you are!” my mother cried. “Jeremy needs it!”
“If Jeremy needed a heart, would you also demand I give it to him?” I asked.
She snapped. “If Jeremy needed a heart I’d rip it out of your chest myself, you selfish little monster!” she screamed.
“Selfish? Me?” I asked bitterly. “I’ve given up everything to Jeremy from the time I was five years old. The only time I stood up for myself was when I went to college this year!”
“We needed you!” my mother shouted. “You had a DUTY!”.
“No mom,” I said. “YOU had a duty, to Jeremy and to me. Forget the kidney, I’m keeping it.”
Get out of this house!” my mother screamed. “Get out! You are out of this family!”
My father, who had been quietly listening to the argument, took my arm and led me to the door. That was it. I was dead to them.
I went to the hospital and sat by Jeremy’s bed, holding his hand. I looked at the one person in this family who really loved me and I made up my mind. I asked to speak to Jeremy’s nephrologist and he scheduled the operation for the next day.
When I woke from the surgery, I was groggy, and lying next to me in recovery was Jeremy. My brother was safe. I had done the right thing. To my astonishment, my mother visited me that evening.
“Linda!” she cried, running to my bed, “I knew you’d do the right thing!”
“Get out!” I cried. “Get out of my room!”
My mother stopped, and her mouth hung open. My father stepped forward. “Don’t talk to your mother like that!” he said.
Get out, both of you. I don’t want you here, I didn’t do it for you. I did it for Jeremy,” I said. “And the two of you? You’re dead to me.”
I cut my parents out of my life, but Jeremy and I are closer than ever. I’ve finished college and I’m proud to say I’m a success in my chosen profession.