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Dear Rachel,

Did you ever hear of a mother who doesn’t love her child? That is the situation with my brother’s wife. They were married for five years before they had their little girl. It was a shock for them to see that she was born with Down syndrome.


They had been so awaiting the blessing of a child, and secretly my sister-in-law had been hoping for a girl. But this was not the baby they had prayed for.

Sarala (named after our mother) is now four years old. She is really adorable and high functioning. My brother buys her pretty dresses and fixes her hair with ribbons. In fact, it is he who tends to her every morning, dresses her and drives her to nursery school.

We live in the same neighborhood and I usually pick her up and keep her with me until about six in the evening when my brother comes for her. She is delightful, and with attention she is thriving. She’s the most popular child in her nursery school and might even be able to be mainstreamed when she is ready for regular school.

My sister-in-law had quit her job when she entered her ninth month of pregnancy, anticipating taking care of her baby. Three weeks after she gave birth, she asked for and got her old job back. She leaves the house at 7 a.m. and doesn’t return until 7 p.m. When she comes home she gives Sarala a bath and puts her to bed.

Shabbos is the hardest day for them. I see the pain on my brother’s face when they eat over at my house, as his wife quickly gets annoyed with any mishap that this precious little four-year-old does.

I suggested to my brother that maybe they should try to have more children, and then it might be easier for them. He told me that his wife wouldn’t hear of it. I think my brother needs to go for help but he doesn’t want to. I love this little girl and it hurts me so much to see how she clings to me and calls me Ahmee. (My kids call me Mommy.) Are you going to tell me to just butt out?

Hurting for my brother and niece


Dear Hurting,

If you’d be writing as a casual acquaintance or nosy neighbor, you might have been advised to mind your own business. What with being close family, your intimate association with your niece and her father places you in the ideal position to try to alleviate your brother and sister-in-law’s burden.

Your depiction paints a canvas of excruciating mental and emotional anguish – on the part of both parents. Your brother’s tender care of his daughter tugs at the heartstrings, yet one can’t help but wonder whether his wife received vital assistance she would have required early on … as from a hospital social worker.

In this day and age there are various resources available for parents of Down syndrome children, among them support groups for mothers sharing like experiences and giving one another chizzuk. With the scant detail you provide, it would seem that your sister-in-law is living in a self-imposed bubble, refusing to face reality – though it is somewhat gratifying to hear that she is at least there for her daughter at bedtime.

Whether they should expand their family or not is really a private matter, an area that is not for you to explore. Your brother is best advised to seek the counsel of a professional or his rabbi, which he ought to do regarding (and regardless of) his wife’s role (or lack thereof) in the raising and caring of their precious little daughter.

In the meanwhile, the young tot is very fortunate to have a loving and caring aunt like you. Within earshot of your sister-in-law during family time together, I humbly suggest you sing the praises of your niece and allude to all her positive attributes – let alone the chesed of Hashem in having granted them such a delightful, high functioning DS child.

Virtually all Jewish communities have wonderful organizations and volunteers geared to assist families with special needs children. I recall my own daughter as a high-schooler volunteering some of her weekend hours to entertain Down syndrome children. She grew to adore them and they delightfully reciprocated in kind. Such activity can serve as a tension breaker on Shabbos (and Sundays, if and when your sister-in-law is home). Observing her daughter happily interacting with others might stir her maternal instinct and awaken in her an appreciation for the inherent beauty of her offspring.

You can perhaps take a more active role in encouraging your brother to seek guidance (the sooner the better), by researching sites and organizations., for instance, offers referrals and resources that might prove to be tremendously helpful.

Gift Sarala’s parents a book, authored by Ahava Ehrenpreis, titled “More Than Special” – and keep on doing what you are doing. Your chesed towards this hapless youngster will surely reap you dividends, in this world and the next.

May we all appreciate the gifts Hashem sends our way and be cognizant of and thankful for all of His little miracles.


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