|Posted on November 2, 2015 at 10:50 PM|
I was working at a newspaper in New Mexico when I met Brenda, a mother who had a severally handicapped daughter, Jenny. Jenny also had an extremely cruel and rare form of epilepsy, which would eventually claim her life.
Brenda had just moved to New Mexico from Kentucky and there wasn’t a Special Olympics chapter in this new town. Brenda wanted to start a new chapter so that Jenny would have something in which to participate. I interviewed Brenda for the story and became good friends with her and Jenny’s Special Olympics coach. I learned many things from Brenda about raising a child with severe special needs—namely, not only the challenges, hardships and disappointments that come with raising such a child, but the joy as well. One day Brenda and I had a conversation about sterilizing people with mental disabilities. Brenda told me that when Jenny was old enough, she would have her sterilized. I remember thinking of a storyline that involved forcibly sterilizing a young woman, who had a mild mental disability, and what could possibly happen because of it. In my story, Ashleigh Roberts, the daughter of Leigh Roberts, is that child. Ashleigh’s relationship with attorney Jaime Monroe, the main character in An Invincible Summer, is loosely based on my relationship with Jenny.
For my story, I knew that Ashleigh could not be as mentally disabled as Jenny. Jenny had a limited vocabulary and though Jenny could have eventually gone on to live in a group home, she would have never been able to live on her own, as Ashleigh is able to do in An Invincible Summer. Jenny was 13 when I met her. Ashleigh is 24. Having a mild mental disability is not reason enough for a court to grant such a petition. Ashleigh also has a mild form of diabetes and that is the primary reason Leigh wants to have the procedure done because she saw it as medically necessary. What I also tried to do in An Invincible Summer was portray the kind of challenges Leigh Roberts had to face as Ashleigh’s mother.
Brenda was always open-minded when it came to Jenny, willing to do and try just about anything to make Jenny’s life as normal and happy as possible. That’s how Leigh is with Ashleigh. It is my hope that readers will see Leigh not as a heartless, selfish mother, who wants just to have her daughter sterilized, but as a mother who deeply loves her daughter and wants only the best for her.