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Love Ella

Madeleine Witham, mother of Ella
Lothian Books 2006
ISBN: 0734409400 pp 175.

Ella was born in 1995 with a very rare syndrome known as Cornelia de Lange Syndrome

Love Ella by Madeleine Witham could be described as an easy and quick read but really there is nothing easy at all about reading this book and there's nothing fast to understanding its meaning.

The first time I read Love Ella I cried my way through it; weeping for the hardship, the loss and the aloneness that Madeleine has experienced as a mother of a child with a disability.

The second time I read the book I was angry at the lack of structured and financial support for families with disabled children, the crass and inexcusable insensitivity of others and the low priority children with disability and their families have on the welfare agenda.

By the time I had read Love Ella for the third time, I found more than anything else, wisdom and inspiration and the deep love Madeleine's little girl has brought to her life and vice versa.

Love Ella gives insight into humanity, our capacity for resilience and the deep and rare gift of unconditional love that Madeleine has given to her daughter, Ella.

Love Ella is the story of a young married woman who finds herself having unexpectedly given birth to a child with disability and the impact this has on her life and her family. It is also the story of 11-year-old Ella - a feisty, courageous little girl with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome who is aware of her difference and who holds precious the simple gift of her hands.

The narrative Madeleine constructs has an almost confrontational honesty and rawness about it. There is much human failure to her and her family evident in this book. But the experience of mothering Ella has the effect of making Madeleine a fighter and an advocate for her child as she realises that she, as a mother, is a survivor of a masked and prolonged trauma.

There are no platitudes offered of the privilege of having a child with disability - the reality of dashed hopes, grief, fear and the anxiety of an unknown and uncertain future that a child with disability brings is a wound that won't heal for Madeleine Witham.

As I read this story again and again, I wanted Madeleine to find peace and for the struggle to end or at least be less. But instead there is simply resignation to a relentless reality and a recognition that Ella's future, whatever it holds is also her mother's future and that is how it will and must be.

I have given this book to many people - it is compulsory and powerful reading for anyone who interacts with children who have an intellectual disability and their parents or represents their interests. There are also deep lessons in this book too for parents of non-disabled children like myself.

Christian and non-Christian readers alike will find that the book holds meaning for them. However for Christian readers, Madeleine's quiet discovery of the presence of Jesus in her life and the deep faith this becomes and how it sustains her is a gift of hope to all of us.

I suspect that it has been very therapeutic for Madeleine Witham to write this book. I'm not sure what the fourth read of Love Ella will hold for me but I do know that the book and its call to be read and re-read has a therapeutic effect on the reader of recognising, knowing and feeling the power of extraordinary love between a mother and daughter despite the greatest of adversities.

Reviewed by Beth Gilligan, 15 January 2007


Love Ella can be purchased at Koorong Bookstores around Australia or on the website www.love-ella.com

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