"Big Four" Highlights


Bundle of Love

Human dignity highlights book about Santorums’ daughter

By Brian Caulfield, FFG Editor

Like its adorable subject, this book will capture your heart. Bella is beautiful, and the delightful personality that unfolds within the embrace of a loving family jumps off the pages in text and photos.

But be warned. This is not a gushy story that hides the real hardships connected with a special-needs child. It does not spiritualize the flesh-and-blood struggles and day-to-day drudgeries, or smooth over the familial and marital tensions that surface with stress. Bella’s Gift: How One Little Girl Transformed Our Family and Inspired a Nation has all the markings of an honest account—heart-stopping trips to emergency rooms, heated encounters with uncooperative doctors, anguished questions directed at God, doubts about the value of suffering, and simmering disagreements between parents, who happen to be former U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum and his wife, Karen, a registered nurse.

Bella—baptized Isabella Maria—was born with the genetic disorder Trisomy-18. Only 10 percent of children with the disability are born alive, and a large majority of those do not see their first birthday. Born in 2008, Bella turns 7 years old in May, a miracle born of God’s grace and a family’s faith and fight.

With alternate chapters written by husband and wife, the story develops in first-person dramatic form. Rick relates his response to Bella’s prenatal period and birth; Karen covers the same timeframe from a mother’s perspective. Exposed in the process are the differences between these spouses in particular, and the male and female psyches in general. Early on, Rick offers everything into God’s hands as he accepts that Bella may live a day or a year. Karen trusts God, but fights like a mama bear for her daughter’s life, pushing prayer to the max and taking on doctors and hospitals that advise a gentle demise for tiny Bella.

The story is well-told, gripping and amazingly moving. Your heart will rise and fall with every infection and turn for the worse in Bella’s young life. Yet it is also a story of profound truth and spiritual uplift that will leave even the faint of faith feeling good. Bella’s life transcends the pro-life/pro-choice divide, as the struggles of a spunky little girl take center stage. She even upstages her father’s 2012 presidential run. When he announced that he was stepping off the campaign trail for a while to tend to his daughter, the nation responded with heartfelt sympathy, and the first question even hardened political reporters asked him was “How’s Bella?”

The final two chapters offer a “Note of Encouragement” from Karen to mothers and Rick to fathers who may be facing a disappointing prenatal exam or raising a special-needs child.

Karen writes, “Love your husbands completely and unconditionally, and understand that you will grieve differently and that's all right.”

Rick writes, “The most important thing, besides our faith, in caring for a child with disabilities is a strong marriage. Pay attention to your marriage, nurture it, and dive all in. Love your wife completely and unconditionally and understand that there is no room for selfishness in marriage.” He concludes: “Esto vir!” Be a man!

In the book’s Introduction, Elizabeth Santorum, Bella’s eldest sister, writes that the family has learned deep lessons of love since the little girl’s birth. In a Fathers for Good interview, Elizabeth, age 23, said that “all Bella can give and receive is love. … Our hearts grew larger relating to Bella and to each other. It was a radical readjustment for my family, and we are all better for it.”

She added, “Every day with Bella is a gift.”

Elizabeth identified two main themes in the book: “One, every person matters; every person has human dignity based not on what he or she can or can’t do, but based on the imago Dei, the image of God within us. Two, this is a love story. Every chapter is titled with a theme of love, and the story is about growing in selfless, self-giving love.”

For more information about Bella’s Gift, visit Thomas Nelson Publishers.