My African heritage and deep-rooted gender expectations had me believing that having an education, a husband, and children was the epitome of success. Having a boy ensured that we would have a person to carry on the family name, and a girl is always security, someone who will look after us when we are old. No one told me this. I’ve learned, absorbed, expected, and willed it for myself.
“My African heritage and deep-rooted gender expectations had me believing that having an education, a husband, and children was the epitome of success.“
My 2-year-old son, who had met all his developmental milestones and is as cute and chubby as they come, was a dream come true. But something wasn’t right. I don’t know what it is. It’s not me; it’s him. He is scared of strangers, but not in a way I’ve ever seen before. I have a sibling and was raised with my cousins; I was the oldest grandchild. I know kids. But this paralyzing fear I see in his eyes is real; it’s unsettling. The staff at his daycare are fond of him, he is well-behaved, snuggles with his stuffy, and sucks on his index and middle fingers
to soothe himself. He listens to instruction and doesn’t hardly protest or act out of line. He doesn’t get into skirmishes with other kids. Well, he doesn’t really interact with them. He loves his Mommy and Daddy and eats salmon and veggies. Yet, I can’t let go of the feeling that something is wrong.
At two-and-a-half, his lack of speech progression starts to bother me. We took him to a pediatrician who assured us everything was fine. “First-time parents worry a lot,” he says. And at 3 years old, his frustrations and simple speech are getting weird. We can’t take him places without worrying about what loud noises and crowds will do to his mood. We are always concerned about meltdowns. His meltdowns are intense stress, crying, and clinging to Mommy or Daddy. His sister was born a few days after his third birthday, and our first pediatric appointment with a new doctor got the wheel turning. A speech assessment yields a diagnosis of Severe Expressive and Receptive Speech disorder. A referral to the Pediatric Assessment Services at the Glenrose Hospital results in a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.
The baby boy I dreamed of, yearned for, planned for, carried, birthed, nursed, and loved is broken, or at least, that’s how I feel. My husband and I are lost; we are both numb and confused. How did this happen? The professionals have no answers. They only offer a sad look and pity for our broken boy. I know nothing about Autism; I didn’t know any Autistic children growing up. I believed it was the worst thing to happen to a child or family. We are told there was no cure, just difficulty, and isolation. The baby boy I dreamed of vanished on that cold December day at the Glenrose Hospital. We walked out of the hospital with a stranger, a boy we didn’t ask for. We didn’t know what to do with him.
“The baby boy I dreamed of, yearned for, planned for, carried, birthed, nursed, and loved is broken, or at least, that’s how I feel. My husband and I are lost; we are both numb and confused.”
Months later, during a consultation with the Psychologist, did I learn the
steps to accepting a child with special needs. I know that grieving the image I had of my child is part of the journey to acceptance. I wondered if a child was an imposter. This little boy in my home came with a label and no instructions sometimes. I asked if he was switched at birth. I felt so much guilt for having these thoughts. What kind of mother was I? I dared never say this to anyone. The guilt and shame were intense and all-encompassing in those early days. I didn’t know whether to welcome him in or turn him away. I wanted the boy I had never met; maybe he would be familiar. He was not what I imagined.
Yet here we were, him smiling at me, hugging me, kissing me, and loving
me. Calling me Mommy. His heart was always filled with love for me. I was scared to fail him, terrified of what “people” might be saying, afraid of my feelings and thoughts, and scared of the unknown. But we continued playing, dancing, listening to music, taking walks, going to the park, and learning how to navigate everything together. Knowing what worked and what didn’t and what needed time. We worked hard; several forms of therapy filled our days. Professional help was essential in our growth. Sometimes, there was no therapy, no professionals, a walk, a drive, a nap, a cuddle, and lots of time on the playground swing. Our bond was refined every day. Our verbal and non-verbal communication skills grew more substantial. My confidence in us grew.
“My son has taken me on a journey that, 9 years in, has changed my life.“
Today, I look back at that grieving mother and scared child, and I’m glad they are not in our lives. My son has taken me on a journey that, 9 years in, has changed my life. I don’t have many more answers for that mother and son we used to be. I don’t have questions either; I have a vision. I know who we will be, and that is far from normal. Normal is overrated. Normal is boring. I don’t know how we will get to this place with no name; I know we will get there together. I know I couldn’t have asked for a better partner. He has always been tenacious, resilient, hardworking, intelligent, sweet, and gentle. We have been through highs and lows, and we’re still standing together. We have cried, celebrated,
tried, failed, and, all the while, grown together. I am proud of my son. I love him fiercely. I like to say I am an expert on who he is. I look forward to all that is in store for us. People say my son is lucky to have been born into this family; we are fortunate to have a son/brother like him. And as it turns out, he wasn’t weird, nor needing decoding or fixing; he needed a brave mother.
I hope that the imaginary little boy we left at the Glenrose Hospital finds a home.
Written June 2020