For as long as I can remember I wanted to be a Mom. It wasn’t all I ever wanted to be but it was definately up there on the to do list. So when I entered my late 30’s and still hadn’t met the man of my dreams there was more than a little biological clock panic. But somehow, miraculously, the man of my dreams walked back into my life in my late 30’s. Ironically he had waltzed by in my late 20’s and I remember telling a girl friend what an idiot he was because he was such a “nice guy”. What a difference a decade makes! By my late 3o’s I had a whole new appreciation of the worth of a “nice guy”. I married at 39 and within a week after my 40th birthday got pregnant with my son. It should be noted that for my birthday all I asked for was to be a mom. I didn’t really care about being 40, so my face had more wrinkles, so my breasts were beginnning the journey south – who cared? There was time for everything – except the eggs were running out. And no matter what happened I wanted to be a Mom, couldn’t imagine missing it.
I wasn’t a good pregnant woman. There I’ve admitted it. Feel free to judge. The truth is I was hot, fat, gray (I stopped dying my hair) and vomiting for the whole nine months, it was not a picnic. I told my gynocologist that I was the only woman on earth experiencing peri menopause and pregnancy in the same body. He laughed at me. I threw up on his shoes. I figured we were even.
What I remember about being pregnant is people asking me if it was a boy or a girl and me saying “I don’t know, I don’t really care…” and everyone smiling and saying “…as long as it’s healthy.” It always struck me as a weird thing to say and I would always reply, “No, I want this baby whether its healthy or not. I just want this baby.” People always looked at me like I was crazy – didn’t I get the memo – there is a tradition and it has nothing to do with wanting or not wanting a perfect child – you’re just supposed to say “As long as it’s healthy!” But I couldn’t. I was 40. I knew the risks. I didn’t care. I wanted – needed to be a Mom. In my heart of hearts I had already accepted that in all likelyhood something would not be …..what… normal…I’m not fond of that word….typical….it doesn’t cut it either but we’ll go with it. But no matter what, I was going to love that baby.
I prepared myself for Down’s, I steeled myself for deformaties (my mother was born club foot) I prayed for the strength to accept whatever challenge came our way. I had a pact with my husband – since my son was over 10 pounds I was having a scheduled C section – so I wouldn’t get a good look at the baby until after everyone else did. I didn’t want to be the last to know and I didn’t want to hear it from anyone else. My husband would look at the baby and he would tell me if there was anything I needed to know. My husband is the greatest man on earth, he listens to my paranoid ramblings and never, ever tells me I’m a loon.
My son was born, they whisked him away and all I saw was one foot dangling outside the blanket, I waited to get the report from my husband. He was busy, crying, videotaping, cutting the cord and admiring his new son. I barked at him to come back and give me a report. “Tell me!” I yelled at him. “He’s beautiful.” my husband said “Not icky at all” this had everyone laughing. “Yes,” I said, “But does he have feet?” the entire operating room stopped and someone started asking me if I knew where I was. My husband was the only one who understood and he came running to my side. “Yes, he has feet and they are perfect, he’s perfect, there’s nothing wrong!” I swallowed, “Is he Down’s” everyone in the room started saying “Of course not, no – For Heaven’s Sake – No!” as if it was the most ludicrous question ever asked.
I took my perfect child home and loved him like every new mother loves her child, obsessively and unconditionally. And I thanked my lucky stars for the gift of this precious life that I had been entrusted with.
Two years later I sat in a cold clinic room while an aging developmental pediatrician dispationately confirmed what I had already come to know but hadn’t remotely come to accept – that my perfect baby boy had autism.
I remember leaving the clinic and strapping him into his car seat while I explained what the Dr. had said to my husband. Thanks to Los Angeles traffic he had arrived late and had missed the diagnosis. So I got to hear it alone and then deliver the blow to my husband. He sat down on the ground next to the car in the parking lot and tried to believe me, but he didn’t. Eventually we got into our seperate cars and started for home.
I called my mother from the car and gave her the news. Her reaction was like something out of an Irish play, keening and wailing and saying “Not our baby, not our baby!” In retrospect it is one of the best gifts my mother has ever given me. I’m one of those people who always has the opposite reaction. If everyone is calm, I feel free to panic. If everyone is panicing I am the soul of peace and wisdom. So thank goodness my mother freaked so that I could rise out of my numb haze and say – “Nothing has changed, he’s the same child he was yesterday, now we just know what to do to help him”.
I feel like that’s the moment that our journey began – we’d had a pact from the beginning, unconditional love, no matter what. But now we were soldiers on the foot path. Now we would be tested. That was almost 2 years ago. Almost everything is our lives has changed. Most of it for the better. Our son is a miracle, not recovered but making tremendous progress. He is unique and wonderful and my greatest teacher. Early on my husband and I made another pact, whatever it took, we would do everthing in our power to help our child and when that was accomplished, then we would go back and help as many other families and children as we could. This is our journey.