There is no preparation for the emotions that a new mother will go through the first time she holds her newborn. Joy, obviously, but a profound sense of relief, too. I felt like I’d exhaled a 9-month long breath that I wasn’t even aware I was holding. He’s here. He’s actually fine. Better than fine. It all felt surreal to me. I’d spent almost nine months thinking that I wasn’t worried about him, but touching his sweet fingertips and feeling genuine awe over his perfect paper-thin eyelids made me realize that I’d worried the entire pregnancy.
Because of my incompetent cerivx, I was monitored twice weekly at at the hospital. I’d go in, greet the staff that I’d spent more time chatting with more friends than doctors at that point, for those few months. I’d get hooked up to a monitor and spend 30 minutes watching a printout reassure me that my and my unborn son’s heart rates were normal. I think it’s impossible for anybody in our age of ebooks, Facebook, Twitter, global e-friendships forged with once-time colleagues to not be hyper-aware of how much can truly go wrong with a life, even with one born without the fingerprints of experience yet on his soul.
I’ve always been sortof a junkie for sadness. Don’t get me wrong, I do not want anything big to make me sad in my own life. It’s more that I get involved emotionally with real or fictional events and cry, every time, at the televised long-distance commercials, the awful ads about texting and driving, a horrible Facebook post about an abused baby. The event doesn’t even need to be sad. I can’t watch the end of the Superbowl – even when I don’t care about either of the teams – without having to wipe my eyes. I feel a genuine connection to the players’ happiness (the winners) and their regrets (the losers). If it’s sad or momentous in any way, I’ll either outright cry, or tear up. It can be quite embarrassing at times. As you can imagine, I made a mess of a pregnant woman.
When Tucker was born, I felt like the luckiest, most blessed woman on the planet. I nursed him, never let him “cry it out,” believing that letting him cry would make him fell un-loved and unimportant. I tracked the number of hours he slept, and felt actual, if underserved, pride when he was in the 96 percentile for height. I believed that it was, at least in part, due to my diligence in getting him enough sleep – yay me! – as I’d read that the good growth hormones are released during deep sleep. I created what will be, for him later, painfully detailed baby albums and generally just loved and adored him. I only fed him organic baby foods, used Dreft laundry detergent for his so-soft sensitive skin, gave him baby massages, took him on walks, practiced a lot of the attachment parenting suggestions, and made up songs just for Tucker. Any little thing I could think of to keep him happier, more comfortable or safer, I did.
Tucker seemed, to me, to be a typically developing boy and said a quite a few words by 18 months, including “bye-bye,” “big truck,” “mommy,” and “daddy.” At his 2-year check-up, I had become a little concerned that he wasn’t speaking more, and using sentences. When I asked the doctor about this, she asked me how much he’d said. Just that week, he’d said “Truck fell down!” She conveyed that it was quite advanced for a 2 year old to use a 3-word sentence. So I tried to focus on all of the positives and not worry about it. The thing is, whoever said that moms always know and to trust your own instincts was right. There were several alarms for my husband and I during the next six months.
Tucker’s level of participation in soccer should have worried me more. If the activity wasn’t one that he really enjoyed, he wouldn’t participate at all, preferring to run or to find the patch of light on the field from the above sky-light. During each class, the coaches created these fun obstacle courses for the kids, where they would first jump over a line of noodles, then crawl through a tunnel, then run through stacks of cones and finally get a ball and shoot a goal. I never failed to work up a sweat as I literally had to make my son do it. As in, taking his arms and jumping him over the noodles, running the cones, etc. Left to his own, even with me holding his hand, he would not run around the cones, he’d kick them down. He’d pick up the noodle and try to take off with it and he’d very rarely kick the ball at the end of the course. It was frustrating and heart-wrenching for me to watch other children his age complete these basic courses so much better than Tucker did. After 6 months, I enrolled him in a soccer class that was with a younger group, thinking his skill levels were more matched to theirs. After a year, and a day when I had total frustration overload and asked Tucker what was wrong with him once we got in the car, I stopped signing up. He started crying and I’ve never felt like a bigger asshole. And I swore to myself and my to son that I would never again ask him what was wrong with him. I still have a hard time reliving that moment without a giant dose of guilt and tears. What’s wrong with him?? What’s wrong with me?!?!? Now I remember to add “just the way you are” after telling him I love him. I don’t add it every time I tell him that I love him, but I often do. That’s what I want to stick – the “just the way you are” part.
As it became more obvious that Tucker’s language skills were definitely not at the same level as many of the kids we came into contact with, I asked several people, mostly family and friends with children, whether I should be worried. The standard responses were that he’ll talk when he’s ready, that boys speak later than girls, that he didn’t need to speak as we knew everything he wanted without him having to use words. That he probably would speak later than his peers as he was never in a daycare or setting where he had to communicate with anybody but his parents. All of these things may be true, but I should have listened to my gut then and not waited another six months to get a referral for an evaluation from his doctor.
After the holidays, we found ourselves in January and at the 2 year 6 month mark. Most concerning was that some of the words Tucker had used six months ago had diminished, either completely, or in quality. “Daddy” had become “Cha.” “Bye-bye” had become “Bahh.” We were lucky to get the word “big” in front of “truck” at this point, which had become a shortened version to “tru.” I made an appointment with his pediatrician. She agreed that he should be saying more and explained that for his age, he should be using 3 to 4-word sentences. He obviously wasn’t.
Leaving the doctor’s office that day was hard. I now had confirmation that there was reason for concern regarding Tucker’s lack of language. I wondered if I should have spoken to him more while we were out on walks. Did I not tell him what enough things in his new world were? Was pointing to the tree and showing him the leaves and having him smell the flowers not enough? Did all the other mothers spend more time talking to their children? Could he have hurt his brain during the 2 week period at age 1 ½ when he’d bang his head on the floor until he had a knot there all of January? It’s really hard to not blame yourself. And it’s easy for others to hint that it is your fault, even without meaning to. One friend of mine innocently said that the reason his daughter spoke so well, so early, was that because every time he took her to the grocery store, he named every single item they passed and put into the cart. I didn’t do that.
The best part of that day was that our doctor gave me a referral to The Infant Toddler Connection (ITC). They offer a variety of screenings, services and therapies for children under the age of three with pretty much any type of developmental delay. This is an entire world that I never even realized was out there. I had no idea that the federal government provided funding to each state for early intervention services. From what I understand, each county has a different set-up, and some are more advanced with their therapies and schooling than others. Luckily for us, we live in Fairfax County, VA and have been blessed with one of the best early-intervention and school systems for young children in the country.