Having a child with special needs feels much the same as it does not to, and yet, well…different. Having a child with special needs feels like you won the lottery times infinity times a gajillion because, as every mom knows, having a baby introduces a level of love that we’d never have imagined.
Having a child with special needs also feels jealous, sad, and a little bit cheated.
It means that you have a baby – just like everybody else – and your moods and your boobs are elated and deflated. You’re overwhelmed and in awe. Just like every new mother. It also means that at some point, you realize that your child is different.
And because of that, so are you.
Having a child with special needs means that you’ll spend too much time pretending. Hoping. Hoping that everything’s fine. That he’s “normal.” You’ll talk about delays, and feel relieved when family and friends tell you not to worry about them. You’ll want so badly to believe that each baby develops at his own rate that you’ll try. You’ll try to believe. And you’ll worry that something’s wrong.
You’ll have friends with children who are mere weeks apart from yours when it comes to biological age. When they’re tiny, you won’t see a lot of differences. You’ll try to not focus on the small things and on the milestones. Your friends’ kids will get older, as will yours. And, all of a sudden, you’ll see more and more. You’ll notice differences. You’ll see your friends pretending not to see them. Reassuring you, that your son “will catch up,” meaning well and trying to say the right thing. You’ll want to believe them.
People will tell you that boys speak later than girls do. They’ll remind you that Einstein didn’t speak until the age of four.
You’ll experience extreme guilt, wondering whether this is your fault. Maybe he’d have been better off in daycare, with other children, rather than with you, at home. You’ll wonder whether it was something you ate, while pregnant or nursing. Whether you should have been playing Bach to him rather than listening to your own selfish music each day in the car.
You may waver between devouring every developmental milestone checklist that you’re able to find and pounding the delete key on your laptop when one of the new baby emails enters your inbox with the subject line of “He’s 18 months and is saying these words now!
At some point, the lack of language brings you to professional evaluations. You may hear the words “autism” and “delay” and refrain from falling to your knees in a doctor’s office because your son is watching you.
You’ll realize that not only have you been reading the wrong parenting books, but that you’re in the wrong library.
You’ll think about the child you might have had. You’ll grieve for him, and feel awful for it.
When you have your first-born at the age of 40, you’ve had a lot of quiet, dark nights in which you’ve wondered about the “what ifs” of your future child. You’ve had time to secretly smile hopefully to yourself, knowing that surely your son will have an imagination rivaled only by Calvin – of Calvin and Hobbs – himself.
You’ll have met and fallen in love with your friend’s children. Your nieces, and nephews. There will have been a decade of moments marveling at the precociousness and hilarity of young children and their incessant chatter.
At some point, you may shed bitter-hot tears over the fact that you miss this little person who was almost-fully formed, if only in your dreams.
One day, you’ll realize that you’re rarely grieving for that might-have-been son any longer. You’ll forgive yourself and know that it’s okay to grieve the child that you’d imagined raising. That little boy that you can almost-maybe-see, sometimes…
You’ll reach a point where you want to come out to friends and family because you’re lonely. And so you do. They say they’re okay with it, but they don’t really get it. A part of you doesn’t want them to get it because you don’t want their pity. More than anything else, you don’t want pity. But you also understand that it’s hard for them not to offer a bit of pity when it’s a situation that actually warrants some.
In searching for answers, you look at your cards and realize that others are dealt a much more difficult hand. That some hands involve birthing babies fighting for their lives, who die, who were “incompatible with life,” and you feel blessed.
Because you are.
You are blessed. Every mother is. Every parent is.
On the flip side, one day, you’ll get on Facebook and see somebody complain that her two-year-old called her fat. You’ll feel jealous as hell that her two-year old knows what fat is, because your four year old thinks you’re perfect. Fat and all.
And then, you’ll realize that maybe you’re the lucky one. That having a two-year old call you fat makes for some funny blog material, but that having a four-year-old who still thinks you’re the best person in the history of time is pretty perfect.
You’ll see that although his language sucks compared to his peers, when you say “You’re my favorite person in the whole wide world!” and he pushes your face away with a silly grin, that in his heart, he’s saying, “I know, Mommy. And you are mine.”
You’ll see love that’s bigger than you are.
Life will be different than you imagined.
You’ll see that it’s going to be just fine.