When he was 19 months old, my son was diagnosed with autism. My first response was relief! Becuase I am a physician and more importantly a hyper-vigilant-to-the-point-of-obsessive mother, I had known he was autistic from around his 14th month. Getting the official diagnosis helped to validate my apprehensions.
In California, where we live, an official diagnosis of special needs, opens the doors to many things. Behavioral therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy. Important and critical therapies, especially when your child is that young. The bonus is that all these get covered by our medical insurance, to an extent. We got Nirav enrolled in all these. Then we sat back to take a breath.
And then, just when we had a decent schedule going, came grief. Huge, thunderous waves of grief. And Anger. I resented the hell out of every family I saw on my trips to the grocery store/pharmacy/mall. “Look at them go with their perfectly functioning child”, I thought. Then proceeded to feel horrible and guilty, because I was feeling and thinking these things while carrying my own chubby little toddler, who was happily blowing spit bubbles.
I was also secretly jealous of my husband, who turned out to be this amazing Autism daddy, perfectly attuned to my son’s wants and needs, while I skulked around grumbling and moping.
Yeah, those initial months were not pretty.
If my life was a movie, this is where a wizened old neighbor would hold my hand and earnestly breathe pearls of wisdom into my tired ears. “The child will be fine,” this neighbor would say.”Every little plant needs time to grow”, or some such clever sh*t like that.
Well, because I’m not starring in a movie, and my neighbors are smelly college boys, none of that happened. Instead, we tripped and tumbled through our first-year post-diagnosis, making all the mistakes in the world. Sure, we made great progress – he was now speaking words and taught himself to read by the time he was 3. I made sure to love him extra hard because he needed to know that he was different, but just as special. I made progress too – I had finally quit my job and now I was obsessing about autism at home, instead of at work. Everything he did, I attributed to his diagnosis. He refused his lunch/had a tantrum/wanted to go to the park – I saw everything with an autism lens. I was diagnosed with depression- pretty common in parents of a special needs child. In fact, they should just pony up and give the parents a prescription for antidepressants when the child is diagnosed – save us an extra trip to the doctor. So our life kept going, at a much slower pace, with the same daily recipe of XYZ therapies followed by my intense scrutiny of whether those therapies worked.
And then, one fine morning in Dec 2013, after a week of feeling queasy, my pregnancy test came back positive.
My first thought was “Yay! Omg YAY!! My second thought was “Crap.Crap.Crap”.
I’m not even exaggerating here. I was so afraid to bring another child into my life when I was still busy making a mess of my current one. I didn’t sleep that night.Over the next week, I was starting to panic, because my nausea was starting to get worse and I had no plans for how to support my son during my pregnancy.
Then the best thing that could ever happen, happened. I was diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum (severe vomiting requiring bedrest/IV fluids. Also known as what Kate Middleton suffers from every pregnancy). I was stuck in bed for close to 3 months moaning and puking, while life revolved around me, in a hazy blur. When I had a moment of peace, post vomiting, I worried about Nirav. Was he ok? Was my husband doing my share of the work as well? Would my son regress and lose all the great skills he’d worked so hard to learn?
“We all needed a break. Me, from autism and my husband and son – from ME!”
So how was this the best thing that ever happened?
Well, firstly I got a break from autism. And since, I wasn’t able to get up and do anything, my husband and son got a break.
While I ate-vomited-slept (lather, rinse, repeat), my boys were doing pretty damn well for themselves. Unrestrained by my expectations and fears, they met each day with perfect humor, playing and laughing, and learning so much. I honestly don’t know who taught whom more.
All I know is when I woke up bright eyed and nausea free one morning, I discovered 3 things:
1) Damn, my tummy had gotten HUGE! And more importantly,
2) My son was speaking to me. SPEAKING! Using a 10-word sentence! I hadn’t been able to achieve that kind of success on my own, in close to 2 years.
3) I was immensely horny and attracted to my husband, who had proven to be a more than worthy father.
Refreshed, replenished and armed with that burst of energy only a second trimester can bring, I was the picture of peace and pro-activity. Nothing fazed me anymore, and I actually looked forward to waking up every day. A break!
That’s what I had needed the whole time.
A few months later, we had our perfect little baby girl, Reya ( means queen, in colloquial Spanish). And what a boon, she has been. She is currently 3.5 and worships the ground Nirav walks on. She is precocious, gifted in both speech and nature. She is her biggest admirer and Nirav’s fiercest protector. And the most amazing part is – she is her own person. She has a strong sense of self, fiercely independent and loudly assertive. The world’s tiniest feminist. And we try to raise her and cherish her, with the full knowledge that she doesn’t owe us and her brother anything but love.
Nirav is 7.5 years old now and a total goofball. He has made huge strides in nearly every aspect, but like all good rock stars, he still has his challenging moments. He loves to read and draw. Art helps him express a lot of nuanced ideas and thoughts and his attention to detail is pretty awesome! He’s also seriously into all sorts of racing/logic/arcade video games and has recently started beating my scores (even though I cheat!).
He works very hard every day and takes so much pride in his accomplishments. He’s talking so much more and he uses that skill to negotiate rewards with us on an hourly basis. He also passed his swimming test last year and is a total fish in the water. He still struggles with speech and emotional regulation sometimes, but he’s learning some great coping techniques to help him deal with upsets better. He is flawed and cranky, silly and perfect. He is exactly who he should be and so much more. And he couldn’t have done that without his sister, cheering him the whole way.
So, you see, I was wrong. My life IS like a movie. I may not have a wizened, old neighbor with the life-changing advice. But instead, I have this perfect, unplanned, baby girl, who has been challenging and changing me since she was a few cells big. She has helped me love myself and my little family, even more than I did before. So while my boys are the reason I get up every morning with a smile, my little girl is the reason I go to bed still smiling.