Tag Archives: pregnancy

The Birth Of Brotherhood

5 Mar

On the evening of Christmas Eve 2005, my husband and I lay on our bed with our son George between us. Then a little more than two years old, George was doing his usual pre-bedtime rolling around with Mommy and Daddy. It had been a nightly ritual from the day he was born. He would lie quietly with us while he drank his bedtime milk, and then he would spend ten minutes climbing onto my husband and then falling off in fits of giggles. It was a time that we treasured, but on this particular evening, I was feeling undertones of melancholy. My body was telling me that my second child would be born the following day. Which meant that this ritual was about to come to an end – or at least, dramatically change. In an odd way, I had already started feeling nostalgic for George’s only-child days.

It’s not to say that I wasn’t happy about the pending arrival. I couldn’t wait for this addition to my family. I was excited about bringing home a baby brother or sister for George, even though it would be a bit of a surprise for him to suddenly have an entire other human being in the house. Throughout my pregnancy, he hadn’t shown any signs of understanding what was going on, other than that he wasn’t allowed to jump on Mommy’s very large belly.

The baby did indeed arrive the following day, Christmas Day 2005. Having languished in his floaty home for a week past his due date, he was now very eager to get out and start living. I spent James’ first two days of life in a haze of exhaustion. When I had time to think, it was to wonder how George’s introduction to his new sibling would go.

As it happened, James started crying while we were driving him home for the first time. He wanted to be nursed, yet again. All about the boob, that one was. When we got him home, I settled down on the couch with him to nurse while my husband retrieved George from my mother-in-law. When George came bounding into the room to jump on the couch, I told my husband not to stop him. George stopped short at the sight of this tiny being attached to me, but although he was clearly surprised, he did not seem to mind the being’s presence. He didn’t say anything about it, but George was saying next to nothing at that time anyway.

For the first few weeks, George seemed a little bemused by James. I had the impression that he did not really see James as a person, but as an extra thing lying around the house. This was illustrated to me perfectly one day when James was lying on his back on the floor. We had one of those big foam alphabetic floor puzzles, and James was lying on that – in the exact spot where George wanted to play. George very matter-of-factly went up to James and took one tiny ankle in each hand. He then proceeded to drag James off the floor puzzle and onto the carpet. He was not rough or aggressive about it. He was merely moving something from Point A to Point B while I cracked up laughing. James didn’t seem to mind being displaced in this way. He just kind of looked at George with an air of resignation.

I will never forget the day I saw a shift happen in George – a shift from indifference to genuine brotherly affection. I had just changed James’ diaper and he was lying in the middle of my bed. George came in from wherever he had been and grabbed James’ leg as he was climbing onto the bed. James gurgled and waved an arm in response to being touched, and George stopped and stared at him, as if realizing for the first time that there was a person in there. His facial expression changed from one of curiosity to one of absolute tenderness. He reached forward, and with both arms, he reached out, lifted the baby and drew him close in a protective embrace.

It was the first time George spontaneously hugged James.

In that moment, I felt that my two sons truly became brothers.

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A Letter Of Thanks

13 Oct

Dear Doctor P.,

Hootie And The Blowfish were playing on the radio when the baby growing in my belly died. I could tell from the cramp that tore through my body, from the sudden spike in my body temperature that left me reeling, and from the change in energy that comes from a soul winging its way to another world.

My baby girl, gone before she could be born.

For ten weeks you had brushed me off and dismissed my concerns.

“Women bleed during pregnancy all the time,”  you told me.

In the beginning I listened to you. You seemed so composed and your explanations made sense. You were immaculately put together, with your tailored suits and your perfect hair and your flawlessly applied crimson lipstick. You looked every inch the professional. Anyone looking at you would have had no doubt that you were competent in a cold, calculated kind of way.

I may have felt intimidated by you, but I had no reason to doubt you.

I didn’t even doubt you when, ten days after the bleeding had started, you continued to tell me that nothing was wrong.

Although I believed you, I hated you. I want to make that absolutely clear. I hated your air of superiority and your utter lack of compassion. I hated the way you told my husband – even though I was sitting right beside him – that I was “acting in a paranoid and unstable manner.”  I hated the way you ordered me not to do research on the Internet, as if I somehow didn’t have the right to the knowledge. I hated it when you insisted that an ultrasound would not be helpful, that it could in fact harm my baby.

I despised you and everything you said with an intensity that was almost poisonous.

And yet, I respected you. Somehow, despite everything, you were credible. You made me believe, with medical jargon that was beyond my realm and yet somehow logical, that it was OK for me to be bleeding from Week 8 until Week 18 of my pregnancy. When you finally deigned, in your God-like way, to allow me to have an ultrasound, you effortlessly explained away the too-slow growth and the irregular fetal heartbeat. You even succeeded in convincing me that I was crazy to think my baby was dying.

As I lay there on my kitchen floor that day, doubled over with pain and the beginnings of grief, with Hootie and his gang mockingly blaring out, “It’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshiny day,” I couldn’t help wondering what the doctor would say now.

When I walked into your office and told you about my dead baby, were you still going to somehow convince me that everything was OK? Were you going to say, “Oh, don’t worry, it’s perfectly normal for women to lose their babies after ten weeks of untreated complications?”

I want to thank you, Doctor P. Whether or not you contributed to the loss of my baby, and to the unbearable heartbreak that my husband and I endured, I am truly grateful to you. You opened my eyes, you see. You taught me not to trust the professionals I turn to for help, to question everything I hear, and to view life through shades of scepticism.

Thank you, Doctor P., for making me grow up.

This week’s Indie Ink Challenge came from Kelly Garriott Waite, who gave me this prompt: Take a person – in your fiction or your life–whom you despise. Now write a piece–a letter, a scene, whatever – showing love, admiration, or respect for that person.
I challenged Diane with the prompt: Tell the story of a telemarketing call that takes a very surprising turn.

Endings And Beginnings

4 Aug

It was bittersweet, that freezing cold day in February, 2003.

I was at a conference with a number of my co-workers, which really meant that I was subjected to a day of boring talks that I had to pretend to be utterly fascinated by. The trade-off was the free lunch, and I have to give the conference venue credit: it was outstanding grub.

After lunch, we had a bit of free time before the session reconvened. I decided to check the messages on my cell phone, so I turned it on and started fiddling with the buttons to get to the voicemail. When it vibrated in my hand, I almost jumped out of my skin. The incoming call was coming from a number I did not recognize.

Gerard, calling from a payphone. At the hospital, of all places.

He was calling to deliver bad news: his dad had been diagnosed with colon cancer. There was a possibility that it had spread to the liver. Tests were underway to find out.

I whispered a few words of explanation into the ear of one of my colleagues and ran to my car. An hour later, I was giving my father-in-law a hug at the hospital. He was looking remarkably cheerful for someone who had just received dire news. Either he was using humour as a coping mechanism, or the doctors had done a really good job of giving him hope.

Much later that night, Gerard and I left the hospital and went home. While he was Googling something-or-other, I locked myself into the bathroom and surreptitiously peed on a stick.

Three minutes later, the stick told me that while one life was fading away, another one was just beginning.

At our first ultrasound a couple of weeks later, we held hands as the technician showed us our baby on the monitor. His heart was beating solidly; and even though he was about the size of a grape, we could clearly see his little legs waving around.

Everything looks great, the technician told us. This is a good-looking baby.

Gerard and I finally allowed ourselves to feel a lick of hope for the first time since we found out we were having a baby. We had suffered a miscarriage several months previously; we had not really trusted that we would actually get to the point of seeing a healthy baby. We had several weeks to go before we would pass the point at which our previous pregnancy had failed, and we would hold our breaths until then. But seeing a strong, healthy baby was something that we had not experienced.

After the ultrasound, we drove straight to Gerard’s parents’ home to see them. Now that we had gone through the ultrasound, we felt OK about telling them. We showed my father-in-law the ultrasound picture, and said to him, “If the baby is a boy we’re going to call him George, after you.”

With his eyes flashing with humour, my father-in-law said, in his characteristic Irish brogue, “Aaaah, don’t do that to the poor child!”

Less than a month later, I stood in the cemetery with snow swirling around me as my father-in-law was laid to rest. As I said goodbye to one George, my hands protectively cradled the belly in which another was growing .

As one life ends, another begins. And the spirit of the old lovingly watches over the soul of the new.

(Photo credit to the author.)

Why Autism?

19 Jul

“Why do you think he has autism?”

This question is posed to me quite a lot by friends and strangers alike, people who for the most part intend no malice, but are genuinely curious about the origins of George’s autism.

That they are asking the question at all is something that I see as a positive sign. It tells me that increasingly, people are wanting to be educated about autism instead of blindly believing every tidbit of information – right or wrong – that is thrown their way.

Over the years, I have done research on a variety of theories.

Was it vaccines? No, I don’t believe it was. Deep down, I knew from the time George was a tiny baby that he was not on the trajectory of “typical” development. I don’t buy into the dietary theory either, for the same reason. George was exclusively breast-fed for four months, and by then I was seeing some little signs that something was not quite right.

No, whatever happened within George’s brain to result in his autism, it was a done deal by the time he came out of the womb.

Even with that knowledge, the title of Primary Cause is wide open. I have read a couple of recent studies suggesting that environmental factors in utero could have more of an effect than previously believed. As if moms of children with autism didn’t have enough guilt on their shoulders already. But that is neither here nor there.

When I was expecting George, I did everything that was considered by pregnancy gurus to be “right”. I ate lots of leafy greens and took my prenatal vitamins every day. I ate lean protein and avoided foods with a high fat content. Accustomed to eggs “over easy”, I ensured that my eggs were fully cooked, and I did not touch deli meat or anything else that could be a potential listeria risk. I did not touch a drop of alcohol, I stayed away from places where I might be exposed to second-hand smoke, and my body pretty much bullied me (through the magic of the laughably known “morning sickness”) into kicking caffeine to the kerb. I went to all of my OB/GYN appointments and followed the advice of my doctor. I did not take so much as a headache pill through my entire pregnancy. The only tablets going into my mouth were vitamins and Tums.

I don’t think I could have created a better environment for my baby if you had paid me a million bucks. Of course, there is the possibility that fifty years from now, someone will prove that some obscure enzyme in, say, oranges, has been linked to autism. But I think it is safe to say that the prenatal environment is an unlikely candidate for the cause of George’s autism.

Leaving aside other environmental factors like air pollution, there are two other possibilities: genetics, or the circumstances surrounding the birth itself. Or maybe a combination of the two.

When I was a child, I was developmentally delayed. I didn’t talk until I was five, and I had some motor skill delays. My body was physically capable of doing anything my peers could do, but the communication between my brain and my muscles was out of synch. It was clear – especially in the early years – that I had some kind of learning disability, although I was never formally diagnosed with anything. As I navigated my way through childhood and adolescence, I was able to compensate for my learning difficulties by simply thinking in a different way and leveraging areas that I was strong in. But as my academic performance got better and better, my social awkwardness and anxiety among people became more and more apparent.

To this day, I suffer from social anxiety, although in general, I have found ways to adapt and mask it so that people don’t really notice. I’m not so much a stickler for routine, but once plans are made I get very uncomfortable – almost panicky and kind of, well, spectrummy – if they are changed. Although I am now fully verbal – sometimes, downright talkative – there are times, usually when I’m stressed – when I lose the ability to communicate through speech. It’s as if the words get lost somewhere between my brain and my mouth.

Am I on the autism spectrum? I don’t know. I have never been for screening, and frankly, I don’t really see the point. But if I were to learn that I have Aspergers, I would not a bit surprised. When I look at the way George has evolved through his early childhood, and the way he is at this point in his life, I do see a lot of parallels with my own early years. So, genetics? It’s a strong possibility.

The other possibility is that something happened to George’s brain while he was being born. For the most part, my labour was pretty standard. Everything happened more or less when the Medicals said it would. When I was in the thick of contractions, I heard someone use the word “textbook”. When the time came to push, though, the going suddenly got a lot tougher. Even though the baby was perfectly positioned for birth, no matter how hard I pushed, nothing budged. The Medicals kept telling me to push harder, push harder, but I just couldn’t do it. After what felt like an eternity but was probably only a couple of minutes, the Medicals gave me an episiotomy (if you don’t know what that is, look it up, because I ain’t describing it here). Once that was done, I gave one more almighty push, and an eternal second later, I was rewarded by the sound of a baby crying.

Here’s the thing, though. While I was pushing to no avail, the baby’s heartbeat – usually in a range of 130-150 beats per minute – dipped to below 40 beats per minute. Only for a couple of seconds, mind. Like a momentary blip in the radar. But could those couple of seconds have been enough to alter the wiring in my baby’s brain?

In the end, I suppose it doesn’t really matter. George has autism, and knowing the cause with crystal clarity would not change that.

No matter what the cause, George has autism, and I love every inch of him for who he is.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/macbeck/4146730230/)

The Meaning Of Friendship

15 Apr

When George was a newborn, I joined an online group for parents of living children who had also experienced pregnancy or infant loss. Having gone through two pregnancy losses, I was paranoid about everything connected with my new baby. Did those sniffles indicate a cold or something more serious? Why wasn’t he nursing? Was that little bump to the head going to cause permanent damage? Was I actually going to be able to keep this tiny scrap of a human being alive?

In the online group, I found a home – a group of women whose experiences, while all very unique, gave us a common ground. We consoled and comforted one another, offered advice and reassurances, laughed and cried with one another. We became friends. And as you find in any group of friends, there was drama. We had disagreements and conflict. Some people left never to be heard from again, others left and came back.

Seven years on, the core group of us are still friends. The online group itself is not as active as it once was, because most of us are friends on Facebook, and we communicate that way. But we are still as much of a support for one another as we always were. Through seven years (and in some cases, more), we have seen each other through births and deaths, marriages and divorces, relocations, bankruptcies, illnesses, post-partum depression, and even a prison sentence. We have been there for each other through everything.

In 2007, George was diagnosed with autism. As I dealt with the implications of this, including my own emotional fallout, my girls were there for me. Their love and support helped keep me buoyant at a time when it would have been so easy to drown. These amazing women, who had already helped me stay sane through relationship and financial problems, the loss of my father, and my pregnancy with James, once again banded together to help me cope.

And then, a little over a year ago, I found another online group of friends – these ones parents of children with autism. They wormed their way into my heart in the same way my first group had. Although the general conversations centre around different issues, the sense of love and support is present in both groups. My autism friends have been part of my life for substantially less time, but they have helped me over so many hurdles. They tell me I’m a good Mom when I’ve struggle to deal with George’s behaviours. They celebrate with me when he achieves a milestone, and they commiserate with me when a stranger in a grocery store says something ignorant about my child.

Both groups of people are brutally honest in their opinions. They have the strength and the integrity to tell me what they really think, instead of telling me what they believe I want to hear.

From the two groups combined, I have met exactly three people in person.

Occasionally, someone makes a distinction between online friends and IRL (“in real life”) friends. To me, there is no such distinction. Just because you communicate with someone primarily through email or Facebook, that doesn’t mean they are any less real. The only word in the equation that means anything to me is “friends”. And that is truly what these people are. I cannot imagine my life without them. I do not know how I would have weathered the storms of the last few years if they hadn’t been there to keep me afloat and give me reality checks when I needed them.

This post is dedicated to my friends at PALC_group and Parenting_Autism. Thank you for being the wonderful people you are. I love you all.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ilamont/4329364198)