On a crisp, cool morning almost 16 years ago, Brad and I left our home as a couple. When we returned, we were a family of three. Gray made me a mommy, and while I know it’s cliché, my heart and life have never been the same. And I wouldn’t want them to be.
He was 8 pounds, 9 ounces of quiet, contemplative baby. He liked to be held, and just look around with his big blue eyes. The hospital staff referred to him as the sweet baby. There was one nurse who called him the Poop Master. But that’s a different story.
We were discharged with our quiet, sweet boy and drove home so very, very carefully. Brad winced every time another car came within sight, I sat in the back so that I could protect my boy. And he slept through the whole thing. Soundly.
We arrived back at our condo, took some pictures of his homecoming, and then opened the door and entered our Christmas wonderland of a home. We had spent the entire weekend before his birth decorating and it was spotless.
Within 2 hours of our homecoming, we had a pile of poop and spit-up covered laundry in the middle of the living room floor. Hospital bags and paperwork, cups and remnants of snacks and meals covered every surface. Which is how it would remain for about the next 10 years, minus the poop and spit-up laundry.
Because our quiet, contemplative boy had turned into a screaming, writhing being who would not be comforted. Unless, by chance, one of his exhausted parents gathered the strength to march him around the house. And we had to march, because regular walking just wouldn’t do.
He couldn’t nurse properly, he’d latch on and gulp greedily but immediately fall asleep and then wake up 10 minutes later furious because he was so hungry. He did this 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Finally, he lost so much weight that his pediatrician insisted we supplement nursing with formula. And he preferred the bottle and quit nursing altogether. But he did start to put on that elusive weight.
Despite his screaming, demanding ways, we were smitten. In love. Adored him and everything about him. Could look at him for hours on end. And we did, because he was so perfect and beautiful.
But he was also perplexing. The baby books said that he would enjoy gazing at us, that even at a few days old he would try to imitate facial expressions and respond to us. And he might have, if he’d ever looked at our faces. But my boy stared at lights and white spaces. When his doctor mentioned at his 2 month checkup that this was such a fun age because of the cooing and vocalizations, I was alarmed. Because he didn’t do that. At all, ever.
As he grew, he did begin to interact with us. But he was often fretful and the littlest upsets could send him into a tailspin. A massive meltdown that could last for hours. When he was almost a year, we found him banging his head against the wall by his crib. That terrified me, but I didn’t know what I was seeing. I didn’t know that this was autism, and my beautiful boy was going to have to work so much harder than his peers to fit into this world.
There are so many other stories I could tell, so many things he has faced and overcome. Or sometimes failed. He’s come farther than I could have dreamed when it seemed like he was so intractable and stubborn and enmeshed in his autistic tendencies.
So, yes, there are thousands of stories and I’ll share many of them. But for now, what I want to say is that I could never have anticipated what a funny, sweet and thoughtful young man my son has become. How he loves people and always thinks the best of them. His love has changed me and made me a much better mom, but more importantly, a much better person. I am incredibly proud of my son, for who he is and what he has accomplished.
And if you are a momma who’s terrified because your baby won’t look at you, won’t interact, bangs his head or has other horrifying behaviors, take heart. It’s hard work, it looks impossible sometimes and it’s exhausting and heart-breaking. But there is hope, your kids will make progress, you will reach them. Keep fighting on, mommies. Respect.