At running the risk of being overly simplistic, I would say I was raised to measure myself by my achievements. Good grades at school, a clean room, appropriate dress, proper etiquette, etc. Meeting outside standards assured me of my worth. Being reasonably intelligent and competent, most of these things came easily to me. I was pretty sure I could handle anything life would hand to me.
Then Daniel was born. I had a natural birth with a quick and pretty easy labor. However, the umbilical cord was wrapped around Daniel’s neck, there was meconium in the amniotic fluid, and he had apnea, a temporary condition where he would suddenly stop breathing for several seconds. We stayed in the hospital for 3 days.
After we got home, he seemed like a normal baby. Daniel was my first. I didn’t have much context as a parent. Looking back, I can see that he was overly sensitive to stimulus such as light, sounds and people. A trip to the grocery store was almost impossible. He would not be calmed by a light patting on the back but rather preferred near pounding. He preferred heavy blankets when he slept. Still, he nursed well, and stayed on a regular schedule. I thought I was a pretty good mom.
It was the lack of speech that first raised a red flag for me. He said “hot” shortly after his first birthday but then never progressed. If anything he regressed. He seemed in a world of his own. I didn’t know how to explain what I was seeing to his pediatrician. I was assured by professionals and parents alike that I just had too high expectations. He was a boy and boys develop slower, particularly in speech and socialization.
However, it was more than just slow development. He had no interest at all with interacting with anyone, even me. He started playing his father’s Nintendo 64 at about 20 months and would play all day if I let him. Trying to pull him away from TV or video games was traumatic. He refused to wear clothes, preferring instead to stay in just a diaper. I downplayed this to his doctor, worrying that my efforts and intentions would be misunderstood; worried that I would be labeled, “THE BAD MOTHER”!
It was shortly after I had my second child, also a boy, that I hit the wall. As Daniel got older, I was expecting more of him. Daniel was almost 3 when I started to try to toilet train him. I also made a renewed effort to start to organize his time into more structured activities. I was determined to prepare him for school.
These new expectations and efforts uncovered new concerns. It was a struggle to get Daniel to do anything structured. Conflicts with him quickly escalated out of control. As a confrontation escalated, Daniel would seem to disconnect even more, becoming increasingly out of control. Eventually, it got to the point where he was biting, kicking, and scratching me when I would tell him it was time to stop watching Blues Clues.
I turned to Daniel’s father for support in getting help for Daniel. He dismissed my concerns and insisted I just needed to be Daniel’s friend. I was discouraged. However, I believed there had to be a way from the hell that life with Daniel was becoming, to the life I hoped for my son.
Desperate for answers, I turned to the internet and library. I read everything I could about disturbing behavior in children. Slowly, I found help. I began to find vocabulary to describe the struggles. It started to sink in that what was happening with Daniel, wasn’t about me.
It still took time for my perspective to shift. With this perspective shift, I saw the struggle my son was facing. My love for my son overwhelmed the fear of being misunderstood.
This new courage bled over into other areas of my life. Concern for reality and understanding the value of authenticity, even if it exposes genuine struggles, began to outweigh previous fears and pretension.
Nowadays, I have a clearer goal and better understanding of my responsibility to my son. I would like to say that I never measure my worth as a mother by my son’s performance. I still have to swallow hard, sometimes, when I face embarrassing conversations or awkward behavior by Daniel. I catch myself discouraged by the current struggle. Then I remember early fears prevented what could have been an earlier intervention. Now, I also have a husband that reminds me of where Daniel was a year ago, helping me to step back and look at the big picture.
It would be years before I got a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome for Daniel. However, being Daniel’s mother has given me the courage to face my own fears.