Heartiversary

Four years ago today, as snow began to heavily blanket the earth in the early morning hours, we prepared for the unpreparable.

I remember my head and heart in constant battle as we learned the medical team was having difficulty getting to the hospital due to road conditions. If they didn’t arrive and surgery was postponed I’d get to hold on to my baby just a little longer…I wouldn’t have to face this.

My head knew he needed surgery to survive but my heart and arms just wouldn’t let him go. The halls were silent that morning but for my muffled cries. I was numb as Scott and I wheeled him to the OR doors. I fought the fearful thoughts creeping in my mind, as this walk eerily felt like a funeral procession…and I was so afraid it was.

I was cold and hollow and at the same time, full of more love and warmth than I’ve ever known.

Physically ill with fear, my stomach was somersaulting in my throat, then plummeting to my feet and back up again. In one minute I was preparing myself to say a forever goodbye and in the next, I knew with all that was in me, that he would be okay. I was like a ball with all the pain of being slammed to the ground and then tossed high up to the sky in exhilarating joy. Up and down, up and down, for all the hours of his surgery until I could lay my burning and bloodshot eyes on him once again.

(1/3/14 post op)

I’ve never spoken of the fear I had in this very moment. It’s something I try not to think about too much. It wasn’t for lack of faith in our medical team, it was the knowledge that our children are never really ours…they belong to God…and He calls them home in His time. His time – not mine. I was not in control.

Would Luke’s purpose have been served in his one month and 10 days on this earth? I prayed with all that I was, that it wasn’t. I prayed for a long, healthy, happy life. Together.

Our walk down winding and sterile halls that morning was a walk to new life. It was a walk to rebirth. The door to Luke’s heart was opened that morning and he was gifted life for the second time. Life I could not ever give him.

(Happy Heartiversary cake)

There are times on this earth when we can prepare…and there are times when no amount of preparation will ever be enough. Times we are in control and times when all control must be surrendered. In those hours all we can do is hold on to each other, to Love. Hold on to faith. Hold on to the Peace that there is so much more than this life…so much more.

As mom to a heart warrior, I honor life with that knowledge, living every day in love, faith and so much thankfulness.

Happy Heartiversary, my sweetest Luke.

❤️💙

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The Truth Of How To Be Strong

As I scoured the preschool floor for my missing earring, I heard her voice…”You are so amazing. I don’t know how you do it every day. You’re so strong. Like a supermom.”


Preschool drop off has never really been easy and lately, we are truly struggling – in many areas and ways. This particular instance involved quite a bit of physical and mental struggle and it took a lot reassurance, use of our picture schedule and storytelling. It took me sitting on the floor, face to face and heart to heart as I squeezed him so tightly I could feel it beating, my lips touching his soft little ear as I whispered our mantra of sorts, “You’re safe. You will have the best day ever. Mommy will come back after nap and snack. I always come back. I love you.”

As I stood up, brushing from my sweaty face, pieces of hair that had been yanked from the messy bun I’d slept in the night before, our eyes met. She’d seen me drop him off countless times. She’s seen us on the verge of meltdowns, the panic in his eyes when he realized his coat hook and cubby had moved location.

We never really spoke before this day, other than the customary etiquette that often ensues as parents go about the weekday ritual of delivering their children to daycare and preschool before heading to work. And largely, that’s because I’m usually always on the verge of tears as I leave the building. I want to say more, but I can’t. I need to hold it together until the car…God just let me make it to the damn car in time.

So many times, mothers of children with special needs are praised for their strength, perseverance and determination in raising their children. While it’s great being reminded that you’re a good parent, there is something inherently uncomfortable when you are told you are strong for raising your child that has special needs. When people share these sentiments, I know they mean no harm. If anyone reading has said this to me – or a parent raising a child with special needs – I understand it all comes from a good place. However, deep within me there is such an unsettled feeling that while the world around me sees me as this fearless, caped supermom, I know that on the inside I am insecure, scared, and every day, so completely overwhelmed by the road I am on.

When someone tells me I’m strong, there is a part of me that wants to scream at the top of my lungs how utterly weak and defeated I feel. I often nod my head, take the compliment, and know most parents in my situation likely feel that their strength is NOT an option. When you have a child that is medically fragile, autistic, developmentally delayed, or intellectually disabled, the only person that can advocate and fight for that child is the parent. There are only two choices (1) you take on the fight (2) you abandon your child. Most parents could never conceive of leaving their child, and therefore the only choice they have is to put on their big kid pants and plough forward, full steam – just like Thomas the tank engine. 

That particular morning at drop-off, and every time I hear it, the most difficult part of being told that I’m strong is that I feel like it means I’m not allowed to be weak or have moments where I don’t feel confident or happy. It feels like a lie. Most days it feels like I have to put on a brave face, but in reality, all I want to do is hide in my closet and cry on the floor – and I have. I never feel like I can be scared, frustrated, overwhelmed or sad because I have to be strong for my child. Over the past few months, I’ve come to the slow realization that I don’t have to be strong all the time. It’s getting too hard…

To all the moms in this special needs community, you certainly don’t need it, but you have permission to have a bad day…to cry…to scream…and to feel hopeless – and not feel guilty for any of it. We cannot always hold it all together. If we don’t stop to feel our emotions, we will only find ways to destroy ourselves.

The world sees us as superheroes for our children, and I imagine they believe we are cloaked in our vibrant capes as we dash to various appointments. But do you want to know the truth? The truth is that no single person is capable of being a superhero all the time. It’s natural to feel weak, to feel sad, and to grieve the life you thought you’d have…and the one you are now living. It doesn’t mean you are ungrateful or love your child any less.

The next time someone tells you how strong you are and how much they admire the color of your cape and your ability to be supermom, I challenge you to be vulnerable and messy with the people in your life. Tell them you don’t always feel strong. Tell them there are days you feel like it’s absolutely impossible to deal with any more stress…and that you just need someone to let you not be strong…for just a minute.

When I have forced myself to get honest with my friends and family, I have found that this is where I find my real strength. I feel their support as they listen to all my frustrations and sadness. We can’t keep it all in, all the time.

I encourage you to NOT be strong every single day. I’m working on it, and you should too. Your sanity depends on your ability to process all these feelings. Once you’ve had a chance to feel weak, it is only then, you will know the truth of how to be strong.

Rescue Patrol

He fought the tears and tried to be strong, anxiously wringing his not so chubby – but still little – almost 4 year old hands, until they were red.

I searched him if only for just a glimmer of understanding…begged him to use his words, to tell me – even one word – how he felt.

And then finally, a quiver in his soft, small voice, sounding as if it carried with it the death weight caused by all the archers tools, it came…

”shaky…it makes my inside…shaky…Mommy”. 

There’s no on/off switch when it comes to parenting. You’re 100% in, or you’re not. Some days that means being the rescue patrol to your little darling when therapies don’t go as planned. 

Having any time to myself is an extreme rarity, as I’m sure many moms can relate. Today was supposed to be that day for me…to relax, decorate, zone out while cooking a delicious meal. Those things won’t happen. Not today.

And yet it’s okay.

Because some days – actually, most days – we don’t even get to scratch the surface of what we had planned.

Some days life isn’t okay.

And in those uncertain moments of heartbreak and suffering, we must seek to understand. We must do our best to accept and sit with the discomfort of all that is, knowing that it’s okay for every soul, to not be okay sometimes.

And so we sit, silent and shaking, holding onto each other, to love.

Holding fast to the magnificent power that comes when parenting through the pain. 

The Dance With CHD

June 12, 2013

Today I heard your heartbeat for the very first time. My own heart fluttered in anticipation of all the beautiful days to come. What will you look like? Sound like? How amazing will it feel to hold you to my breast, comfort you, keep you safe…Your heart was beating so rapidly and loud. The doctor said your heart is very strong. It was the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard.

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September 12, 2013

You’re a BOY! I knew it! I felt it with every part of me…and I also felt for weeks, that there was something wrong. The ultrasound technician was hovering too long today. She stopped talking. She was intent and focused. Repeated freezing of the screen, contrasting red and blue…The doctor explained there is something significantly wrong with your heart. He didn’t give much detail, only that we will need further testing in the next few weeks.

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September 24, 2013

 You have coarctation of the aorta. We are being referred to St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children. Oh – and we’re not supposed to Google…I’ll behave – for now. Because maybe, just maybe, if I don’t Google, then it’s not real. There’s a chance this could all be a mistake…some blip on the screen that was misread. This is one time when I pray my intuition is completely wrong.

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October 2, 2013

We went to St. Christopher’s today for a very detailed – and long – echocardiogram. I didn’t want to be there. I hated that I was there. I hated the reason. Despite what I felt in my soul, I prayed they had it all wrong. These doctors would apologize for us having had to drive all this way for nothing but a mistake on an echo. We would stop for lunch on the way home, shop for more nursery items…that’s what I prayed. That’s what I knew deep in my soul, would never happen. Life wouldn’t be the same after today. There’s no un-telling of a truth…Right there, in black and white and gray…contrasts of red and blue…it was all laid out. Your defect was critical…I was critically devastated. “Immediate surgery”…I made it through the consultation, drawings of your heart, questions of whether I’d ever taken any medications while pregnant, family history…I had few tears…I was holding it together. Until I wasn’t…Until I made it to the parking deck and clung to the railing as I sobbed, unable to take another step. As if climbing the stairs would signify the uphill battle we were now about to face.

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June 20, 2017

We’ve been facing battles of all kinds for the better part of nearly 4 years. And on this, the eve of my sweet Luke’s yearly echo, I am yet again reminded that this heart journey never ends. It’s sting lasts long after the scars begin to fade, and like a houseguest who’s outworn their welcome, it lurks in hidden chambers, refusing to ever completely leave. It’s like a lost soul, inhabiting it’s host…never fully here, never fully there…if we are fortunate, it will stay at rest, find peace.

Peace.

I’d like to say I’ve made peace, found peace. But I’ve not…this dance with a disease I can’t see brings tremendous burden…and it’s not Luke’s heart that is the burden. It’s my dance. It’s my own feet that get in the way…I stumble, I trip. I’m falling all over…

It’s my own heart, my own fears, my own anxiety, that are the real uphill battles. It’s in the 2:00 AM wakings – 3 years later – to check on him. It’s in the visual reminders of arterial line scars, cut down scars on his neck, arms, groin, feet…and his back.

The yearly echo is a reminder of how far we’ve come and where we’ve been. It’s a yearly dose of reality slapped square in the face. I wish I could say I am beyond the anxiety and the fear that this day brings…but I’m not. I clumsily continue the dance, stumbling with the ghosts. They can’t ever leave because they are the truth of the past. They hold all that was ever lost, all that has ever been gained, and all that is yet to come. I fear to let them go, I will lose footing on sacred ground. That I will forget, that in great pain and grief, the dance must continue. And I understand that while I may dance with peace and acceptance for a song or two, ultimately, my partners will change – often. It’s the impermanent nature, the uncertainty, of CHD.

 

 

Why I Won’t Light It Up Blue

On this day when everyone lights it up blue and has autism on their mind, I would just like to say that as a parent of a child with autism, all I want in this world is to understand my son and for others to try to as well.

Only a few short weeks ago, I could not say the word autism without a lump growing in my throat and my eyes welling with tears. In the early days after diagnosis, I couldn’t even so much as utter “Hi, my name is Laurel and I am calling regarding services for my son who was diagnosed with autism,” without totally breaking down while calling providers. Sometimes I couldn’t even make it past my own name and at times, had to hang up and call back later, only to cry again.

While I already knew for many months with everything that was in me, there was nothing that could ever truly prepare me to hear the words falling from the doctor’s lips. And fall they did…those words hitting the walls of my heart like concrete blocks, leaving jagged chunks of what I thought would be, could be, scattered along a path I had laid for my family. For my son.

Since that day, I’ve cried just about every day. Sometimes from sadness, sometimes anger, a lot of frustration, and most often, because of love. You see, amidst the fallen pieces – big dreams, hopes, the vivid picture I could not only see, but feel, like the strokes left behind from the artist’s brush, the texture was smooth in some places and rougher in others. Like the tiny particles remaining from that concrete rock that collided with my version of reality, they were now imbedded in the colors of my painting. As I traced the dream with my fingers I could feel smooth, then bumpy, rough…and I knew this would be forever.

This authentic and lucid dream I had was once again, not mine. It had never been mine to paint – the canvas was surely mine, but the colors and texture were not up to me to choose. I couldn’t ever have imagined the kaleidoscope that would follow…

I’d hoped for once, my maternal instinct had failed me. That the doctor would tell me I was over reacting, that every 3 year old spends incessant amounts of time organizing and perfecting, lining up trains, cars, magnets on a refrigerator. That leaving the house or transitioning activities is a challenge for any toddler. But she didn’t…

After a 3 hour observation and evaluation and an encyclopedias worth of paperwork, our entire lives, our complete history on display, I saw it in her eyes. I knew what she was about to deliver. She did it in the kindest and gentlest way, and I will forever be grateful for her compassion and empathy.

She provided us with some papers, said we were doing all the right things already, told us we could contact her at any time for any thing, gave me the warmest hug, and sent us on our way. We decided to keep it to ourselves for a while longer; we just weren’t ready to tell others.

I think some of that was fear talking. He is still little and maybe with enough therapy we could help him be as neurotypical as possible. “Neurotypical” is the politically correct word for “normal.” I just could not get past the “autism” word. I was stuck and scared.

My brain understood, but my heart hadn’t yet caught up. Even over a years worth of mother’s intuition did not prepare me. Why was this at once, so hard and yet so easy. There was overwhelming relief because – finally! Finally, we were not living this alone; it wasn’t manifested in some version of our own reality. It was real.

It’s been very real.

I’ve gotten him all the help I can find. Speech therapy, more occupational therapy, ABA therapy. I read and read and read, learning everything I possibly can about autism and sensory processing disorder. I joined online support groups where I’ve met some amazing mothers and no longer feel so alone and lost. There are friends old and new who became my angels, and they know who they are – without them, I would have crumbled. I don’t believe most people have even the slightest inkling what autism families go through – I didn’t. Add in additional diagnoses and medical challenges, and it is literally all-consuming in every sense. All day. Every day.

Initially, we were afraid to tell family and friends because we just didn’t want our little boy treated differently or analyzed. This was fear talking and I know now that those fears would have never happened. So we relied on each other for support, but as a scared mom I needed so much more, and found it in my online autism community and among amazing medical professionals I now so thankfully and lovingly call, friends.

You see, when you have a child with autism your biggest fear is the future. Not so much the near future but the distant future. Will he go to college or will he need to be cared for at home. Will he speak or will he be nonverbal forever. Will he ever have a real friend. Please Lord, will he ever call me “mom” or say “I love you” and on his own. Will he learn to point. Will he be potty trained. There’s so much more…

Just because a child does not speak, doesn’t mean they can’t communicate. Just because they don’t make eye contact, doesn’t mean they aren’t listening. If they don’t want to be touched, it doesn’t mean they are incapable of love. If they need to spin, yell, hum – it’s because it feels good, it serves a need – and it’s okay.

Autism is a spectrum disorder. A person with autism can be low on the spectrum (high functioning) meaning they can communicate and have some challenges but with time can usually manage them and live a normal life. Being high on the spectrum (low functioning) is well, the opposite usually. They are usually nonverbal individuals who could possibly need care for the rest of their lives.

It’s hard to define the autism spectrum. As the saying goes, when you meet one person with autism you meet ONE person with autism. They are all different and all extraordinary – ALL of them. They all have different challenges and strengths. Not one person with autism is the same. Please remember that. Everyone – typical or not – is their own unique masterpiece, crafted by His hand.

If I could put Luke on a pedestal, I would. He brings joy to every person he touches. He is just the most beautiful gift God has ever given me and I am so proud to be his mother. I shed many, many tears of joy because of him. My life is richer, relationships more transparent. As if all we had already been through didn’t cause me to recognize life’s value, any remaining scales have fallen from my eyes.

My canvas I thought, was already perfect. What I didn’t see was the full spectrum of colors and how the mixing, the texture, the unevenness, would be the very beauty defining our lives together. Paint poured out like tears flowing, the canvas takes new life.

The white light of soul, prism refracts. A spectrum – a beautiful kaleidoscope of vibrant color – is born. To me, Luke, and every person with autism or a “disability”, is the essence of purest white light refracted. Where life is not distorted, but clarified and transformed. It is innocence and purity, intrinsic honesty and beauty. But to see it, you must surrender your canvas to the Artist’s brush. You must trust. You must have faith.

April is Autism awareness month but for our family, it’s every day. Every day is a chance to educate others because we live in a time where it is estimated that 1 out of 68 children in this country are diagnosed with Autism and the numbers are as high as 1 in 34 in some parts of the country. I think most people know a child or person with autism. If you don’t, the day you do, smile and feel blessed, because you have met the very essence of spirit walking this earth.

I will not light it up blue because to me, autism is a beautiful kaleidoscope of constantly changing and overlapping colors.

Learn what autism really is and how you can involve children and adults with autism in your every day lives. Teach your children about autism. They will be encountering many peers on the spectrum, all different, but all extraordinary. Teach them all this, so they can become adults that will be tolerant of the changing world around them.

Diagnosis Doesn’t Define Love

Here’s the thing – and it’s a big thing when the doctor says those words. When the details play over and over – and over again – in your mind for hours at time, days, weeks, years to come. Here is what I want you to know and believe with all of your heart. To lift yourself from the muddled depths of grief, sorrow, guilt and anger, you must first make room, and sit with it. Allow the tangled waves of despair to wash over you, in all of its rawness, embrace it.

And then, you stand.

A diagnosis explains and defines a lot of things, but never does it define love.

So love until you’re running dry, until your heart bursts. Love fully for every day with which you’ve been graced. Stand tall and rise with burning love ❤️

Okay Together

“You’re my best friend, Mommy.”

Yes, Baby.

There’s so much emotion attached to his statement. If I were the mother of a typical 3 year old, I wonder if I’d feel differently about his words. The fact is, I am his best friend (his mother, his OT, PT, speech therapist, his nurse, his advocate) and forever his biggest fan.

But as much as this melts my heart to know my sweet boy sees me this way, it also stings. It stings because I know it’s true. He doesn’t have friends in the traditional sense and I can’t help but wonder if he ever will.

I know what you’re thinking – he’s THREE! Stop overthinking!

We are early in our journey and there’s so much progress to be made. Yet still…my heart cannot help but ache and long for him to know true acceptance from someone other than his mother. I pray this every day as I drop him at preschool…

“Please, Lord. Give him a friend. Give him comfort and strength. Watch over him.”

There is so much we don’t know – can’t know – until it all unfolds. That’s hard for me. Really hard. I want to know if he’ll ever be able to comfortably associate with peers. I want to know if he will ever initiate instead of always needing an adult to prompt.

Some of the fiercest battles we fight as special needs parents are the ones inside our own hearts. We battle between fact and what we hope and pray will be. We do our best to stay strong and positive and sometimes…sometimes it just becomes too much. In spite of our best efforts, we crumble. Under all the pressures and demands, necessary and self-imposed, we succumb to the battle, knees falling to the rocky ground, and we plead with all that is in us to just make it all okay.

“Please, Lord, let it all, always be okay.”

And when we finally pick ourselves up, brushing off the fear, anxiety, and yes, sometimes anger, we see that our knees bear the scars of having fallen countless times before and yet still, we rise. We rise to do it all again and again because these precious souls have been entrusted to our care. And for as many times as we fall and hurt, they hurt just as much and more – and still, THEY rise.

Our babies fight no matter what. They don’t give up, they don’t complain, they march onward – and so must we.

I would battle thousands of lifetimes to be the mother of the son I have right now. He was meant to be mine, of this I am certain. Our souls have been, and always will be, eternally intertwined.

So yes, Baby. I am your best friend. Today, tomorrow, through every sting and every scar. Together, it will be okay. Together we are okay.