Father’s Day

I think most pregnant women throughout their pregnancy think a ton about how their husband will be as a father. I know I did. We’ve always had a very equal partnership and I wondered if that would continue as we grew our family, since I had heard the opposite from so many other women.

Scott goes above and beyond for our son every day. I don’t know a dad who does more for his family and though I try not to get too braggy about all he does for us, I’m always making an effort to thank him and tell him how much I appreciate all he does.

In light of Father’s Day, if there is one day of the year that I am going to brag on my husband, this is it.

It started in the earliest days of my pregnancy. Him making sure I had enough sleep, proper nutrition, exercise, and foot massages – even though he can’t stand feet. It continued when we learned of Luke’s critical congenital heart defect – he researched, asked questions, became an expert on his son’s heart. I watched closely as he redid a bedroom for his unborn son – rebuilt a closet and chose paint color and decor. I saw his physical labor of love and determination to make things just right.

I remember the look on his face the night I was admitted to the hospital in a critical state, with the news Luke would have to be delivered early. He stayed by our side the entire weekend. He took care of us – of everything – when I was not even able to care for myself.

And when Luke arrived and was transported to St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, he joined him immediately. He texted me photos and videos of our son for 3 days because he knew how hard I was struggling, having to be separated from them. I remember the phone call he made to me, such pride and joy and love in his voice, telling me what a “cool little dude” he is and how I have to focus on getting better so I can join them soon.

Scott was Daddy, but he was also Mommy to Luke in the first few days when I could not be present. He changed our son’s very first diaper, gave him pacifiers, participated in his care, held him and sat and talked to him for hours on end, day and night.

We were supposed to be there together – partners, parents – yet he did it all alone, and he loved him enough for the both of us.

I remember how he researched breast milk and proceeded to inform me of all the many benefits and the differences between foremilk and hindmilk and I recall thinking to myself, “who IS this man?”

I so distinctly remember how on multiple occasions he helped hold my pumping parts in place because I did not have a hands-free bra and hadn’t anticipated that I would need to pump because I wanted to nurse. How he brought me hot compresses, bottles of water, made sure I ate every meal.

I remember how he was my biggest cheerleader and supporter during the toughest days…and how he loved Luke more than anything in this world and would do anything for him, including waking up multiple times a night to feed or comfort him. How he would never leave his side.

I remember the way Luke slept on his chest for hours and how he loved every second of it. I remember the way his face lit up the first time he said “da da,” ate his first solids, rolled over and crawled, and took his first step.

I could go on and on about how he helps so much around the house, cooks dinner for us most nights or does sweet things like wash my car or refill my gas tank when he notices it is low.

And how during the extremely stressful and scary times of caring for a child with multiple medical needs and never-ending diagnoses, tests and procedures, brings you to your knees, he is always there, kneeling right beside me or ready with strong and open arms to lift us all up.

I think the bottom line is that he cares so much about our family that it’s natural for him to be a wonderful partner and father. It’s a quality I very much admire in him and one that I know will set a good example for Luke as he grows and learns about love and relationships.

I feel so fortunate to be able to celebrate Scott on Father’s Day, taking a moment to acknowledge all of the things he does, big and small, and how they make our time together as a family so special. How he always makes us feel so very special and loved.

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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. 

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.

Moments

Over the weekend I was running errands with Luke in tow. Having skipped his nap in lieu of playing and squealing and being a toddler, he was resting his heavy head on my chest as we stood in line at the check out. His bustling little body and busy hands, now resting on my shoulder with a gentle grip on my shirt collar.

I had just been making arrangements for his next surgery prior to our stop at the store and was lost in thought running through mental notes of what still needed to be secured for his procedure. I was swaying back and forth, Luke slowing drifting in and out of sleep. I kissed his head, gave him a snuggling squeeze, and breathed him in. The woman in line behind me kindly leaned forward and very sweetly told me to make sure I enjoy these moments – that one day they will be gone too quickly.

I nodded my head and gave her a smile, thanked her, and proceeded to check out, all the while thinking to myself – “she doesn’t know”.

She doesn’t know how my heart yearned for him before he was ever conceived. She doesn’t know the absolute and sheer elation of confirming a pregnancy I thought would never happen. The 6 pregnancy tests I took on Mother’s Day morning (not to mention all the ones in days prior) and the tackling leap I made into my husband’s arms afterward. Or, that before I even took those 6 tests, I had an instinct that told me I was pregnant and saved me from taking a medication an ER doctor prescribed because he said I “likely lost the baby and probably have irritable bowel”.

She doesn’t know that when I heard his heartbeat for the very first time, it was the most beautiful and breathtaking sound I would ever know. That it was strong and quick, and such a gift. And that 13 weeks later that same heartbeat, as strong as it was, would lead us to discovering he had a critical congenital heart defect.

She doesn’t know the shock I felt, and that in an instant, all my joy was replaced with stagnating fear.

She doesn’t know the journal I started for him that Mother’s Day, telling him how much he was wanted and already loved. Or the letters I would write to him from my heart, sharing happenings of our day, and then telling him of his diagnosis, and how much it hurt.

She doesn’t know that I ceased all planning on his nursery. That I closed the door to the room where he would one day sleep, and for a little while, closed the door to my heart. That I didn’t want a baby shower, clothing, toys or empty albums, because it hurt too much – the thought he might never use them and I might never get to fill them.

She doesn’t know the sadness that overcame me or how hard I fought to push it out – and won.

She doesn’t know that on the day I pulled out all the stops and made a decision to love in spite of all the “what-ifs”, the door to his room reopened and with it, a tide of love so strong, it would wipe out anything and anyone in its path. That that very room would become the only place I would find solace and safety, and feel close to him when I came home, and he didn’t.

She doesn’t know how weeks of ultrasounds and tests leading up to his birth brought me closer to him. How seeing his magnificent and delicate body flicker across a screen, learning every facet of his heart, would further solidify my commitment to him.

She doesn’t know how with every passing day, carrying his beautiful body in my womb, knowing full well challenges would lie ahead, that I vowed to love him through it all. For hours I would sit, talking to just him, loving him. I would lie awake in the night – his most active time – just to feel him move because I feared I might never have the chance once he was born.

She doesn’t know how hard and often I prayed, begging God to just let me keep him. And that no matter what, I would love him in life and I would love him in death, if God called him home.

She doesn’t know how I labored with him – becoming so ill, both our lives in jeopardy. The moments when his heart rate began to plummet and my body was giving out. Facing a heart-wrenching reality and making it known that at all costs, Luke must be saved.

She doesn’t know once he was born, I never heard his first cry or that I don’t fully remember him being laid beside me an hour later, his precious face I would not see through all the tape and tubing. Three days I would wait to see him again and the reunion, so much like coming home. The other half of my heart lying in a NICU, so frail, so tiny – so mine.

She doesn’t know the hours upon hours I spent at his bedside. So many sleepless nights of worry and because I just wouldn’t leave him. Setting alarms reminding me to pump because it was the only thing I could do for my baby, and all the while, machine suctioning, I would sob. I sobbed because this wasn’t how it was supposed to be. I sobbed because I wanted my baby to my breast, not a sterile, cold machine. I sobbed because I had seen another mother lose her precious boy just moments before, and I too, now understood the delicate balance of life. And I sobbed.

She doesn’t know the fears and tears I have shed – joy and sadness. Handing my baby to a surgeon, not knowing if he would ever come back to me and when he did, the rejoicing in my heart at his new life.

She doesn’t know how my heart was being prepared for a baby I thought I might lose – a baby that I needed more than he ever needed, or will need me.

If she knew these things…how I still rock him before bed every night, sometimes to his dismay. Or that I check on him before I drift to sleep and then again like clockwork, awake in the middle of the night, to watch him breathe. That I see him – really see him – play and interact, and I admire him, adore him, for all he has achieved.

If she knew we still have a pebbly and uncertain road ahead, or all the many ways he’s making strides. That a milestone is so much more than that – it is extraordinary – and how my heart swells and leaps when he learns something new and is so proud of himself.

And when he’s racing around all full of boy – screaming and yelling and dirty, causing fantastic destruction in his path, and so trustingly throws himself into my arms, I feel his heart thumping and pumping, red cheeks and sweaty brow — I know. I know full well, these are the moments. Such precious moments. If she knew all my heart holds – life-altering experience that cannot be unseen or unfelt – she would know, it is in these moments that I fully live every minute of every day.

Life lived isn’t always to be measured in years. It is in the depth. Live fully. Love deeply. No regrets. Mind the moments.