It’s such a pleasure to have fellow St. Martin’s Press author Tiffany Clare joining us at Peanut Butter on the Keyboard today. Thanks, Tiffany, for being you. Your honesty and courage are inspiring, and we wish you and your family all the best!
When I came onto this blog last week, I felt a connection with the women here (whether they knew they were making that connection or not). And then I knew I had a write a blog after reading Maisey’s entry because it hit so close to home.
The blogs were inspiring, uplifting in their mutual melancholy and honesty. I have always believed that sharing your experiences, be they good or bad, is always key in life if you want to grow as a human being. Sharing allows you to open up to the possibility of learning more, teaches you sometimes to listen, and if you’re lucky it helps you find that illusive piece to the puzzle you’ve always tried to fit in place when all the pieces you have seem too small, too crooked, and just not right.
The day I found out I was pregnant I remember lying in bed, looking up at the ceiling and Billy the Cat (God rest his loving soul) nudged against my face over and over again, telling me he loved me in his cat way. All I could think was wow-shit-wow. I was in such a state of shock that my then boyfriend of three years (now my husband) and me were pregnant that I just couldn’t process it. Could. Not. Process. It.
What did it all mean, I thought? I was young and was still learning life and figuring out my career (it wasn’t till I had my daughter that I started writing for publication). After the shit-wow-shit factor wore off, we took pregnancy very seriously, and I got a midwife, prepared to do the whole thing naturally, and the right way, whatever that is (shh—we will not talk about the mars bar I ate EVERY day of that pregnancy). I prepared myself, knowing I had to make room for someone who would always be more important than me, who I would cherish above all. Whose needs would forever come before my own.
When we brought our healthy son home, I was so terrified I would break him that I couldn’t put him down. I brought him to bed with me, not the crib nearby, so I could hear him breathing throughout the night to make sure he was okay, well, safe and alive. It’s such a hard feeling to describe. I think sometimes only another mother can understand that need to protect the baby so new from the womb. They are just so defenseless, so precious . . . I digress.
Babyhood was lovely. I had the happiest baby you ever met. He ate. He slept. He played. He smiled and laughed. He was so, so happy. The perfect baby.
When we went for his two-year check up with the family doctor he failed to meet certain criteria with his development. He didn’t talk and he had motor skill difficulties. He was our happy, little chub-monster so eager to make everyone smile around him that for some reason or other hadn’t learned how to communicate ‘normally’, or with language, but with sounds and hand motions instead. So ensued the endless tests: hearing, mouth, eyes, nose, throat, blood work, physiological, blah, blah, blah, you name it, we probably did it. Everything was normal except his motor (gross and fine) skills, and his speech, which was non-existent until well after three.
In broad-term-medical-speak he had a ‘Learning Disability’. What the hell is that we asked? Everyone just said, it’s LD, like that helped. We had our son see doctors, pathologists, psychoanalytical people that speak non-English to you like you understand every word, teachers, tutors, people who think they can tell you what’s wrong and offer unsolicited advice, family that ‘knows’ what’s wrong, theories from people that love you saying that he’s just a boy, they develop slower, he’ll be fine.
When you have young children, everyone is there in the background as feedback. It’s so hard to tune it out when your kid can’t play with other kids their age and communicate with them on a normal level, or doesn’t hit any of the other milestones at the ‘right’ age. And believe you me, as a writer, it was a really hard pill to swallow that no matter how hard we tried we could not teach our son to read, never-mind writing. How’s that for failure?
I felt lost as a mother. Like I’d done something wrong. We pushed for special placements in school, we pushed for speech pathologists, we pushed, we pushed, we frickin’ pushed till we were blue in the face fighting for him when we didn’t understand what was wrong anymore than the people treating him and teaching him the best they could. It was so tiring, but we kept on, knowing that if we stopped he would suffer and be lost in the system.
We had him privately tested again with a child psychologist after years of frustration and answers that weren’t good enough for us. Believe it or not, the testing didn’t come out any clearer than before. This time we had a term called Combined ADHD and LD that was mostly language focused in the write up (I still think it’s some type of dyslexia, but I’m not a doctor to say so, just a mother who likes to think she knows her child best). The one good thing about this testing was that we were finally referred to a doctor that dealt with this kind of stuff.
When we met the specialized pediatrician he knew what we were going through, he could explain why to every issue our son had ever had and had to deal with in his non-language way. Keep in mind this person was the FIRST person that understood and could explain to us what no one else had been able to explain. He had the best description for my son’s condition that it merits paraphrasing. The only difference between my son and a child with autism is that my son has a social aptitude that is acceptable in society’s eyes and therefore will never have the support systems sprouting up for the recognized disability of autism that is societally less desirable in ‘normal’ peoples eyes. Harsh words, but the truth we had waited so frickin’ long to hear.
With that new knowledge came a further realization: the plan we had for our child from womb to adulthood would be delayed. I raged and screamed inside because it’s already so hard to find a balance between growing as a person, and supporting and teaching your children to grow into who they need to be to survive in the wild-world. We weren’t going to go about raising our son normally no matter how we tried, we had to break out of the mold that told us normal was best. So we had to face facts. Our son who is now coming up to his twelfth birthday will probably get worse before he ever gains enough confidence and understanding of the world around him to grow into the adult we had always envisioned in our pre-conceived notion of what was acceptable and normal in the world we live in today.
There was a false sense of failure in all this for a very long time, though we didn’t see it this way for years and years. We felt like we did something wrong right from the beginning. Then we felt like we’d never get our life back on track with ‘us’ because our son would never fit into that ‘normal’ mold and reach the milestones every other kid reaches at certain ages in life. In essence my husband and I grieved the life we thought we would have with children. We had to learn to set that aside and come to terms with abnormal being okay.
Let me go back a moment and share just one more thought about when I was pregnant. I put it away when it happened in real life and brought it out and examined it years later.
I went for an ultrasound at five-months. Turned out there were shadows, or cysts, found on my baby’s brain in utero. I remember my midwife calmly telling me that this could mean something, or it could mean nothing since technology was so advanced that oftentimes things found were ‘unexplainable’.
I think back to that moment more often now and wonder if the universe was testing me to see if I was really ready for this next step in my life. If I could put someone before myself, If I could commit to a lifelong journey that would no longer be just about me, and that normal should be reserved for someone more boring, staid, less creative in solutions, in life—those things were never me.
The worst case scenario from my midwife came next: the cysts could mean that the baby had trisomy 21 which essentially meant the child would unlikely make it past the first year of life. They offered genetic testing (which involved a ginormous needle through my belly and into my uterus to determine if this was the case—very dangerous). If it was that particular disease, we would be referred to a psychologist, some other something-gists upon something-gists to discuss aborting so late in the pregnancy due to ‘special’ circumstances.
I went home after that and cried and cried and cried. I talked extensively with my husband about our options. About the what ‘ifs’, after the changes we were ready to go through already for this child, about what this meant for us as parents if there was a chance we lost the child later. It was a long road of discussions and crying and heartache which only lasted a week but felt like a millennia to make that decision. I did not opt for the ginormous needle, the cysts on his brain eventually faded (and have nothing to do with his LD). So maybe we had accepted doing things the abnormal way before we ever met our son, we just forgot that in our journey as parents.
I think life throws you a curveball once in a while, even if that curve drives you far from your original path, and all so the universe can teach you something worthwhile. While I don’t pretend it will get any easier, I have learned to let go of normal. Maybe I’ve always felt inside I would have to do that. Maybe this is my life lesson, and this path with my son will make me sprout into the person I always envision I’d become in the end. Who knows, but it’s food for thought.
Deciding that life had far more to offer than a nine to five job, bickering children in the evening and housework of any kind, Tiffany Clare opened up her laptop to rediscover her love of the written word. Tiffany writes historical romances set in the Victorian era for St. Martin’s Press. She lives in Toronto with her ever-patient photographer husband, two mischievous children, a cat that thinks he’s a dog and a dog that thinks she’s a princess.
Find Tiffany on her website, Facebook and Twitter.