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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Busy making other plans

There have been several times in my life where I've found myself re-defined.  Not because I was wanting to make a change, but because I discovered that I am, in very essence, different than I thought I was, or in different circumstances than I had hoped for.  Some have been small things, relatively easy to come to terms with.  Others were much larger in scope.


I always thought I would love the maternal thing.  You know--being pregnant, nursing, caring for tiny babies.  My mother did.  I loved other people's infants.  Baby dolls were my favorite toys for more years than I really care to admit.  My mom used to tell me about a friend of ours who really didn't care too much for kids until they were a bit older.  Even her own.  This story came with a judgemental undertone.  What kind of mother, after all, didn't just adore her own babies?  Something must have been wrong.

I got married young and became pregnant quickly.  And I was sick.  Very sick.  Lose weight kind of sick.  That finally subsided.  Then I was uncomfortable.  Water retaining, back aching, rib crushing uncomfortable.  I could not wait to be done being pregnant.  #1 was born 6 days early, which was good for my morale.  Except that then I had the baby.  A baby who had difficulty nursing.  When she did nurse, she'd immediately projectile vomit most of what she'd consumed.  She had a blocked tear duct.  I had an over-active let-down reflex.  We were wet and miserable a good deal of the time, or so it seemed.  Breast-feeding was not comfortable for me, physically or emotionally.  But I knew it was best, so I did it.  And I felt guilty, because I did not enjoy it at all.  

My pregnancies only got harder and much more painful with each baby.  I never became comfortable with nursing.  I continued to resent the infant schedule.  I did, however, finally stop beating myself up for not being what I thought I should.  I finally came to terms with the fact that I prefer older children.  I loved each of my babies, but I enjoyed them more and more as they grow up and become more independent.  I decided that nothing was wrong with me.  Just different.  As soon as I made that decision, the added stress of living up to unrealistic expectations lessened tremendously.

It was only a few years after that epiphany of mine that #1 was diagnosed with mild mental retardation.  I can't say that it was a complete shock.  We'd been testing her for different things for several years at that point.  We knew that she was not developing  at an expected rate.  It was the beginning of her 1st grade year.  I was happy on one level, because she finally started to receive the help that she so clearly needed.  She also got more understanding from faculty and staff at the school.  But I was also full of negative emotion.  I was embarrassed.  Silly, I know.  I felt guilty for feeling that way.  I never looked down on people with disabilities or their families.  But some vain, arrogant part of me did not want that to be MY child.  I was very smart.  Did well in school.  So did my brother.  My dad has a PhD. and is well known in his small, specialized field.  I married an intelligent, articulate, analytical man, in graduate school himself at the time.  I fully anticipated having brilliant children.  #1's disability was a blow.  

I didn't share her diagnosis with many people right off.  For some reason, it felt to me like admitting to failure.  I was afraid that she'd be treated differently by family.  I actually kept telling myself that she'd catch up at some point in the near future.  That she was just behind and would turn out just fine and normal.  I was waiting for that.  I was impatient for it.  I was not happy.

The best thing I ever did was sign her up for VIP soccer.  VIP is the AYSO's special ed program.  That first year was intimidating for #1.  Our region only had one team, and so she was a 3rd grader playing with High School aged kids.  But it did wonders for me.  I watched the other moms.  They acted like any other group of parents.  They complained about bad attitudes.  They laughed at funny things their kids said or did.  They cheered when their kids made goals.  They hassled them for not paying attention.  Life was normal, and these moms were happy.  And though it seems obvious in retrospect, that was the content of my next big epiphany.  It didn't matter if #1 was retarded or not.  She was the same girl I have loved her whole life.  It would really be fine if she never caught up to her peers.  Maybe her peers were a different set than I was thinking.  Not a worse set, just a different one.  I started to drop my unrealistic expectations of my daughter and started to be happy with my family as it was.

We moved to the mountains the next year.  #1 had a much better experience at school.  We were also in a different AYSO region;  one that was incredibly supportive of their VIP program.  I became very good friends with the coach, and got involved with the kids.  Some of the kindest, sweetest, most genuine people I have ever interacted with I would never have met had I only been the mother of "brilliant" children.  

One of the first things I do now in way of introducing my daughter is tell people that she is mentally retarded (because you don't notice right off).  It's who she is.  And it helps people to interact with her more appropriately.  When we built our home we added an apartment in the walk-out basement to be used by #1 when the time comes for her to have some more independence.  I love seeing that space.  Larry and I want to serve a mission together.  We really hope that #1 will be allowed to come with us, and serve as well.  I'm proud of her when she reaches out of her comfort zone, when she makes friends.  I love what a nurturing, caring person she is.  I delight in her simple faith.  She makes all of us in her family better people for knowing and loving her.

I'm not living the life I had planned, or in the way I figured.  But it is my life.  It's a good one, too, and I am grateful for it.

18 fishy comments:

Lara said...

This was really beautiful, and I can definitely relate it to many different aspects of my own life. Fortunately, my life isn't anything like what I thought it would be. In some ways it's harder than I would like, and in other ways it's completely wonderful. No matter what, I know that I'm becoming the person the Lord wants me to be with the life that He tailored for me.

M-Cat said...

I love this post. I love your being real and true and honest. I love seeing the lessons you've learned and I am inspired to look closer at my own life to learn lessons that I should be too.

Thanks for sharing

CaJoh said...

So often I am amazed at the strength of those who have a disability as well as those who are a parent of someone with a disability.

You are able to overcome those things which would frustrate many people and be proud of your accomplishments. Congratulations.

Stephanie Ganger said...

I completely understand about the miserable pregnancies and liking your children more and more as they get older. I decided to enjoy fully every single stage of my children's lives as much as I could.

Annette Lyon said...

I enjoyed my babies on one hand, but those were HARD years. I'm loving the motherhood stage I'm at right now. It's bringing me more joy now than any other time--and ironically, I have other stressors that make me need that joy.

And what a beautiful post about your daughter--and a great perspective.

2busy said...

Your oldest is beautiful, and what a special girl she must be.

Thank you for sharing your inspiring thoughts.

Wendyburd1 said...

I love you being so honest, I had no idea about your feelings about any of this. I never thought what it would be like if you didn't feel that baby connection. Could it have been PPD? I am sorry your pregnancies were so painful! I am amazed at the strength it took to have 4!!

J. P. said...

I think stretching yourself to be what your child needs you to be is one of the hardest things for a parent to do, but also one of the most important. Its amazing how that can open doors for not only our children, but ourselves as well, like with the other mothers involved in the VIP program, they taught you something, and I'll bet it wasn't only one way either ;) ---Lisa

rachel said...

It's SO nice to see you posting again. Your daughter is lovely and I appreciate you insight on mothering. I too am a more comfortable mother the older my children get.

Melanie J said...

I also really appreciate the insight here. I'm pregnant again and there's that constant worry of, "What if my baby isn't normal?" But reading this perspective helps.

MommyJ said...

You gave me goosebumps and made me feel all warm and tingly inside. It is all about perspective, isn't it? Thank you so much for sharing yours. I feel like I've expanded my own a bit, and that's never a bad thing.

ChiliBoot said...

Thank-you for sharing this. I am struggling right now to deal with my oldest's disabilities. He has so much potential--it is difficult to watch him struggle with Asperger's Syndrome. Everytime he has an outburst, I keep thinking, what did I do wrong? Why can't I help him with this? Why is this happening again? I think we moms take on a lot of responsibility for how our children "are"--maybe more than is reasonable or even possible. It's not my fault he has Asperger's Syndrome, but it's so hard not to take on that blame. Our children are themselves, and we are their guides and facilitators, and not necessarily responsible for every move they make. Sometimes love blurs the line, because how can you not give these kids all your love and more? And how can we stop the guilt that comes from realizing that sometimes love is not enough?

Erin said...

What a beautiful post Mina. Thank you.

SO said...

I loved this. Thank you so much for sharing. It was honest and beautifully written.

Heatherlyn said...

I know how it feels to want to say to a teacher "well, this isn't MY fault. I'm not like this. I was a great student!" But, that never helps anything. Children grow at their own pace with their own gifts. I think this is to teach and bless us as much as anything.

I'm glad that #1 is having such a great year. She seems to be so happy right now. It's really nice.

Loralee and the gang... said...

Thank you for your honesty. The evolution that you experienced is a real eye-opener for me. I don't have the same set of circumstances, but similar challenges have been met and we will continue to be experienced. I haven't written about it on my blog - yet - but someday I may. When I am ready. Thanks for showing me a way to do that.
:~D

Jenn said...

What a great post. I have to LOL a little about "then I had the baby". I seem to remember you also wanting to plan a wedding, but not have to deal with a groom, once upon a time.

It's funny how life never deals us the hand we expect, and every time we think we have it all figured out, we're thrown for a major loop. I feel like I've stopped having expectations. I still have goals, of course, but I've had to learn to roll with the punches and just aim for an overall end result, even if the path turns out not to be what I'd planned at all.

Heidi Ashworth said...

We have a lot in common. My oldest has brain damage from a birth accident which means that he, in some ways, is slow, mentally and physically. It is assumed by others that he is more mentally incapcitated than he is b/c of his slow motor skills. He is also bipolar, depressed, anxious and obsessive complusive, mental illnesses all brought out by the stress of his condition. It took a long time for me to accept that he would never be normal but once I did, I had a whole lot more capacity to enjoy him for just who he is. I used to complain that he got in the way of everything I wanted to do in life (and he did) but then I realized that he is THE way--his challenges rub off my sharp points and have made me a much better person. I am so grateful for our HF and his infinite wisdom in all things.