The day the stick turned blue in the bathroom was easily one of, if not the happiest day of my life. I had wanted nothing else since I was a child, to become a mom. My husband and I had been trying for almost two years with no success, so when I saw that it had finally happened, I was overjoyed.
Pregnancy was not all rosy all the time, but was uneventful for the most part. My son's entry into the world by emergency C-section though, was not. Still, we both recovered, and we all went home to begin our new life as a family.
I don't take anything for granted anymore.
The days, weeks and months passed and I celebrated my very first Mother's Day. What a joy! I was finally part of the club. Then fast forward to a year later when I began to see something was wrong. My child was not developing like other children. He was beautiful, happy, but separate from us somehow. I was scared. We still celebrated Mother's Day, of course. I was still overjoyed to be a mom, his mom, yet now I felt I was failing him.
A year after that when we knew he had autism, our celebrations took on a new turn. Adjustments were made to celebrate more quietly. We always had a backup plan in case we had to leave early, what to say to people. Other than our parents and siblings, no one else knew about Michael's autism. Gradually, we told everyone around us and joy in our life returned. Mother's Day now is as special as ever.
I don't take anything for granted anymore. And as a reminder to myself, each year I think of these six ways that Mother's Day has changed for me since becoming a special needs parent:
1. I don't take my son's victories for granted. When he was a little baby, if he was quiet, fed, and changed, I didn't worry. My concern was trying to raise him and run a household. After seeing he needed time to learn things his own way, I started to focus more on being with him and trusting my parenting gut.
2. I have learned how to slow down, meditate, and worry less. I learned how to stop and smell the roses, as life can be good, even better, when you appreciate everything you are seeing with eyes that see the world differently as my son's do.
3. I appreciate health more. When your child has any kind of health or learning issues, it's amazing how everything else is measured against that as top priority.
4. I laugh more. Sounds strange? Well, let me tell you, if you can't laugh as a parent to a special needs child about the absurdity of some situations, your reaction to them, and to your child's very unique way of seeing the world, life will get you down.
5. I see my strength, and am encouraged to work more at overcoming my shortcomings. My son has shown me how I need to be my best and model that for him.
6. I have learned patience. Every Mother's Day I think another year of growth, of learning to be a more patient mom, person, and human being so I could give that back to my son.
Mother's Day is way more special now than it ever was, and in the best way possible. Happy Mother's Day to all!
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Say “hi,” introduce yourself, ask questions... just be yourself. And don’t be horrified if your child asks why our child looks different or "talks funny." Instead of shushing them and pulling them away use it as a teachable moment. You can even ask us to help. “You can tell if someone has good intentions,” shares Louise Kinross, the mother of a young adult with a rare genetic condition and creator of the BLOOM blog.
Parents of children with special needs appreciate the help or will tell you if they don’t need it (please don’t automatically step in and start wheeling our kids around, though). And if you’re the friend of someone who has a child with special needs offer a cooked meal, a coffee date or an hour of babysitting. Our stress levels are sky-high and we always appreciate an offer or real, specific help.
Staring is rude, but if you feel compelled to stare at least offer up a smile. But don’t worry if you just happen to be staring in my kid’s direction while in a sleep-deprived, zombie-like state -– we’ve been there and we won’t hold it against you.
“A friendly smile and/or a hello is so much more welcome and goes a long way in breaking the ice,” says Liza Sneyd, mom to two children with cerebral palsy. And teaching your child to smile is a lot easier if you’re flashing us a grin yourself.
Invite us to playdates and to birthday parties. If you’re not sure how to accommodate our child or how they can participate in activates, just ask us. We’re usually experts in modifying or figuring out creative ways for our kids to enjoy the things that other kids like.
“Hold the door for my daughter instead of letting it slam shut on her and her wheelchair,” says Lana Jones, who has a teenage daughter with cerebral palsy. “Don’t step in front of my son’s wheelchair so he can’t see,” shares Barb DeRoo, mom of a son with cerebral palsy and creator of Zach’s List.
Despite the fact that I get asked to write articles like this, I am not a perfect parent. My kid can get on my very. Last. Nerve. She can also warm my heart like no other -– just like any kid. When you say: “I don’t know how you do it,” my answer will always be: “It’s simple. I do it because this is my child and I love her. It is all I know.”
More often than not parents of kids with special needs have a strong belief in the strength and resilience of their kids. Our kids face insurmountable odds, often with a smile on their face and a lot of strength in their hearts. They are super heroes, not victims. And while you’re at it remember that our lives may have some extra challenges, but we still face the same difficulties you do. Treat us like parents -– it is what we have in common.
Don’t use the word retard (replace it with ridiculous instead). Don’t ask: What’s “wrong” with a child? Initiate age-appropriate conversations and don’t automatically use baby talk. Use "people-first" language that puts the person before the disability (e.g a child with autism, not an autistic child). It’s not about being politically correct, it’s about the fact that words matter. After all you are reading this, right?
Kindness isn’t sympathy or pity –- it is being a good person. Teach your children the same. It really is that simple.
Follow Joanne Giacomini on Twitter: www.twitter.com/exceptmomchild