The truth of the matter is that I never imagined myself the mother of a child with a diagnosis on the autism spectrum, and on my road to parenthood I imagined – and let go of – quite a few alternate futures.
The first future that never came to be was the one with the growing belly and the glowing face, the swollen ankles and the saltine crackers. After two years of ‘trying’ I found that I could not, would not become pregnant without medical intervention. After surprisingly little discussion, my husband and I decided to build our family through adoption rather than by birth.
The second future that came and went involved a birth-mom and a hospital, a newborn baby with tiny, beautiful features and a delicate beating heart. There were booties and midnight feedings and very little sleep in this vision. And after meeting with the local adoption professionals, my husband and I quickly said good-bye to this version of our future because it also included a 1-800 line, ads in college newspapers and a great deal of uncertainty.
There were more options, of course, but soon enough China, with its burdensome little girls, came to our attention. And when the agency director said to me, in her imperfect English, “What you want with newborn baby? Like loaf of bread!” a new future opened up to me. And I had tons of help imagining it, because the ’net was full of moms-to-be (and a few dads) imagining a future that looked a lot like mine. Yet, in all the months of waiting and imagining, I never came close to imagining who my daughter really would be – not even after I had her photo in my hands.
The child I met screamed when she was placed in my arms. My daughter was inconsolable, and she did not want a thing to do with the other ten babies she had spent her first months with. “She’s mourning the loss of her nanny,” my husband and I told each other. “It’s a good thing. It’s so obvious that she bonded with a caregiver at the orphanage, so she’ll bond with us so much easier.”
Not as easy to explain was why she would only relax while being held over a shoulder and rocked from side to side. But still, we congratulated ourselves on being such good parents and figuring out what our new daughter needed.
To soon, baby became toddler and I no longer had time to imagine the future. As anyone who has spent time with a two-year-old can attest, the future is NOW and you’d better be in it. And I was, and I was happy. And I was confused, resentful and sad. My baby was whip smart, fast on her feet and seemed to be thriving, but she couldn’t handle the separation of two hours at pre-school, once per week. She could not manage the singing and dancing required in Chinese class. Waking unexpectedly from a sound sleep often involved two hours of holding and calming. Fourth of July was a nightmare. Playgroups were overwhelming for her. And her favorite activity was jumping off the ottoman onto a beanbag chair, over and over and over again.
But thank goodness for the mom’s I knew, who threw me an amazing baby shower, met us at the airport with signs, and held my hands and cried with me while I tried to figure it all out. And thanks so very much to my friends on the ‘net, a core group of 15 or 20 of us, all with children of a similar age and similar background, and most of us parents for roughly the same amount of time. Once we had all returned from our trips to China, we had each other to hang on to. “Does your baby do this? Have you ever seen that? What do you do when X happens or when Y doesn’t?”
When I posted with news of her diagnosis (almost two years into parenting her), I got lots of love and understanding in return. Those friends, from California to Colorado to Arizona to Michigan to Finland of all places, were with me all the way, and they helped me to imagine a new future with the daughter I had.
So while I could have spent time imagining myself as a mother of a child with a very big problem, I chose not to. From that moment forward, I imagined myself as the mother of my child, who would reveal herself to me in each moment of every day.
And like every other child on the planet, she has.