I was looking at a photo of Liam and newborn Aurora this afternoon and I realized how completely naive at that moment we were back then. Back before I knew Liam was autistic. Back before needing to see several doctors at a time. Back before IEP, ABA, OT, PT, and ST were just letters in the alphabet.
My first feelings when I look at the photo is pangs of longings. I miss those days. I miss how little Liam was. I miss the smells of newborn Aurora. But mostly, mostly I just miss not knowing. I miss those wide eyed days where I had typical dreams for my child, and certainty that I’d see them all come true. I miss not really even knowing anything about autism, because it was not on my radar. Liam having a disability wasn’t even in the realm of possibility. My affectionate, sweet, loving, baby wasn’t disabled, he was completely and utterly perfect. I wish I could tell you back then to savor every moment of not knowing, not worrying.
When I look at Liam’s sweet round face, and amazingly big eyes I am both overcome with pride (i mean honestly, I have the cutest kid on the planet), and sadness. I find myself wondering if he was autistic then, or if something triggered the change. Quickly I am angered at thinking of the latter, because I know in my heart I would do anything to prevent it from happening. Even the possibility of it being something that happened later on, makes me physically ill.
I remember everything about the moment in your heart you knew Liam had Autism. You were sitting at the desk doing some research on the computer while Liam was spinning the wheel to his stroller. This would be months and months before anyone but you would say so — but we knew. I read an article and something in my heart just clicked.
Even in that moment you were naive to what exactly that meant. You will find yourself thinking, well Autism just means they are shy and really smart, that’s okay. Obviously I had no accurate information — but in that moment without understanding what Autism meant, I was still naive. I had no understanding of the years of tears that would follow. The staying up for hours and hours at night pouring over a million studies, all of which basically determined we know nothing about Autism.
Back then, you didn’t know that your days (and nights) were about to be long, and the years short.
I could easily set the picture down and walk away with sadness, but a second look shows me another side of the story.
I look at this picture of your beautiful son, and I know two things. I know your life is about to get exceedingly difficult and dark, but I also know that it gets so much better.
Dear me, you are about to have some dark conversations with God. You are about to enter a season in life where you are thrown into a pit of depression. You won’t understand why this happened to your baby. You will be living in a daily state of uncertainty. Not too long from now, you’ll make a phone call to your aunt and for the first (and last) time in your life, hear yourself say out loud, “I just want to know if I’ll ever hear him say mama. I just want someone to tell me I’ll know what his voice sounds like”. I know that before you know it, you’ll be dropping your 2 year old off at school, and cry most of the day that he is gone. You will know he needs the therapy but you will equally know he needs his mama.
The real time me wants to wrap you in my arms and cry with you. I want to squeeze you with all that I have and tell you to be brave. The real time me wants to cry with you. You would cry because you are scared, and I would cry because I know more of the story. I would cry out because I know it got better.
Dear self, I can look at this photo and smile too.
I can smile because I know how far you will come. How far HE will come. I can smile because just 5 minutes ago as I write this letter to you, Liam came up to me and said “I love you mama. Can I have a drink of water please?” With eyes as big as the day you took this photo. (I of course said yes.)
I look at this photo and realize that the typical dreams I spoke of having, were much to small for this boy. I look at this photo and smile because I now know how gifted that boy is. I know now, how it’s quite literally impossible for every person he encounters to to not fall in love with him.
Those dreams about little Liam learning to read in school? That little boy taught himself to read before he could speak. Those dreams of yours weren’t big enough for him. Today, as I sit here writing this letter to you, I’m being told jokes by that little boy. Our days are filled with laughter, silliness, school and therapy. He. is. so. funny.
I look at this photo of Liam and Aurora and I can smile because I know now, what a caretaker he has since found in that sweet little newborn laying next to him. I’m privileged to now see how she was sent to help him, to care for him, to sister him. I look at this photo and I can’t help but chuckle at how incredibly close Liam has become with his other sister, Charlotte, who joined us just a few short years later.
Above all else I wish I could look you in the eye and tell you that you are doing a great job, that it isn’t your fault, and in the times where you feel like you will break: you don’t. You will make it through, and your family will be strengthened. You will still have hard nights. You will still cry. You will still get depressed on occasion. But, you will hear his voice. And each time you will remember not hearing it and be thankful. Every. Time. So chin up, buttercup. You are about to be on the ride of your life.
If you are a newly diagnosed autism mama, or a veteran like myself I would love to connect with you. Being a special needs mom is full of peaks and valleys, coming together can be a wonderful support.