His birth was unremarkable.
More than a day shorter than my previous and far less painful, the only thing was that I had forgotten dignity was denied entrance in the hospital as the doctor afterwards stitched up my bloodied and torn genitals with my feet high up in the air.
It didn’t matter.
Three days later I collected it as I left the hospital, new baby in tow en-route to my mothers to acquaint him with his older brother.
As I sat there drinking coffee I struggled to quell the rising panic threatening to paralyse me. It wasn’t concern or doubt about my mothering ability, it was a quiet, dark foreboding that was pumping my heart at sonic speed.
There was something wrong with him.
It wasn’t just because another mother I was sharing a room with in the hospital remarked, rather wearily, that he seemed to know when I left the room because he cried uncontrollably until I returned.
It was because I was terrified of him.
As I carried him inside me I would have to get up at night. The tears that would silently roll down my face into my wet pillow and into my nose forced me outside to sit on the concrete pavement and weep. I didn’t know if it was the same pregnancy hormones that made my hair thick and luxurious and hate my beloved coffee or whether I simply hadn’t yet reconciled myself to sharing my breasts and body again only one month after reclaiming it from the hungry mouth (and teeth) of another.
Perhaps I only thought I had accepted it but subconsciously, the truth was forcing its way out.
The first night we arrived home he finally let me sleep after I had been pushing his dummy into his wailing mouth all night long, both of us on the bedroom floor, both of us exhausted.
Five minutes later my seventeen month old awoke. It was morning.
Over the next few weeks he finally settled into a routine, until, at week twelve, the four and five hour sleeps magically, bewitchingly, turned into ten and twelve hour sleeps.
At about fifteen weeks I got into bed, thinking how incredibly lucky I was that he had become such an excellent sleeper in due time.
He woke me several times that night and from then on, there were no more unbroken sleeps.
On the prodding of the maternal nurse when he turned one, I tried controlled crying, his anguish clawing at my heart and mind while I clenched my teeth tight. I gave in to him after a while and vowed no more although his sleep patterns improved afterwards.
He reached all the milestones, crawling, walking, laughing and then eventually babble that turned to words.
It wasn’t until he was two and a half or perhaps three years old that I began to notice he had just, well, stopped…
Other children were asking about him but he never asked about anyone, never pointed and began to look away from people. The words had gone.
There was a vacancy about him and the blank look in his eyes mirrored his face which often showed no emotion.
I didn’t know what to make him for breakfast most days because he couldn’t tell me and I invariably had to throw it out and start again.
His pre-school teacher told me one day “look, he’s a bright little button but we just want someone to have a look at him”.
At last, I thought, the confirmation I had been dreading was finally done for me as I had been unwilling though my procrastination to face up to the inevitable.
Later that day, still unable to comprehend what his diagnosis would mean I visited the swimming pool. He had pulled down his swimmers and peed on the grass when a man began to lecture him about manners. After a short confrontation with the man who made him jump up and down in fright, I angrily packed up our things and we left as fast as I could go.
I cried and cried and cried.
Yet long after I had accepted the diagnosis of autism my mother often couldn’t contain her anguish. Our roles reversed then.
I comforted her, gave her strength, told her he would be fine. He wasn’t the first, nor would he be the last. Any tears I had were kept in check, she wasn’t allowed to see them. Besides, I told her, the school he was attending was magnificent.
Ah, his school.
From the rocky start when he threw his bag out the window numerous times copycat style “oh, don’t worry, some of the others have done that too” and was terrified of one of the students who was violent towards him and everybody else who was eventually moved to another room, he began to enjoy the routine and outings including horse-riding and trips to shopping centres and various places of interest. Regular spa sessions helped calm him and the tantrums waned.
He learned to talk, to ask for things because we made him. It wasn’t enough for him to point to what he wanted - if he wanted it he had to repeat after me until he recognised that was the only way he would receive what he requested.
In the last six months he has progressed academically with a bullet, such was the speed when he discovered words and all the things you can do with them. He can read and most importantly, he can now write with a pen. He can do things on some programs I can’t do and will work out a new television/hard drive/remote control in five minutes flat. Most of all, he can now tell me he loves me “twenty” (dad is ten).
Next week he will be entering a class with all of the students older than him for the first time and it will be an achievement I’d always secretly longed for but never quite believed would happen. His knees will now no longer touch the table, sitting, goldilocks-in-the-baby-bear’s-chair style.
The chair this year will at last be comfortable for the body that is so much bigger than his former peers.
Despite the advancements my need to protect him is an overwhelming force.
At the swimming pool we attend I regularly have the urge to smack down groups of children barely older than him who have noticed him talking, singing and laughing to himself. I can spot them a mile off now, laughing amongst themselves with none too quiet resolutions of “let’s get him”.
I fight this urge for violence against them and instead I position myself between them and him, saying nothing and staring them down until they retreat. I stay close to him, just for a while. They know who I am and don’t bother him any more after that.
But I can’t always be there and I’ve found him on more than one occasion, out of my eyesight, cowered and bewildered in a corner as a child barely above his knee hits and yells at him. Even three year olds know he’s different and unable to defend himself.
My gentle, laughing giant is an irrepressible target to so many people.
Yet he’s thriving and about to begin a new chapter, although a scary one for both of us, without the familiarity of a teacher who taught him for four of his now five years at the school. A teacher who drew so much out of him with quiet patience and persistence, humour and love and whom I admire endlessly for all her efforts.
I’m slightly terrified.
But thrilled, too.
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