Friday, January 27, 2012
"How did you find the courage?"
I get that question a lot when people find out that my older child is special needs. Fellow parents of all sorts of kids say to me that they never could have had another child if there were issues with their first. Parents of special needs kids tell me they could never have another after all the work and heartbreak of their special needs child.
There are a few of us in this small town alone who had their special kids and then went for it again, another child.
A friend called me for coffee and told me over the phone that she was expecting her second child. I burst into tears of happiness and also felt the deep incisors of worry that I knew were permanently lodged in her heart with her pregnancy. Her first is a special needs child and she and her husband had been trying for another child for a while.
Sitting down together as we only seem to find time for a couple of times a year, our conversation covered housing, mobility, toileting, feeding, medication, allergies, school, and then finally, the baby.
She asked me, "How do you do it? How do you find your way through this gigantic, astonishing, constant fear? I hope, I hope, I just so hope everything is alright with this baby."
As different as my friend and I are, as different a diagnosis as our two special children have, I felt her words to the core of me. I felt like I knew what it was like to be in her skin, in her thoughts, in her urgent prayers on sleepless nights.
And the answer that came out of my mouth at her question was, "Love."
It is love. Love is the only thing big enough, massive enough in your heart and cosmology of how to move through the universe, love is the only way to make it. Love is the only way to silence the deafening and paralyzing fears and doubts about if you made the right decision, what you will do if your second has "issues" as well. Love is the only meditation that feels possible to contain your worry as well as your hope.
The literally endless worry about how you will balance the needs of your children could be an entire identity, could be where you decide to live, the central psychological commitment. And you will never get it right. There is no such thing as a right answer. There will be, no matter what your kids are like, no perfect symmetry of love and attention. If her second child is as healthy and running around as every parent expects their child to be, or if her child is just like her first born, there will be great days and there will be impossibly hard days.
I got my wish, I got the dream of watching a completely healthy child be born and learn and grow. With my second child I got to experience what every parent hopes for and expects. Watching, parenting Coral is the most astonishing, heart lifting miracle I've ever witnessed. And feeling the deep empathy that passes between Colby and I is the most mysterious, profound love and connection I've ever known. There is no point, in fact there is no real ability, to compare these children. It is as if they are distinct and intersecting universes within one house.
That may be how parents feel about their children, special needs or not. I do not know that experience of two (or more) kids, of life parenting without seizures and a dimension of constant, acute medical issues. I only know what I know, and looking at my beautiful, pregnant friend across the table, I knew her heart.
Our conversation ended where it started: You must, you must let yourself love. You must love your children. I hope that she gets to see her second child run across the grass. I hope she gets to hear her child say, "I love you moma." I hope she gets to have a child that she is able to predict and comfort. I hope she gets to feel her heart grow even bigger as she plumbs the depths of love and astonishment at a healthy child, and knows that to love both her kids is not to love one less or more. I hope she finds as I find over and over again, that it is only loving your children that is big enough to guide your heart through the challenges and polarities of a day.
We cannot project onto our children what their experience will be of life in our family. They are brighter, braver, stronger than us. They are innocent and open, brains literally growing before our eyes. Let us help them be brave and bright and strong by showing them that it is possible to live a life directed by love. Let us be the parents whose arms feel big enough to hold all of who our children are. Let us show them that it is not fear that guides our way. Let us show them love.
Isn't that the point of having children anyway? To love them and adore them? When your worries keep you up at night, I told my friend, find instead one moment from the day that you felt happy. Breathe that into your heart and breathe back out. Breathe into the love and beauty and let that be what you feel, what you do with your mind, where you go.
We held hands and cried across the table from each other. Fear, love, hope. We will find our way, we do find our way. Worrying is not going to make anything alright. And you will miss out on all the fun. How do you find the courage? With love.