Tag Archives: acceptance

I never said it would be easy

29 Mar

I was honored to be able to present at the 2014 TAER conference again this year. This is the second time that I was able to speak.

Can you believe it?! Twice! What?! Are they crazy?! Did they hear my speech the first time? Do they remember the boxes of tissues that we passed around the room last time? Apparently I forgot about that part too because even I didn’t come prepared.

I’m a crier. I know. How can I still cry at a story that I’ve lived, written, and spoken about frequently?
Some things will never cease to be just a memory. I will relive the story of Oli’s birth and her early years every single time that I speak about it, for the rest of my life.

Yes. It has gotten easier. The pain is a little bit less with the passage of time. It’s easier now because I know that her story, my story, has a happy ending.

I know that I am able to relive those early moments, the ones that are burned in my brain, live them, feel them, talk about them, write about them, cry over them, and then go home and pick up my girl and realize how far we’ve come.

Writing about it and talking about it has actually become my therapy. My outlet for grieving and healing.

This will surprise the people who have read most of my story or seen me speak, but I used to never talk about how I felt about any of this. Never.

Fine was absolutely my favorite word and I was FINE! Don’t you know how fine I am?

I was fine, she was fine, we were FINE, people!! I would say this as my life was literally falling apart around me.
I would say it as the tears stained my pillowcase at night…
I would say it as my heart felt like it was shattering into a million pieces every time a new diagnosis washed over my brain and flooded the banks of my emotions…

I was fine.

I would say it to everyone.

Anytime a friend or family member would meet my gaze with worry in their eyes and a soft hand on my shoulder and ask “How are you?” I would respond with an outer persona that was not me. I would speak the word “fine” and my soul would scream out at me to reveal the truth.

I. Was. Not. Fine.

But I didn’t know how to tell anyone anything else. I didn’t know how to tell people that I was struggling because I thought that it would mean that I wasn’t a good mom.

I thought that because my life and my emotions didn’t follow the people’s stories that I’d read about online, you know, the ones that are like mine now, I thought that it meant that I was a terrible, awful mom.

Let’s be honest here.

My blog and my facebook page now? Would have made me feel like total crap back then.

I would read stories like mine with a disgusted feeling in my stomach because I didn’t feel any of the things that I feel now. The old me would have been so jealous and so envious and so….blah…about the new me. I was so caught up in my negativity and my own feelings of self pity that it would have killed me to read about a mom who just accepted her life after the birth of a special needs child.

Come on. I mean I was no where near acceptance. We weren’t in the same zip code. We weren’t even on the same continent.

I did NOT accept that I had a child with a disability.

I did NOT accept that my life had taken a turn that I wasn’t expecting.

I did NOT accept that I couldn’t fix it, change it, run from it, hide from it, bury it… live with it.

I didn’t accept that this was something that I was going to have to learn to live with.

I did not want to have to accept the fact that I had to accept the fact that I had given birth to a daughter with a disability. A blind child. A child with multiple impairments.

No. That was totally unacceptable.

So I would read about moms who shared their beautiful journeys to acceptance, except I never saw their journey. I only saw their destination and that destination was acceptance. I didn’t understand that they all had a story to tell about getting there.

I wanted someone to show me the precise steps that they took to just be okay with it all.

To be more than okay with it all.

To be happy.

What did they do?! Why won’t they just show me?! Can’t they just come over to my house, take my hand and walk me through it?! Why not? Why were they doing this to me? Didn’t they know that I was dying here?!!!

Of course they did, but now I know that no one takes a specific path. There is no right way to do this deal.

They couldn’t just walk me through it. I had to find my own way. I had to create my own path.

And as much as I felt like I was doing it all wrong back then, now I know that there is no wrong way either.

I wish that I had known that while reading the stories of acceptance and hope that other parents put out there, that they were actually planting little seeds in my brain. They were planting the seeds that would eventually grow into flowers along my path and allow me to find my way home.

I think that this is the other reason that compels me to share my story today. My heart physically hurts every time that I see another mom struggling. I see them and I feel their pain just like it was my own.

I wish that I had the magic to bottle up the way that I feel today. I wish that I could just give it to those moms.

But this is part of the beauty. It really is a beautiful journey even when it’s horrible and ugly and painful and sad.

One day, all of us are able to stand at the doors of our destination, look back on our journey, and then look another struggling mother in the eyes and say “I never said it was going to be easy; I only said it would be worth it.” (Quote by Mae West)

Where was my key?

9 Jan

I used to read blogs and find links on the internet after Oli was born about children with special needs. More specifically I looked for those words describing BLIND children with special needs. Blind. They had to be totally and completely blind or I couldn’t relate. They couldn’t be JUST blind either. They had to have other disabilities. Other delays, or I couldn’t relate. The children couldn’t be too much older, they couldn’t live in another country, they couldn’t be able to walk or crawl… or I couldn’t relate.
Looking back on it now, I just couldn’t relate to anyone.
I would find the differences in the people, circumstances, and situations so that I was left standing utterly alone, unable to find comfort in any of the sentences that I read on the screen.
Reading those words and seeing the hope and the progress as the parents of these children reveled in their accomplishments, left me yearning to find the key that opened the door to their secret world.
The world, in which people who believed in their special children and accepted them, lived.

Where was my key?

How do you learn about all of the differences in your child, how do you sit through evaluation after evaluation of disappointing prospects and yet still find the key to acceptance?
How do you get to that place?
I sought out those stories of the milestones these children met, delayed yes, but nonetheless met, and wondered if my girl would ever do any of those things.
I wasn’t sure that she would.
I tried to compare her to similar children (when I found them which was rare) and felt defeat after defeat as they surpassed her by miles.
They learned to crawl and walk and talk and when my daughter reached that same age? She just didn’t.
The remorse and regret and guilt of all the possible things that I could have done different or better or faster… It just crushed me.
When she didn’t do the things that I thought she should do, I felt like such a failure as a mother.
I had failed her.
I hated that feeling, but I just couldn’t make it disappear.
I met lots of doctors who, when asked questions of what she would do, responded with shadows of “might not”‘s.
I also met lots of therapists who replied to the same questions with cheerful “might”‘s.
I tended to drift and focus more on the might nots.
When I would try to discuss my fears of the future with people, and I did so rarely, they responded as people do.
They told me to believe that she would grow up normally. They told me that my fears were silly and that I shouldn’t think such things.
They told me to look on the bright side.
Easy to do when it’s not happening to your child.
In truth, they were well meaning people with good hearts who wanted to help me but were completely
clueless.
Sometimes it’s hard to talk to people like me.
People who, when in such a place of darkness, find fault with every well meant comment or upbeat possibility.

Where was that key?

As time passed I just stopped talking about it. I didn’t want to be the downer of the conversation wallowing in all of the shame I felt. The self pity, that I didn’t see as self pity, but most definitely was.
I couldn’t talk about the guilt.
Who do you tell when you have feelings like that?
God?
Ummmmm…. No.
God and I were definitely NOT on speaking terms after Oli was born.
How could HE let this happen to a child? To MY child more importantly.
My husband?
No.
I felt like it was all my fault and I couldn’t admit that to him.
I guess I felt that it was his fault too.
Like this was something that we had done to her. Something that shouldn’t have happened.
I couldn’t tell him that.
My friends.
No. We already talked about that up there^^.
My mom?
Nope. Not her either. Too much guilt. Too much shame.
What had I done to her very first granddaughter?
Sooooo… that left?
No one.
Except it didn’t really.
It turns out there were a few people that I would meet along the way that would help me to find my key.
People who had been in and out of my house since this whole thing happened.
People who saw mothers like me and children like Oli every single day.

They were the therapists who worked with my daughter.

Not all of them were warm and cuddly.
Not all of them were inviting.
Not all of them I could open up to.
But some of them… I could.
Some of them had a compassion and a keen sense of understanding for a situation that they had never lived.
Some of them didn’t even have children of their own!
But it didn’t matter.
For some reason they had the right tone of voice, they said the right words, they were silent when I needed them to be, and the outer shell that I had created began to dissolve.
It turns out that I met a succession of these therapists in the exact right time in my life where I was able to hear them.
I was able to be honest about my fears and my wounds and as I listened they began to heal me.

In the beginning I guess they couldn’t help me because I was so engrossed in putting on a good front. I was so focused on pretending to be strong that I never let my fear seep through the words of strength that I wove together.
I didn’t feel like I could tell anyone let alone a stranger!
I ended up learning that sometimes a stranger is a heck of a lot easier to talk with.
Especially a stranger that isn’t really stranger because they come into my house every week and watch me fold laundry (including my underwear that likes to fall out of the basket at the most I inopportune times!)
They watch my children bicker and me burn the dinner.
They watch my 3 year old run out of the bathroom naked from the waist down and listen as she recounts less than savory tales of our household.
Basically they just see us…as us.
They see me…as me.
Eventually it becomes very difficult not to open up to someone who sees you as you are.
It might have started with a simple question.
“So how are you doing with all of this?”
Followed by a quiet stare as I repeated my all too well known response to that question.
“Fine.”
It might might have started with that stare that bore through my soul.
That stare that unequivocally meant
“No really. I know you can’t be fine so how are you?”
I don’t really remember, but I know it started with them.
It started with them showing kindness and empathy and it started with a trust that developed between us.
As I allowed the door of communication to be opened, as I began to finally relate with people who understood me, they began to lead me down a path towards finding my key.
My key to peace.
My key to happiness.

My key to acceptance.

…to be continued.
First part of an upcoming speech on communication between team members.

What about me mom?

7 Feb

“A sister is God’s way of proving that He doesn’t want us to walk alone.” -Anonymous

Apparently I have seriously offended one little person in my house by not writing about her yet. When I picked Kekoa up from school yesterday I excitedly told him that I was able to tell a story about him on a website.

“What’s the story about mommy?”

“I just told people what an amazing person you are and how much you love your sister, Oli.”

At this point I hear a little voice pipe up from the back seat.

My 2 year old Ginger, is not about to be left out.

“Me too mom! You wrote a story about me too!”

She is far to grown up and sophisticated to use silly words like ‘mommy’ and ‘daddy’. We are mom and dad and sometimes, we are Shannon and Seth.

“Not yet Ginger. I haven’t gotten to that part of the story yet.”

“Awwww….I want a story.”

So now I find myself needing to write about Ginger. Although it in no way follows the normal sequence of Oli’s story, I have to tell you about my little princess. She is not about to be left out, let alone not be the center of attention.

This is Ginger.

Ahhhhh….Ginger. Where do I even begin?

Ginger was born when Oli was 2 months away from being 3 years old. I thought that it would be easy to have another baby at this point because Oli was getting a little bit older.

I was wrong.

To describe Ginger as being a difficult baby really doesn’t accurately portray the first 5 months of her life. I had no idea what I was in for when she was born.

She was a terrible infant. She cried all the time. And I do mean ALL THE TIME. Literally. If she wasn’t eating (which she always did) and she wasn’t sleeping (which she never did) she was crying.

Oli had a really hard time when she was born. She is very sensitive to loud noises and Ginger screamed like she was in a special baby crying contest and was intent on winning first prize. I’m sure my neighbors were convinced that I was somehow torturing my newborn.

We found out when she was 1 year old and stopped nursing that she was allergic to milk. She would break out with a rash all over her face every time I gave it to her.(I’m sure she was sensitive to breast milk too.)

Yeah. . .that would have been good to know when she was a baby.

Oli really wanted nothing to do with her. Every time I would try to put Ginger in Oli’s lap or even next to her, she would push her away immediately. I couldn’t blame her. Sometimes even I couldn’t handle her screaming anymore. But by the time Ginger was 5 months old she was much better.

I couldn’t convince Oli to like her though. I’m sure she had no idea what this little loud thing was. She’d never been around a baby before. So, one minute it was just her and Kekoa and life made sense. She had routines and structure and plenty of mommy time. The next minute she had erratic routines, no structure and mommy time usually meant sitting with me while I had a wiggly little body attached to my boob. It took Oli about 18 months to let Ginger get near her and now she loves her. But that was only because of how Ginger approached and treated her.

The personality differences between my oldest and youngest children are striking. They are polar opposites.

Where Kekoa is quiet and sensitive, Ginger is loud and bossy. Kekoa wants to help other people and never strives to be the center of attention. Ginger just wants everyone to cater to her and will do whatever it takes to make sure that someone is watching her. She is constantly singing, dancing, and performing. And if what she is doing is not immediately grabbing your attention she will get in your face and absolutely demand it. And that is exactly how she approaches Oli.

She just grabs her by the hand and pulls.

“Oli! Come play with me!”

(Oli has a lot of trouble standing up by herself.)

“Ginger, you can’t just pull on Oli. You’re not strong enough to help her get up.”

She will not be detered.

“Yes I am mom. See. Look at my muscles!

Come on Oli! Stand up. Let’s go.”

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She has never ever treated Oli like she is any different from anybody else. I would like to explain this away by her age. She just doesn’t understand yet. (She will be 3 in March.) I don’t think that’s it though. Only because I have always watched how Kekoa interacts with Oli.

Kekoa is more reserved with her and always has been. He is concerned that things are done properly with Oli and he is always cognisant of her visual impairment and her mental age. He has been like that since she was born. He doesn’t ever treat her like she is less than, but he is aware that there are things that she just can’t do or needs help with. I frequently hear him tell Ginger,

“You have to put the toys in her hands Ginger. She can’t see them when you just throw them at her! Put them in her hands!”

Kekoa wants to teach Oli things and makes sure that she gets what she needs.

Ginger wants Oli to pay attention to her. Ginger just wants to make sure that they are friends.

I really love this about her. I don’t have a sister so I know nothing about the special bonds of sisterhood.

I see it in my girls though. Despite their differences I see that bond.

Oli is so lucky to have two people who will always stand by her side. One who will make sure that no harm ever comes to her and the other who will make sure that no one ever leaves her out, pity’s her, or treats her differently.

Never going to be the same…

26 Jan

“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” -Joseph Campbell

We drove baby Oli home on a warm sunny day.

I was trying my hardest to be upbeat for my son despite my inner turmoil. I was sitting in the back seat with Kekoa, listening to his favorite nursery rhyme CD.

As we were driving past the desert mountain bike trails that Seth and I used to ride, I am reminded again of another life. Another person that I’m having a harder and harder time connecting with.

I feel like I am floating away.

Leaving behind the person I was. My life, that used to make perfect sense to me, now I can no longer recognize. I am being consumed by despair of the unknown.

I look at Seth in the review mirror.

Our lives are never going to be the same.

Destiny

24 Jan

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired and success achieved.” -Helen Keller

Destiny is a funny thing. There are times in my life where I have hated it and refused to believe in it and there are times that I have witnessed it’s amazing power. Destiny is a strong word. I do not say this lightly when I tell you that Kekoa was destined to be Oliana’s big brother.

This is the story about my 1st miracle. What better way for a miracle to arrive than in the form of a little, 18 month old boy named Kekoa.

The day that the doctor gave us the awful news about Oliana’s eyes was no doubt one of the most painful experiences of my life. It was absolutely devastating to my husband and I as well as our families. It was devastating to everyone except one little boy. One little bright light that happened to come to visit me that day to meet his new baby sister.

I had just finished telling Seth that our baby was going to be blind. Kekoa was wandering around the hospital room playing with his favorite cars and periodically watching the cartoons I had on the TV. After the tears were dried up and Seth and I had composed ourselves, I ask Kekoa if he wants to meet his new sister. We had been practicing for months with a tiny toy doll and he was very excited to show us just exactly how gentle he could be.

Seth picks him up so he can have a better view of her lying in the bassinet. He asks Kekoa if he wants to give her a kiss. He slowly nods his head yes and says “bee-bee”. Seth leans down and Kekoa gives his sister the sweetest little kiss on the top of her head. He then asks to be put down on the floor. Seth puts him down on the ground and…..

He starts walking around the room with his eyes closed and his little chubby baby hands out in front of him.

He is pretending to be blind.

Somehow this little boy, a baby really, has this whole thing figured out in 20 minutes. Tears that had been dry just a few minutes ago immediately race down my cheeks. How does he know?

He then opens his eyes, turns around and looks at his 2 astonished parents. He just looks at us like, “Yeah. So she’s blind. See I can do it. It’s no big deal.”

I will forever love my son for the millions of gifts he has given me as his mother. However, the memory of him walking that room with his eyes closed with be forever imprinted in my mind as one of the things I love the most. It was the moment I realized that Kekoa was more than willing to accept his destiny.

What did he just tell me?

22 Jan

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Seth left the next afternoon to go pick up my son Kekoa (he was 18 months old) from his Grandma’s house where he had been staying. The pediatrician, who was supposed to come and look at Oli in the morning, still had not shown up. A little while after Seth left, the doctor walked through the door.

“I’m just here to take a look at your baby.”

I sit up in the hospital bed anxiously awaiting his assurance that everything is fine. “Ok. I’m kind of worried about her eyes because she hasn’t opened them yet. I think they’re just swollen, you know because I had been in pre term labor awhile and I’m sure that stressed her out and probably caused some swelling, but I’m sure she’ll open them soon. Maybe later today or tomorrow. Do you think? I’m sure there’s nothing wrong. They’re just swollen. Right?”

He just looks at me like he’s mildly bored and somewhat irritated because I am rambling at this point. I tend to ramble and talk really fast when I’m nervous.

“Are you going to look at her eyes?” I ask. I am quickly losing patience with his non-committal attitude.

He is looking everywhere else besides her eyes. Her feet, legs, tummy, arms, nose, mouth. Taking his sweet time at it too, I must say. I just wanted to scream at him “TELL ME NOTHING IS WRONG WITH HER EYES YOU BIG JERK!!”

Finally he tries to open her eyes. Oli starts screaming her head off like he is trying to rip her eyelids apart. Which is essentially exactly what he was doing because they were literally fused together. After trying this for a minute he puts the blanket back over her, straightens up, looks at me and says,

“Well, I think she has either really small eyes, or no eyes at all and she will be completely blind. Microphthalmia is what it is called. Do you have any questions?”

My mouth is now gaping open, tears are pooling in my eyes, and I’m looking back at him with a mixture of astonishment and offence. Do I have any questions? Well let me see… I guess I have two. Where did you get your medical license and where do you live so I can come rip your heart out while you are sleeping. Like you just ripped out mine.

Did I have any questions? What a dumb question. Of course I had questions but, at that point I couldn’t even remember my own name let alone think of a way to put together a question out of the millions of thoughts racing through my head.

“I don’t know. Have you ever seen this before?”

“Once. 15 years ago. A little boy that had Fraisers Syndrome. We’ll have to check her kidneys. She might not have any kidneys.” He answers with a blank, emotionless expression.

Again I am staring at him with my mouth open. Did he just say what I think he said? No kidneys? That means death right? I mean, I am a nurse and I’m pretty sure no kidneys means death. Did he just tell me she might die?

“Ok then. I’ll order some tests and we’ll let you know.”

With that he promptly walked out of my hospital room leaving me alone with my new baby that I now thought might die.

They didn’t have a special needs mother hat in my size

21 Jan

“There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be…” -John Lennon

I would love to talk about those first few days in the hospital after Oli was born as being beautiful and full of acceptance. I would love to say “They told me she was blind and I immediately put on my special needs mother hat and began my new identity.” That’s not exactly what happened. I went through a lot in the first years of Oli’s life to get me where I am today. I wouldn’t be doing her story justice if I just painted a pretty picture and pretended it wasn’t hell. Of course I loved her. I’ve always loved her more than anything. But that’s been part of my problem. I loved her so much but, I couldn’t fix her. I couldn’t give her eyes or sight. I couldn’t take away all the hardships and pain that I knew were in her future. I couldn’t make society treat her with respect or hell, even a human being, as a special needs child. I’ve had experiences with more than one doctor referring to her only as a diagnosis. Talking to me like she was an object and telling me everything that could possibly be wrong with her and not to expect much.

Lying in that hospital bed, after she was born, was absolutely the lowest part of my life. Mostly because I am a -worst-case-scenario- kind of girl. I can take a perfectly sunny day at the park and turn it into, an escaped convict jumps out of the bushes and kidnaps me where I spend the next 5 years locked in his basement forced to eat pickles and honey, in my mind. That’s just how my mind works. I just wasn’t ready to accept this life that had just punched me in the face. She didn’t fit into my perfect little box of what I wanted my future to look like.

Now, let me say something about life that I learned at that moment.

Life did not care that I had an 18 month old son at home. Life did not care that I currently had a full time job to get back to. Life did not care that I felt I did not deserve this. Life did not care that I felt somehow cheated. Life simply handed me this baby girl and said, “Ok. Here you go. Now what are you going to do? Are you going to run away? Fight this with every fiber of your being? Or are you going to accept this and move on?” Me being me, of course, I chose option number 2.

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