My husband and I had a rough start. We had a six month old when we got married and no idea how to be parents. A difficult pregnancy was followed by colic. Sleep deprivation turned to postpartum depression. We would bicker. Hell, who am I kidding, we would fight. I thought he was doing it wrong and he thought I was doing it wrong. Before I knew it, I was magically pregnant again despite the birth control pills I took every. single. morning. Then there were two. Two beautiful, happy, and healthy boys. Why were we struggling?
My postpartum returned with a vengeance just in time for my husband to injure his back at work. No matter how hard we tried, we struggled. Marriage counseling made things ten times worse. Then came the speech therapy, hearing tests, and evaluations. Why wasn’t our son talking? We went from having a two year old who didn’t speak to having a three year old who didn’t speak. We already knew we had failed each other, but had we failed our children too?
Did I not read, sing, or talk enough to Henry as a baby? Was I so consumed with my depression and insecurities as a new mom that I forgot to nurture him? Maybe our arguing traumatized him. We blamed ourselves. We blamed each other. We were passed the anger, passion, and disappointment. We were past divorce. Why were we still doing this?
We knew why. And no, it wasn’t just because we loved each other. You see, we both came from tight-knit nuclear families where our parents stayed married. We are both pathologically bound to that bit about the good times and the bad. We watched our parents struggle and stay together. So that’s what we did. We lived moment to moment in the chaos generated from two exhausted parents and two active toddler boys, and we worried. We worried for Henry. He was three and still not talking, at all. The questions hung over our heads like ominous rain clouds; The guilt and self-blame blanketed our house like a thick morning fog. Is he autistic? Will this be the straw that breaks the camel’s back? Was this the end of my little family as I knew it?
It was. My family was forever changed the day my son finally received his autism diagnosis. We expected our lives would fall apart, along with all of our dreams for our son. But that’s not what happened. Like looking through a pair of binoculars as they come into focus, we saw our pixelated lives become clearer and brighter before our eyes. We had stumbled and fell face first into the one thing we weren’t looking for, clarity.
Now clarity can be quite jarring at first if you’ve ever experienced it. But once you catch your breath and take a look around there is quite a view. I could see it all clearly for the first time. Instead of the massive panic attack I expected, I let out a sigh of relief. It wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t my husband’s fault. We weren’t bad parents. Henry wasn’t an unhappy child. He was autistic. We didn’t struggle as parents because we were weak. We struggled because it was hard as hell. We fought because we were afraid and had no answers as to why our lives seemed just an ounce or two heavier than those around us. We were out of control, but now, now we had an answer. It was a terrifying answer, but it was far less debilitating than the thousands of questions that had haunted us for so long.
Autism is going to challenge all of our lives forever, but you know what? That’s ok. I can deal with anything I can google. Before the diagnosis, despite scouring the dark corners of every mom chat room known to man, I had no answers. I didn’t know. But now I do. I wasn’t a bad mom; I was a special needs mom. I finally had a clear view of the uphill battle ahead of me, and I’d take that over ominous rain clouds of impending doom anyday.
My husband wasn’t in denial, he was doing the best he could. It was my own fear that had pushed him so far from me. Deep down I had some animalistic maternal fear that once my mate discovered our young was maimed, he we would abandon him emotionally. Would he give up on him, love him less, or look at him differently? The day my son was diagnosed these fears evaporated into the clearing sky. My husband may not be a big talker, but he is a damn good father. I saw him show up for our son in a whole new way. He was stripped of his impatience and frustration. He stood in front of me, vulnerable, wearing only his love for our son, as it pounded through his beating chest. Seeing my husband love our son unconditionally, support him, and accept him in the face of so much fear, made me fall in love with him all over again. This was the man I married.
For the first time, I could see the moments in between the meltdowns. I could see the forts and tickle fights. I could hear the laughter. It was always there. Suddenly, all the scattered pieces of ourselves came together and formed a perfectly completed puzzle; it all made sense now. I thought an autism diagnosis would destroy us. It ended up being the answer to a thousand questions we did not even know to ask. Instead of ripping us apart, it was the glue that put us back together again. Our son needed us. We needed each other. We had a new journey ahead, and while it might have been the road less travelled, we would traverse the changing landscape as it came, together, in good times and in bad.