From the moment my nearly nine pound son was placed in my arms, in June, my heart was overflowing with love and joy. Six years ago, when my less than four pound daughter entered the world she was not placed in my arms but rather rushed to the NICU. Consequently my feelings were of fear, apprehension and guilt.
Prematurity, failure to thrive, nonverbal autism, feeding tube dependency, ADHD, anxiety, chronic insomnia are just some of the diagnoses that explain my daughter’s medical involvement and made me the mother of a child with special needs. Before my daughter’s arrival I scarcely considered raising a child who was anything other than typically developing and when I did I was terrified. Even after becoming Caroline’s mom which was synonymous with being a special needs mom, I still feared the unknown of special needs parenting which includes parenting another child with special needs.
My fear of the unknown regarding special needs parenting speaks less about my feelings toward my daughter and more about my insecurities. It is not easy being a parent to a child with special needs and frequently I question my ability to rise to the challenge. My husband and I made the decision to have another child knowing that our chances of having another child with special needs was slightly higher than the general population. For so many reasons, I wanted a healthy, typically developing child which sounds normal. But as a parent of a child with special needs even wanting a healthy, typically developing child made me feel guilty. I had to convince that my desire to have a typical child in no way diminished my love for my daughter with special needs and it did not mean that I was lazy. It meant that I was normal. It meant that I wanted to give my oldest daughter who is healthy and typically developing the sibling experience she so desperately wanted. It also meant that I wanted to mother a child without a team of therapists and specialists.
My son is healthy and oh so very happy. He has a healthy appetite and no feeding problems, which were some of the early indicators that my daughter would have ongoing special needs. My daughter with special needs, who is now one of the happiest most playful people I know, did not regularly socially smile until she was 2 years old…at six months old her brother never stops smiling. It is for these reasons and so many more that I know my son is healthy and typically developing.
My relationship with my son is different than with either of my older daughters. When he entered the world I knew with great certainty that he would be my last child, it turned out he would also be my only son and my easiest baby. I savior every moment I get to spend with him. I hold him without worrying whether he will cry because unlike with his older sister I know that I can get him to stop relatively easily. I take so much joy in feeding him because he loves to eat and because he is good at it; whereas, his sister ultimately ended up with a feeding tube and an intense feeding schedule that often reduced both of us tears. Many of the small things that I did not notice with my oldest child I savior with my youngest child because of my middle child.
This time around, I am soaking in all the joy of being mom to an infant. I love seeing my oldest daughter play and laugh with her brother. And I relish the feeling of knowing my family is now complete.
But there are times that it is difficult having a typically developing child who has an older sibling with special needs. My daughter is nonverbal and my son at six months old is babbling and has more sounds than my daughter did at the age of 3. I worry about how it will feel for me and my daughter with special needs the day, my son achieves a milestone my daughter has not. For me, I am pretty sure it will be a combination of joy and sorrow.
This time as a parent is so different for me. I am savoring this period of my son’s life and not hoping for it to pass quickly as I did with my daughter. I am thankful that I followed my heart and decided to have a child after my child with needs. And not because I don’t love being my daughter’s mother but because I love the unique experience of parenting each of my children. For me it took great courage to have another child but I did so with my eyes and heart open and it has made all the difference.