I met all three of my children the same way... Or three ways. The first time on a positive test, then on a sonogram screen, then in the sterility of an operating room. Two of them were born in exactly the same hospital, OR, and even the same room for the rest of our stay. Ryan was, of course, the wild card.
When I took that first pregnancy test, I didn't hope to be a special needs mom. I didn't sit in my childbirth class and daydream of therapy sessions while I kept my husband from barfing at the thought of an epidural. And I certainly didn't hold my perfect newborn and dream of him pummeling his own head with a balled up fist at nine years old. I didn't rock him for hours on end in those first few months and hope for ARD meetings galore with a team of people trying to figure out how to best educate, figure out, and all-around help this kid.
But I did, on that first night of his life especially, pray. As the rain hit the windows on that dark May night, I found myself worried. All of my life, I knew I wanted to be a mom, and now was my chance. In typical Crystal style, I was afraid of messing up. Terrified of screwing this kid up in the worst ways imaginable.
So I prayed.
I didn't so much pray as much as beg God to make me the mother Ryan needed. I had no idea what I was getting into, as most parents will tell you. So in the middle of the night, with my husband snoring on the hospital cot at the foot of my bed, I did what I knew to do with fear. Ryan's sweet, round, baby face nuzzled close, and he was absolutely breathtaking to behold in the dim light.
From that moment, life with Ryan has been an adventure. It has held devastating lows and dizzying highs. I've prayed since then, of course. But over the years my prayers have evolved somewhat. I prayed for him as a mother usually prays for her baby. Then I started to pray that he would meet the next milestone in those cutesy little emails.
Then I started to pray that he'd talk. Or at least get the words back that he had.
Then I started to pray that the speech therapist we found would realize that he is NORMAL.
Then I started to pray that he would just not scream when they showed up at the house.
Then I started to pray that they were wrong. He couldn't be on the autism spectrum. Pervasive Developmental Disorder was beginning to sound right. Yeah. That had to be it.
Then I started to pray for high-functioning autism. Or that it wouldn't be autism at all. Just one breakthrough. Come on, buddy.
By the time he was five, I was praying for answers. Help. Relief.
When the diagnosis came, he was five. We started this process at two. Three years of struggle, meetings, no talking, little help from the world. Lots of lonely. Lots of apology for his behavior. Lots of crying. Lots of begging for any shred of help.
In the time between our hint at autism and his diagnosis, his brother and sister were born. After all this, I still wanted a big family. Honestly, if I hadn't had a horrible time with his sister's birth we'd have had at least one more. Ever had a spinal headache? Postpartum depression and anxiety? Not for the faint of heart.
Anyway, the next two babies came along, and I you know what? I don't recall ever praying they didn't have autism. They were vaccinated according to schedule just like Ryan. I fed them pretty much like I did Ryan. I talked to them just like I did Ryan. There was the stress of dealing with him while I had them, yes. They have grown up with him and all he entails. And you know what?
They have no problem with him.
For the most part, there is no more problem with them living with Ryan than there is with any other big brother and little siblings. He is just Ryan. He is their big brother and they love him.
They came into that relationship with no expectations. No strings. No preconceived notions. He was just Ryan. He still is.
Daddy and I are the ones that have problems. We are the ones who worry and have a hard time accepting. Being patient. Accepting.
The adults are the ones who have trouble. The younger ones... The ones who have twenty-five plus less years life experience are the ones who show us what love is. They love him without question. They cover their ears when he screams. A two year old Maelynn even approached her hitting-and-screaming brother on her toddling legs and patted him, teliing him it's okay. Richie, at six, grabs his hand and leads him back to the family when he wanders in public. They both laugh with him at silly things. They repeat after him when he wants them to chant something. They run behind him when those places in his favorite movies crop up and he needs to run around the room in circles.
They do all this with joy.
They don't complain that it's hard or different than how they thought. They don't complain about how people look at us in public. Yes, sometimes he does something that bothers them, such as wiping off the train table when Richie had build something. Or playing with Maelynn's toy computer when she wanted to play with it. But they always understand quickly and come back to remembering him and who he is.
In all this, I have to say that Ryan is Ryan. Autism is the name they give to his set of, or lack of, behaviors, but he is as God made him. Anytime I think that maybe I should pray that God will take autism away from Ryan, I'm taken aback. Autism is part of Ryan, in my mind, as my brown hair and eyes and inability to sit still for long, love for all things musical, and frustration with social interaction in large groups. One of us happens to fit into society easier. One of us has a harder time.
While I'm tempted to look at the meltdowns and the hitting and the bad stuff and pray that autism would be, in some way, cured... I have to stop. God made Ryan the way he is. No matter what others say, he is who he is by God's divine providence. Who am I to tell God how to make people?
In the end, God has answered my first prayer. I am not the best parent in the world, but I am being made who Ryan, Richie, and Maelynn need. I have my own meltdowns. I have my own problems and inconsistencies. And they all love me.
"Loving a person just the way they are; it's no small thing. It's the whole thing." -Sara Groves, "Loving a Person"
Thanks be to God for a love that knows no bounds... the love that gave us our savior.