Photo by: P Gordon

Discovery: The Arrival of Atticus

by Tresa of "Reese Dixon"
Photo by: P Gordon

During our epic eight year battle with infertility, I would regularly make little bargains with God in a last ditch desperate attempt to make things work. “God? If you give me a baby, I’ll stop swearing at other drivers.” “God? If I get a baby I’ll donate all my Christmas presents to Goodwill.” “God? If it works this time, I promise I’ll give a penny more often than I take a penny.” But the one thing I could never bring myself to bargain over was the potential ability of my child. Never once was I ever even tempted to say, “God? You can give me a baby with whatever challenge you’ve got. I’m willing. I just want a baby.” Never once. I was so terrified at the thought of raising a child with special needs, so sure I did not possess the mix of tenderness and patience and ferociousness it requires, that in all my fruitless bargaining I never even hinted at the offer.

I had known a few of those moms over the years, and I would marvel at their capabilities. I’ve known families that adopted child after child with profound needs, sacrificing wealth and worldly ambition to nurture these little spirits. Their lives seemed holy to me. I was sure that these were a special type of people, gifted with benevolence that the rest of us mortals could never obtain. They seemed like saints.

Despite all my fear and the certainty I had about my own limitations, my own calling into the Sisterhood of the Special Needs came. My son Atticus was born at 28 weeks via emergency C-section, spent 3 months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and a couple months into his hospital stay the doctors found some brain damage that resulted in Cerebral Palsy.

If my life were a movie, this is the part where I would go out walking through a late night rainstorm, railing at the heavens and cursing the God I believed in. But nothing so cathartically dramatic was available, so my husband Jared and I spent two days catatonic in front of the television, the floor littered with Cheese-It crumbs and Ho-Ho wrappers as we tried to eat our feelings. Once we found the strength to leave the couch and wash the orange dust off our hands, we made our way back to Atti’s bedside to discover that he looked exactly the same as he did before the diagnosis. He was still our teeny little super guy. He was still the hard won little blessing that we had rejoiced over before. He now just carried this label that left everything else up in the air. I was overwhelmed with love for him, but the visions I had of my future were terrifying. I had no idea how I could be the mom a kid like this would need.

Suddenly I found myself in this club of sainted women, only I was a bundle of neurosis with a short temper and serious self-doubt. But since I was still in the club whether I wanted to be or not, it meant that you didn’t have to be some paragon of virtue to belong, which meant that those women I had always admired weren’t some rare breed of perfection but regular old women who were just doing amazing things. And since I was just a regular old woman, maybe I could get there too. This realization gave me the faith I needed to straighten my shoulders, take a deep breath, and get to work.

It’s been nearly two years since he was born, and we’ve spent three or four days a week shuttling between doctors and therapists of every stripe. Every few months Atti accomplishes a new skill on his way towards independence. His progress is slow, so slow that if you didn’t know what you were looking at you’d think he was stagnant, but it is progress nonetheless. We have become cheerleaders for every independent movement, recognizing how many muscles and systems have to coordinate just to eat, and thrilled on a day when he poops. He’s growing into such a motivated and stubborn little kid, I think he’s going to prove the doctors wrong with a smirk on his face.

My journey into motherhood was so very arduous, on the surface it probably seems to bear little resemblance to the majority of mothers out there. I still find myself choosing to say “when Atti was born,” instead of “when I gave birth” because that emergency trip into the operating room and then three months away from my baby seems to have almost nothing to do with the typical experience. But I think my experience carries what is true for every mother, just compressed.

Motherhood seems to carry those moments for everyone– moments when you are convinced you don’t have it in you, moments when you feel at the absolute limit of your capabilities and you’re still being asked for more. It’s easy to put moms like me in our own category of saintly special cases, but it’s just not true. Getting this diagnosis did not come with a special gift basket of great character traits. When my worst fears were realized and I was forced to confront what I was going to do, I didn’t do anything more or less than most mothers do daily, I discovered more in me than I thought was there, and I did what my child needed.

Tresa Edmunds writes about motherhood and other creative endeavors at her blog “”

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Your honest emotions make this piece very moving.Your name choice is fitting as your son is a warrior.I had epilepsy from birth and a stroke at 15 following brain surgery for out of control epilepsy.I dealt with infertility from PCOS for 20 yrs.We adopted our son from India at 3 knowing he had Osteogenesis Imperfecta (brittle bone) and mild CP.Once he got home severe ADHD and bipolar manifested.My husband now deceased had the severe form of the brittle bone disease.We knew how to care for him .Nigel had 25 fractures before he was 10.
Then at 36 God decided it was time for me to have a baby.I had my daughter Nov 7th 2007.I believe God knew my body wasn't ready or healed enough from my stroke to be pregnant in my 20's when I wanted it.i too bargined with Him.Some say Mt late husband Leonard interceded.I said I can see him she really wants a baby could you make it a girl.My kids are 10 yrs and 2 weeks apart.I was blessed to know Motherhood from two different ways.

Sniff. Heartwarming post that brought a tear to my eye. I have a brother with Down's Syndrome that is 33. My parents did such an awesome job with all of us that we didn't realize Billy was that different until we were older and even then WE didn't treat him differently at home! Only now that I have a child and am pregnant with my 2nd that I understand my parents more deeply and what they must have felt...

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Thank you so much for posting this. It has stirred up a lot of emotions for me too as our youngest child was diagnosed with Dandy Walker Malformation at 6 months gestation and I went into three months of deep depression and grief. (DWM is when the cerebellum is not formed or has a hole in it.) I tried so hard to be excited about the little boy that was forming within me but when I would tell people he had a hole in his brain I would get the strangest reactions...

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This is so beautifully and honestly written. You bared your heart and soul and put it on paper for all to see and read and be blessed by. It truly touched my heart. Thanks for sharing.

You know what I believe? I believe that God would knows us better than we know ourselves. And he does not give us trials or tribulations, or whatever you want to call them, that we can not overcome. Yes, it's a little annoying, because his idea of what we can handle and our idea are always two very different things. But like I said, He knows us very well. And he knows what tests we need to take in this life to learn what we need to learn...

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oh WOW! What a great post! I can feel what you were feeling as I read it! I got emotional just by reading what you were going through and what was going through your head! It was very honest and I am sure many mothers can relate. Atticus is a very lucky guy!!

Your article is so beautiful and so apt. I have a sister who has cerebral palsy. She is now 34 yrs. old. She is the best thing that ever happened to our family. I have lived and saw the strength, love and faith of my mother and I am blessed to have such a strong and caring woman to call my mom. I thank you for your article to remind us how amazing mothers are specially those who care for those special needs children.

What a great name for your son! I also looked at it because of the name. I also feel for you because we had infertility issues and were planning to adopt when I found out I was pregnant four days shy of my 35th birthday. We now have two beautiful, healthy daughters but we also faced some serious self examination and ethical issues...

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Thank you for your post. The thing that I appreciate is that you present so well the conflicting emotions we feel when a special needs child comes into our lives. When you find out the child you thought you had (expectations you didn't even know where there) are changed. There is a grief for the loss of how you thought things would be, but you still value the connection and love for the child you have...

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What a great story and so true. I am a mother of a child with Cri DU Chat syndrome and 100% g-tube fed. NO matter what anyone says and all of the "he will never..." we have heard in his 3 yrs of life he is still my baby boy and we love him to pieces.
for all moms who have not experienced the path of special needs please remember they are still children than need love and attention and you should never treat them differently than you would any other child

what a great story. It's amazing the strength you can find when you are forced to...

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Very well written. Thank you!

My husband and I also struggled with infertility. After 7 years we were blessed with our perfect daughter. I worried about the same things as you. I was probably more concerned with down syndrome. She is almost 2 and so far she is "normal". I applaud your strength. Good luck to you and your family.

Exquisite, beautiful, real, heartfelt, joyous, love, love, love your heart, your honesty, your ability to share your vulnerability. May you and your family continually awake to new blessings.

Hi, first of all, please let me say I love your story and I love his name, Atticus, such a strong name and yes a spiritual warrior. I have a boy, who is 5 and he is healthy; but I did the soul searching, because I was encouraged to abort, there was some protein, too high which indicated spina bifida, did my "fun" times in the eighties make me and him a candidate for birth defects...

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