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 “ReeseDixon.com”http://www.reesedixon.com

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44 Comments

This is an absolutely beautiful post, filled with honesty, hope and grace. What touches me most is not just your empathy and understanding of what motherhood brings out in all of us but the love for your son that resonates throughout this piece.

It was his name 'Atticus' in the title that caught my eye and I'm glad I clicked through. I sometimes find it hard to write about my children in any real depth because it's just so emotional...

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Hi there, I too, was intrigued by your name, "Atticus". And it also caught my attention along with the beautiful flower! This whole story makes my "hair stand on end", with emotion and understanding that mothers feel and know. Just to share openly and acknowledge, we're all human, and yet capable of great things. Bless you for sharing!

Wonderful post. Thanks so much for sharing!

Hi I just wanted to say thanks for posting. Most all moms have it in them to handle special needs children. They usually don't know it until it happens to them. I also have a child with special needs his is spinal bifida he was born paralyzed from the waist down. I had the same thoughts and concerns. Best advice I can give is a lot of doctors will give you the worst scenario. Just believe in your child no matter what they tell you and help them to be as happy and independent as you can...

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You have written of your experience with honesty and a bit of humour thrown in. As a mom who chose to take in a special needs son, I totally understand the fear that you may not be able to be the mom he needs. In fact, I think if I had known everything his special needs would require, I doubt I would have the courage to say yes! But 9 years later, in spite of everything we've been through, in spite of everything we know and don't know that is to come, I do not regret our choice...

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Your post touched me so much. Your honesty in this post has humbled me in a way i can't even tell you. When i was pregnant, i prayed a lot to God asking him to keep my baby safe and the baby be born without any birth defects. When my baby was born, she had just four fingers in her left hand, the pinky missing. I was told she could have had heart defects with that but luckily she did not...

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Being a mother of 3 special needs sons and reflecting back on what we experienced I too can relate. My son who had cerebral palsy and wheelchair bound all of his life passed away Aug. 27,2008. My two other sons are legally blind- one almost totally blind with no color in his world.
I would never trade all the experiences in life and all the little comedies God blessed me with!
Keep focused and keep comedy in your life it's what will get you through each new experience and trials.

Thank you for your honesty in the feelings of doubt that you experienced when you discovered your son had special needs. I thank you also for giving all mothers hope that they too can provide for and love their child no matter what the disability.

We have a 17 year old son with Asperger's Syndrome, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Obssesive-Compulsive Disorder, ADHD and Bipolar. A desire has emerged in me to become an advocate for children with developmental disabilities...

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You have written one of the most beautiful essays I have ever read. You have gotten to the core of motherhood with beauty, care and intelligence. I will celebrate you and your perfect family! I am going to be reading more of what you write! Thank you thank you

I remember making those same bargains with God when we were trying to get pregnant. Now that we have two adopted children, we feel truly blessed that He answered all our prayers. Yes, we have had some challenges in parenting, but someone once said "God only gives special children to special parents." We are stronger for having fought the good fight to become parents, and are able to take on any of the challenges ahead.

Beautiful story. Thank you so much for sharing. I have two boys, the oldest was born two months early and the second was born three months early. Ryan my first born is alright and doing well, but my youngest Ian has Cerebral Palsy, autism and ADHD. I related very much to your story and used to think that special needs moms were magical, but now I realized that they were mortal wonderful women who rose to the occasion because they had too, just like we did...

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Your post is so beautiful, and touching. My youngest brother has many challenges, and watching him grow into a young man with hope for his future...all be it defined a little differently than "society's" definition. Thank you for your honesty and openness. You have such a gift in writing and expressing what I cannot. Thank you for inspiring hope, and tying it to faith! As long as we breathe we can have hope.
Kelly
www.moptophair.com

Many blessings to you and to your Atticus. My cousin was born 52 years ago at a time when Downs Syndrome was synonymous with institutionalization. My Aunt, however, defied the doctors who advised her, no insisted that she put Bob into an institution. She and my cousins--the 6 others in the family--worked, played, talked, loved Bob. He is now the remaining male in the family, having lost his dad AND his big brother this past spring and summer...

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I too have a special needs child who is now 6 years old. His name is Phoenix. I am amazed at how "regular" parents have no idea what it takes to care for and love children like ours. I am a lucky woman with 2 children. My oldest, Jonathon, will be 21 this year. He is a "normal" young man. I really don't like using those terms but that is how most would describe it...

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I don't think you're being completely honest. I'm sure for the first few years it took a lot to accept the fact that the child you waited so long for ended up being special needs. My son was born healthy but it took me a long time to feel like a mom..

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