In this edition of A Mommy Story, we meet Liz and her daughter Hannah. As Liz dealt with her daughter’s diagnosis, she learned to grow to love both herself and her daughter.
As any first time parent, things were exciting and new for us. Our baby was growing and doing things like any child would. We took her to checkups, got shots and so on. Then, one day, I heard something that no mom expects…
“There’s something off with Hannah. She should be talking and her milestones are a little behind”.
No one ever wants to be told that something is wrong with their kid, especially if they are a first time parent. I really had no idea she was “off”. So, speech therapy, here we come. Then, we heard something else.
“There’s something off with Hannah. She seems to be on the spectrum.”
So, Autism Testing Center, here we come. At 18 months, their testing wasn’t long. I was in denial of the whole thing. She’s 18 months! There’s nothing wrong. She’s just behind. Unfortunately, because of those test results, I began reading bogus things that “make her on the spectrum”; things I had yet to teach Hannah. Things like potty training which I hadn’t even started. Yet, that was one reason why she was on the spectrum. Huh? I was confused. She danced with me. She mimicked “Dance-a-lot Robot” and his bird dance. She clapped like a bird in session. Yet, she’s autistic. So naturally, I thought this was bogus.
The lady who tested my child had expertise in this. How could I be mad or in denial? So, I settled and I listened to her, as she talked down to me. I listened to the constant reminder that my child “is autistic”. My favorite line was “If you don’t do anything to help your kid, you are a bad mom”.
Wait, what?! I never said that I wasn’t doing anything. I was confused. I walked back to my car and sobbed. I just sat in a room with a “professional”, who had no bed side manners. What they said ripped me apart. That was the moment when I started to pick myself apart as a mother and Hannah as my child. I went from mom who struggled a little bit to one who was scared of the unknown. I began to look at my child as “wrong”. What did I do wrong? Why is she different? Why can’t she be normal?
When my depression hit, the darkness came. I started to hate motherhood. I didn’t look forward to things. I realize now that it was depression. But, back then, I just thought it was the constant struggle of ABA therapists, speech, motherhood and doctors telling me “There’s something off with Hannah”.
During my second pregnancy, I was terrified that the baby was going to be autistic as well. We relocated after Kaleigh was born. We endured more rounds of doctor appointments, referrals, new therapists, etc. The darkness I felt never went away; it was just hidden under my busy routine.
I never saw light again until Nov 2015. I was in mom / support groups on Facebook. I found & joined a clothing company after falling in love with how I looked. I found friendship, a family and someone who was dealing with the same stuff as me. I finally had a support system. I could breathe. I felt beautiful. I started taking care of myself.
Yet, it still felt like it was just covering up the darkness. Then, I was given a gift from my teammates. They let me know that I was a strong mom. I sat there and really took in what it meant. I sobbed for while. I realized that this family is a puzzle. I needed to work on it just as much as every person in this family.
I decided to hold a fundraiser for Autism. I cried all week! By the end of it something happened. I experienced healing and growth. I finally accepted autism. I accepted myself. I accepted my family. That day, I fell in love with my baby girl all over again. She is amazing. She is a genius! Her laughter makes us smile ear to ear.
And yet, despite this, the darkness was still there and would crack me when her big fits would come. My support system kept telling me to get checked out; I was ashamed, which in turn, made the darkness spike.
I finally got on medication for depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, the event that drove me to it was my dad passing from a heart attack. It felt like my father took me to to the doctor, so that I could start living my life happily. I believe that his message to me was that I was an amazing mother and can do anything. So what if Hannah has autism? It doesn’t mean that she can’t do anything and everything. Suddenly, I became a positive person again!
I spent most of my time as a mother resenting myself, my husband, my daughter and autism. Yes, It’s hard; some days are harder than others. But, my business/sisterhood and my dad made me grow and heal in ways that I can not explain. They lead me to focus on the inner light bulb that has been my motivation. That light bulb is Hannah. She knows her alphabet, numbers, how to write, spell and is a puzzle wizard! She sings and dances. Anything you teach her, she picks up in 2 weeks or less. She’s amazing.
This experience has also given me strength and support. My shopping group has turned into my support group and cheerleaders. So when I have downs or ups, they pick me up or celebrate with me. They love Hannah and her milestones just as much as I do. Because of this, I am now a voice for Special Needs Moms of Autism. I now look at life from a different perspective. I can see that difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations.
So, I think the specialist had it wrong. I think she must have meant, ‘There’s something AWESOME about Hannah!
Liz lives in Arizona with her daughters and husband. She continues live her life’s dream through her clothing boutique. You can keep in touch with Liz and check out her boutique at www.shopwithlizard.com.