Saturday, February 3, 2018

17 months

I haven't said the words out loud more than a handful of times. It just doesn't sound real to me...like I'm not saying it "right" or something. I've texted a couple of close friends to unload on...to clue them in on what's up with me. Sometimes things don't seem real to me until I tell a friend. Does that make sense? Like if I don't tell anyone else then it's not true. If I keep it all to myself then maybe it will just go away. Maybe I'm totally wrong anyway. Maybe this is all a big misunderstanding and I'll wake up tomorrow and the circumstances will be different. But I've been living this life for 17 months now, and I swear to you, from the moment I became a mom of four I knew something was off. I sensed it my entire pregnancy...little bits if doubt crept in...and after just a few days at home with my newest baby boy I just had this feeling come over me. A disconnect. I knew the postpartum would be hard. I could feel it already bubbling beneath the surface, just waiting to ravage my mind and body and throw a wrench into my whole momming plan. It's been a rocky 17 months and now this newest detail just makes so much sense to me. It alllllll makes sense now. This is what I've been bracing for. I think my baby boy might be autistic.

Every time I type that word I have to stop and cry. I've been an emotional mess for the last 48 hours since finally speaking the words out loud to my husband. "I think Josiah might be a little autistic." It felt wrong to say it, but I knew it was the truth. Like I said...I sensed something was "wrong" pretty shortly after he was born. I can't exactly put my finger on it, but we just didn't bond as well as the other three babies. He was always unhappy and I felt utterly rejected by him. Why couldn't I make him happy? Well, maybe this is why. It's not his fault and it's not my fault. 

I don't even know where to start. Maybe I shouldn't start at the beginning and lay it all out...that would be far too intense for me right now and would eat up about 8 pages of my blog I'm sure, so let's skip that part for now. I've already been over and over it in my head these last 2 days since finally uttering the words to my husband the other night. We've had a few blowouts lately, 100% due to my inability to cope with my raging PPD I've been experiencing since I last gave birth. All of these little things I've been noticing about my baby- his lack of communication, lack of interest in his toys, not responding to his name all the time...all of those little things by themselves aren't always huge red flags. Some babies just talk later, especially boys. I know that. He is, after all, baby number four. So maybe all of these little "things" I've been watching are just the result of a chaotic household with a lot of children...maybe he just doesn't have much to say because he has a bossy toddler sister breathing down his neck all day, right? That's what I kept telling myself. But I knew better. I vividly remember fudging the answers a little at his last checkup. At 15 months he was pretty much on track developmentally, but I definitely had to reach to answer some of the questionnaire they gave me about his social and verbal skills. As I left the pediatricians office a few months ago I made a mental note to work on getting him to communicate a little better...but I remember thinking then "I hope everything is fine and he's not autistic or something." 

After finally leveling with my husband we started to compare notes, and it became immediately obvious that we are dealing with some type of speech delay/sensory issues and we realize Josiah is probably on the autism spectrum somewhere. I've always had pretty "normal" kids (if there is such a thing) with no real health problems (besides a little eczema or one kid with an allergy to penicillin). My kids have always been ahead when it comes to milestones and talking and learning. I've never really had to try to get them to grow and mature. They always thrived pretty well just on their own...something I've totally taken for granted. I know that a child with autism is going to require much more one on one attention, and that's something he hasn't really been getting (hello, baby #4 syndrome). It's painfully obvious to me now though that he is not going to thrive and mature like he should be on his own without extra help from his parents and siblings. It's going to take work and us consciously changing our own behaviors. I've been responding all wrong to his needs so far and I've only been meeting his frustrations and anger with my own frustration and anger and I feel like we've been butting heads this whole time. 

My husband asked me last night if getting an autism diagnosis for Josiah would change things for me in my own head, and I have to admit that it would. It already has in my mind. I could be jumping the gun a little here, and he hasn't even been seen by his doctor yet for this (that's happening first thing Monday morning). But I did an online autism checklist and he scored "highly at risk" and the test results said I should have him evaluated as soon as possible to find out where he's at. So even without an official diagnosis yet I'm positive this is what we are dealing with in some way. I'm not sure how minor or major it is...time will tell. I know it can take months and even years to get a full diagnosis. But early intervention is key and I hope and pray we can work with him and get him caught up to where he needs to be. Knowing now what the problem is has completely changed my mindset already, as if a switch has been flipped. He's not just a fussy baby who I can't please. If you've never experienced before you don't know the heart-wrenching feeling of never being able to make your baby happy. That's what I've felt like since he was born. Even when he was fed and changed and being held in my arms he wasn't completely happy. He's always cried a lot. He's never been very affectionate or cuddly, unless he's sick or super tired. He's always flapped his hands when he's excited- something I thought was cute, like he was trying to clap but couldn't quite get it. He doesn't seem to know how to play with his toys- he just pushes blocks around and holds things in his hands, turning them over and over. He hasn't tried to babble at all and doesn't make a lot of sounds, besides grunts and screams. He doesn't' respond to his name most of the time. He doesn't interact with me like the other kids did. I felt like I was parenting him all wrong, and it turns out I probably was. 

Is finding out that my son might have autism a good thing? At first I was devastated. But now  my answer is yes, because at last...it's an answer as to what it is I've been feeling that's been "wrong" for months and months now. It's not just me. I'm not just overwhelmed, stressed, and suffering from PPD. I mean, I AM all of those things, but it's not JUST me, if that makes sense. I've been walking around with an immense amount of guilt and anger because I haven't been able to "snap out of it" when it comes to PPD and anxiety, but now this is making me feel less like shit and more like "well, now it all makes sense." He's not just an unhappy baby and I'm not just some failure of a mother. I've been so wrapped up in my own problems and my own mess that I pushed these red flags to the back of my mind. 

I've been watching him like a hawk for the last day or so and my heart just bursts with love for this little guy. All this guilt I've had about not bonding with him is gone. It's not his fault and it's not my fault. He's my baby. I love him so much and he will always be perfect in my eyes. It's amazing how quickly that Mama Bear instinct kicks in just when you need it. It's now my life's mission to make sure he gets exactly what he needs to grow and develop and thrive. If that means everything else falls to the wayside- my blog, my stupid hobbies, the things that have been distracting me and taking the focus off of what's important...all of those things could disappear today and if all I have left in this world is my kids and my family I'd be OK with it. Nothing else matters (though I would love it if I could still blog because this is my outlet). I will be his number one ally and advocate. It's not going to be easy I'm sure. I know there will be setbacks and tears of frustration and anger and all kinds of not-so-fun emotions involved. But I know this sweet little guy was brought into my life to teach me something. Maybe I don't have this motherhood thing all figured out, so I'm going to sign off for now and view the world through the eyes of my sweet 17 month old and figure out what he needs from me today. 

This doctor visit can't come soon enough and I know it's not going to solve all of our problems. But it's a start. Prayers would be appreciated and if any of my mama friends have any tips for this kind of thing I'd surely appreciate it. It takes a village and I sure wish I had one of those right now!

Edited to add: Wow, in just 24 hours I've received so many emails, messages, and comments across social media. Thank you for the outpouring of love & support. I've been thinking and I do believe I will try to blog this entire process for us and share updates here and on my social media covering Josiah's diagnosis & treatment. You can follow me on Instagram for some "behind the scenes," every-day stuff...I share a lot on my Instagram stories so follow along there. You can also find me on Facebook, where we had a TON of great comments about this blog post (and because most people choose to comment that way nowadays, rather than here on the blog, you might want to follow there to join the conversation). 

As you all know, I've been pretty up front about some hard subjects in the past, including my own struggles with depression and anxiety, and while it's a little scary putting it all out, there I always feel so much better and end up connecting with women who are having the same struggles as I am. It's great to not feel so alone, and the uplifting messages I get from other mamas saying "thank you for posting this" or that they appreciate my honesty makes me realize how important it is to reach out and support each other. I try to respond to everyone, but sometimes it gets overwhelming or life gets in the way and I forget, but just know that every single one of you who has reached out had brightened my day a little and I think & pray about each of you as I'm reading your words (often with tears streaming down my face) and YOUR struggles are on my mind and heart as well. Thank you! Let's do this together. 

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