Archive for the ‘Babies / Maternity’ Category
The concept of being “normal” has been problematic for me since I studied special education. Normality is a set of common behaviors, yet sometimes I think it is overrated. Within a group of “nuts”, who would you call a normal person?
Usually, I reject the desire to be normal, because I believe we need to examine every situation separately and manage our behavior accordingly. This week, I had my beliefs questioned when I heard about a conflict between parents who are both my clients about the way to raise their 2-year-old daughter.
Damian and Alice were very successful. They were wealthy, established professionals, yet they struggled to raise their 2-year-old daughter Mel. Damian was anxious about their daughter and Alice tried very hard to reach “normality”.
At first, I thought Alice’s desire to be a normal family cluttered her perception. I did not really understand what she meant when she said, “Damian is not normal”, but the more I got to know them, the more I realized that although striving for normality may be limiting, having no sense of normality can be devastating for children. I understood that isolation and normality could not go hand in hand.
Last month, someone very close to me (I will call her Naomi) went through a very tough decision. She discovered on the 19th week of her pregnancy she was carrying a baby with Down Syndrome. Although she works as a social worker, she had no doubts about what she was going to do, but the people around her were not so sure.
Down Syndrome can be detected during pregnancy by checking the amniotic fluid (Amniocentesis) or after birth by a quick physical test. In 1866, a British physician named John Langdon Down described the condition. Almost 100 years later, Jerome Lejeune discovered it was caused by an extra copy (whole or part) of the 21st chromosome. The chance of having a baby with Down Syndrome is 1 in 733, but it becomes more common with the age of the parents.
Apart from very distinctive facial features, the average IQ of kids with Down Syndrome is 50, as opposed to the general IQ average of 100. Their health is very poor and their life expectancy is very low, and even though their life expectancy is increasing, the intellectual and physical disabilities remain part of their life and the life of their parents.
My kids had their one year old birthday years ago. Eden, my eldest, had her first birthday 20 years ago. She was our first and it was a fun party.
Some friends said to us, “It’s silly to have a party for a 1-year-old, because they don’t understand what’s going on and will never remember”.
Recently, my two sisters had their sons’ first birthdays. People around them said that it was not worth the effort, because the kids would not understand it was their birthday and would never remember it anyway. That brought back all my memories about my kids’ first birthdays.
I am not sure what people mean when they say kids do not “understand”. What is there to understand? And what do they mean when they say this kids will not “remember”? Do they mean the food?
For my mom, the sex of the first baby was very important. Where she grew up (in Iran, ages ago), first born sons brought a lot of pride to the family and even in those old days, there were many ways to discover the sex of the baby.
Only when I got pregnant for the first time, I learned about all those beliefs and traditions. If you are pretty during your pregnancy, it means you will have a boy (because girls take away your beauty). If you hold your necklace with your wedding ring hanging from it and the ring moves in circles, you will have a girl. If you touch your nose after someone sprinkles salt on your head (without your knowledge), you will have a boy (because he will grow a mustache under his nose), but if you touch your eyebrows, you will have a girl.
It was so funny, I thought back then I could do a PhD thesis on the beliefs surrounding the sex of babies.
Somehow, my story was a bit more complicated.
It is funny to talk about kids and money, but even money can be the difference between having kids and not. Here is a story that illustrates what I mean.
Maxine wanted babies all her life, but never wanted to have one by herself. Single parenting was not very appealing to her. When everyone started nagging her to get married and warned her she was “missing the train”, she kept saying she would not have a child on her own and since the right guy could not be seen on the horizon, her baby dreams seemed farther and farther away.
Then, at the age of 37, Maxine met Don, who was even a bit older. They both knew the clock was ticking for both of them, but Don was afraid of the commitment and did not want to rush their relationship. The wonderful love between Maxine and Don was cluttered by the ticking sounds of their advancing age.
For over six month, I have had a note posted here on the shelf over my computer. The note says, “Give me 20 good reasons”. All this time, I knew what I wanted to write, but I was not sure I would be able to go through the “open heart surgery” of telling you about my loss. I think I was building up the confidence to write about it.
Whenever I asked myself what I was afraid of, I knew I was scared of dragging myself again through old emotions of loss and hopelessness. I had been there twice and the feelings had faded but not disappeared.
This sticky note on my shelf is what made me write the posts about my loss.
I have always thought of myself as a good mother. It has been easier for me than for other people, because I have studied Special Education and I have had the knowledge to raise happy and successful kids.
Yet, during my Better Parenting Skills workshops, I surprise people when I tell them that a big part of my parenting confidence comes not from my studies or my professional experience, but from my personal loss (if you are here for first time, please read 35-hour Baby).
You see, when people talk about having it tough, I can relate to it and say, “When you are hit hard, you discover how much stronger you are than what you thought before”. When people talk about failure after failure, I can relate to it too. I have failed twice. Big time! I think the best thing I can give them is better perspective, because I have been through it and come out with a smile. If I can do a good job giving you this message about perspective, I will be happy.
I talk and write a lot about choice. It is no coincidence my motto is “Happiness is a choice!” Yet, there was a time when I could not live by this motto. It was after I had lost two babies. I wanted to make the choice to have only one child and to let go of my desire to go through another pregnancy to satisfy my wish to hold a baby, take him or her home and be happy.
… On my daily walks with Kathy, my doctor friend, I looked for a way to give up. One part of me longed for a baby, a healthy baby that I can take home, and the other part was afraid I would not be able to survive another pregnancy and possibly another loss. To make matters worse, another doctor I had seen told me that since I had already had one baby with a heart defect, my chances of having another one were no longer 1:20,000 but 1:10 (!) and that certainly did not make things easier.
Grief is hard for grownups and can be even harder for kids. As we grieved for our lost hopes and our two dead babies, our very-much-alive daughter Eden was going through a very tough time.
Eden was 5 years old and could not understand why these things had happened. She was angry with us and we could not comfort her, because we could not comfort ourselves. Most people treated me as the grieving person and did not recognize Gal or Eden’s loss. I was angry, sad, in pain and found it hard to give her answers.
…I hugged my belly every day, trying hard to gain strength to survive another day. Twice, I did a special ultrasound check to confirm that the heart defect that killed my son would not hit us again. Every time, the specialist reassured me this baby girl was perfectly fine.
Eden, who was just 5 years old, was very anxious. As most parents know, time is not a concept kids understand very well. She had been asking for a baby sister (she would even settle for a brother) for over 2 years and waiting through two pregnancies was way too long for her.
Every time, she asked, “Mom, how do you know it won’t happen again? How do you know this baby won’t die too?” and every time, we said, “We go to the specialist and he checks and tells us that our baby is perfectly fine”. Every night, before bedtime, I explained to her that it had been an accident, that at the end of 9 months, we would bring home a baby and that this baby would bring the smile back to our life.