BITTERSWEET BIRTHDAYS

My first-born turns 7 today. His birthday is always bittersweet. I love celebrating him. But remembering that particular time in my life is always a bit difficult.

Seven years ago my world got flipped upside down.

Sure, every parent can say that. But for us it’s different. For us, it’s so much more than becoming a parent.

The day my son was born signifies my rebirth.

It’s not always birthdays that do this to us. It could be a prenatal diagnosis. An illness. A diagnosis when the child is older. The moment is different for all of us. But we never forget it because it signifies a fundamental change in who we are.

I fell in love with Arlo with every kick I endured to my insides. Every hiccup that bounced through my womb. Every flutter in my belly. Every time I saw him on that sonogram. I could not wait to meet him.

He and I were already so connected that I knew something was wrong when those kicks faded. I got scared. We rushed to the hospital. The doctor then rushed me into surgery. She cut him from my body. Then time stopped.

Arlo wasn’t breathing properly. He wasn’t crying. They had to slap him repeatedly to get a response. I gave him a kiss and they whisked him away as they stitched me back together. It would be two days before I would see him again.

While I was recovering several floors above him, his pediatrician told us Arlo was very sick. And he suspected our newborn had Down syndrome.

With those words my innocence was lost. The joys we are supposed to feel as new parents were clouded with excruciating pain.

Yet something wonderful was unfolding while I was grieving. I couldn’t see it then, but it’s clear now.

Arlo’s disability means regular rules don’t apply to us. It means we don’t sweat the small stuff because we truly know the difference.

In those early days I joked that I wanted to burn all of those baby books. It’s all drivel. Nothing can prepare you for this. No book has some magic answer for how to raise a child, disability or not. We discover that in an instant; it takes most other parents years to figure it out.

In seven short trips around the sun my soul has aged a lifetime. Arlo has exposed me to extreme pain and joy. He has taught me what it means to be patient. He has forced me to question doctors, partner with politicians, collaborate with teachers, and open my heart in ways I never knew possible.

When Arlo entered my world, he redefined who I was. Any preconceived notion of what sort of mom I would be was tossed out the window. Debates over cloth or disposable diapers, co-sleeping or crib sleeping, delayed vaccine schedules, pacifiers, swaddling, what preschool, which sports, baby wearing, homeopathic versus traditional versus modern medicine – all of it is so trivial for us.

Arlo taught me what to take seriously and what to brush off. He has taken my cynicism to the next level. When he is with me, it’s like having my own human security blanket. In those early days just touching his hand stopped my tears from falling. His hugs have this amazing healing power. His smile could light the darkest of caves. He is like a radar for human nature. The looks and reactions he elicits from people give a pretty clear picture of who is friend and who is foe.

Arlo forced me to find a new place in this world. He has ignited a passion to make sure that every person with a disability is given a fair opportunity to succeed, to live the life they want, the life they deserve.

Arlo has transformed who I am as a professional, a parent, and a person. I am eternally grateful to this wild, wonderful child of mine.

Happy Birthday my beautiful boy.

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