Tag Archives: family

Finding Strength You Didn’t Know You Had

“Your blood work came back abnormal. These levels indicate your child may have Down Syndrome, so we are going to send you for a higher level ultrasound and we may need further testing like an amniocentesis ….”

The fog rolled in and the genetic counselor’s words sounded more like the teacher in Charlie Brown. I sat there, stunned, mouth agape, thinking, “I’m only 20 years old. I don’t even know how to be a parent, much less the parent of a child with Down Syndrome. How am I going to do this? What do I do?  I’m not cut out for this. I can’t do this.” I’m brought back to the sound of the genetic counselor’s voice as she’s explaining my “options.” Wait, what? Adoption? Abortion? This is MY baby we’re talking about. I’m not just going to get rid of her. And in that moment I knew, Down Syndrome or not, I was going to tackle this head on.  My daughter was born without any complications and without Down Syndrome.

Fast forward almost 5 years later and in walks the neonatologist and she slowly starts to explain “Your son has some interesting characteristics like a flat nasal bridge, thin philtrum, webbed fingers, and a significant heart murmur. On their own, these things aren’t usually anything to worry about, but when they present at the same time they indicate some type of syndrome….”  And cue the teacher from Charlie Brown. I’m speechless, what is happening? I’m vaguely listening to the doctor and as she tells me he is going to have to be transported to another hospital for further testing I feel the tears rolling down my cheek. I see my significant other jaw clenched, tears welling over. Our whole world rocked, in an instant. As she leaves the room we look to each other and start the “What are we going to do?” talks and wonder how we’re going to explain this to everyone. “I don’t even want to say anything about this on Facebook” he says. We have no clue what is going on, terrified that our son is being transported away from us all while I’m still stuck in a hospital bed. 14 hours post c-section I was walking around my room and 36 hours later I was discharged.

Over the years, our journey has taught me that I possess more strength than I ever thought possible. If you had told me 4 years ago, after that neonatologist left, that one day I’d be sharing my story and helping others on the journey I probably would have laughed in your face. Me? Me, who didn’t want to share anything with my friends or family on Facebook would be blogging, giving presentations, and helping others? Yea, right. Except, that’s exactly what happened.

Somewhere along the way I found the courage to tell our story and from that has come the most amazing opportunities, friendships, and healing. I have now become a mom who can walk with others on the journey and help them see hope even in the most hopeless situations; help them find the strength they didn’t even know they possessed.  I don’t pretend to be superwoman and I don’t want anyone to think that of me either. I’m not superwoman. I’m just a mom. A mom whose love for her child would move Heaven and Earth before giving up. Just like any other mom.

A few weeks ago, I witnessed the other side of the coin. I have accompanied families to appointments before, but not a single one jolted me back to that hospital room when the neonatologist flipped our world upside down like this one. I attended a genetics appointment with a family to take notes and help them figure out the next steps after receiving the diagnosis. Only, I wasn’t fully prepared for what happened next. As the doctor delivered a diagnosis I was unfamiliar with, I opened up Google on my phone and began researching then and there. Then, like a ton of bricks in an article –

This disease is always fatal. Most patients die before the age of 10.

The words blur together as I try to continue reading. I’m frantically searching for “success stories.” No, this can’t be right. I’m finding support groups, blogs, Facebook groups, calling in the troops – this family is going to need incredible support. Then, as quickly as it came, I’m brought back to the room and focused on the doctor’s words. He hasn’t told the parents yet. He’s trying to break the news easily and when he finally gets to it, they break down. Here come the tears, the cries of “How are we going to do this?” “This isn’t fair.” “I can’t do this.” “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”  The doctor proceeds to explain more about the disease. The parents are frozen. I step in with some questions. I’m frantically taking notes. When the doctor leaves the room, the parents are visibly shaken. I give mom a hug and tell her that she’s not going to have to go through this alone. I share in their grief. I tell her that she is going to have the strength to do this. I tell them to go home, take it all in, cry, scream, break stuff, grieve in their own way and when they are ready we can tackle this, together.

A few days later I check in with the family and send them my notes from our visit. I let mom know that I’m ready and willing to help as soon as she’s ready. By the next week, the family has started a Go Fund Me and Facebook page. Mom has made contact with a doctor in Chicago for further diagnostic testing and to begin participation in a clinical trial. I am in awe of this woman and this family. This mom who didn’t think she could do this has already moved mountains in a short amount of time. I am reminded that strength comes when we least expect it and often when we ourselves don’t think we even have the strength to keep breathing. 

The love a parent has for a child is the ultimate source of strength. It is the love for my child that kept me going when I thought my daughter had Down Syndrome, when I refused to stay in the hospital for the required 72-hours post c-section after my son was transported, when the geneticist finally delivered his diagnosis to us 2 years later, and it is the love for a child that I have seen move mountains for this family. If you are a new parent hearing a difficult diagnosis for the first time or a seasoned parent entering unknown territory, just breathe. You WILL find the strength and everything is going to be okay.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Family, Special Needs Child

Welcome Back, Team Braxton!

The past few years, I have been writing a letter to introduce Braxton to his new daycare and elementary school teachers. This year, we are fortunate to have our same team of teachers and therapists, so instead of an introduction letter, I’ve written more of an update letter to let them all know how wonderful Braxton has done over the summer. I must add that we are SUPER lucky because his teachers also follow our blog and Facebook page, so they’ve gotten to see some pretty amazing things all summer! I really couldn’t have asked for a better team. Without further ado, this is the letter I am sending to our teachers and school therapists.

——————————————————-

Welcome Back, Team Braxton!

The Summer sure feels like it has flown by! I hope that you all had a wonderful, much deserved break. We are so excited for school to start again and look forward to another amazing year together. 🙂

Braxton has had a great summer of growth and excitement! One of the fun things we did this summer was go up to Dallas to meet up with other families with children who have Rubinstein-Taybi Syndrome. It was really incredible to meet other children and see where they are and what we have to look forward to in the future. We know that every child is different, but we have such high hopes for Braxton now and a little bit better idea of what we might expect and goals to add to our list. With your continued support, I know we will help Braxton reach his full potential.

I am writing this letter to you to update you all on the progress we’ve made over the summer, in lieu of calling a staffing or new ARD. I am, of course, more than happy to meet to further discuss or make any changes to our IEP, if necessary.

Gross Motor Skills

Braxton’s walking has gotten MUCH better over the summer. He is walking quite well independently, but does still require handheld assistance in new or busy environments to keep him going in the right direction. As you know, he is still fascinated by doors and windows and  will wander in that direction if not holding on to someone. He is also doing well going upstairs with standby assist, if there is a railing. Coming down he does need to hold on to someone if he needs to walk downstairs. He can scoot down all by himself though! I have also noticed that his endurance has increased and he can walk longer distances without taking a break. Braxton has also done pretty well on uneven surfaces (grass, gravel, rocks). We have been working on jumping on the trampoline and I have seen Braxton try to initiate jumping on flat surfaces.  He hasn’t come off the ground yet, but he bounces up and down. He has recently also started propelling himself forward on riding toys! Intense plasma car races are in the near future. 🙂 He also really enjoys playing catch and throwing a ball overhead. We’re working on kicking and he can do it as long as he has some help keeping his balance. Over the summer Braxton graduated to once weekly private physical therapy instead of twice a week.

 

Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor is still a work in progress, but we ARE seeing progress! Braxton can now build a block tower up to 3 blocks on his own with minimal tactile cues. He can build up to 6 if he has some help keeping the other blocks together. We have really been targeting that pincer grasp as well and he is doing better, but does still try to grasp using his whole hand. When we cue him to hold his fingers back, his pincer is beautiful. We have also worked on chunky block puzzles and he is doing better with taking the pieces out and putting them back in to their correct place. Occupational therapy is still twice a week and we will also be starting Hippotherapy back up in September.

Speech and Communication

This is where things have been REALLY exciting for us this summer!! Braxton is doing so well with the full size iPad and Speak for Yourself. He is making 2-3 word utterances without assistance. His favorite thing right now is to ask for hugs and kisses. He very deliberately will say “Want hugs” or “want kisses” and expectantly turn to you for his hug or kiss. He also says “Give ___” where the blank is filled in with a toy he would like. The other day he also said “you, you, you, my, my, my, food.” after he threw his spoon, which I took to mean that he wanted me to feed him. Sure enough, he ate just fine after that. He also said “sleep, sleep, sleep” repeatedly just before climbing in to my lap and falling asleep. I’ve learned that when he appears to be stimming or fixated on a word, he is often actually trying to tell you something so you may need to help guide his hand to find what he wants to say. We are so excited to see his progress and have been actively trying to incorporate the use of the talker more in to his daily routine to express wants/needs, feelings, schedules, etc. Modeling is extremely important in helping him to interact with his peers and be an active participant in class, so I hope that we will be able to use it more throughout the school day.

Aside from using the talker, Braxton seems to be learning other ways of getting our attention and communicating with us instead of just whining or crying. He climbed in to the bathtub to ask for a bath, he pulled food out of the pantry and brought it to me (instead of just sitting in his chair and crying), and he’s taken my hand and led me to toy he wants.

He also seems to be understanding more and following directions better. I can call Braxton from another room when it is time to change or eat and he will come when I call him. He understands what it means when I say it’s time to go somewhere and goes straight to the front door and gets excited. He also gets a little upset when we don’t leave right away. (We’re still working on that patience thing).

Feeding and G-Tube

Braxton can now feed himself!!  He is able to hold the spoon, scoop his food, bring the spoon to his mouth, and back to the bowl. He does need help when it comes to the last bit of food and scraping the bottom of the bowl. Also, a word of caution! He does still want you nearby. If we leave he gets upset and will throw his spoon or the whole bowl of food. He also likes to throw his spoon when he doesn’t want to feed himself, but instead wants YOU to feed him. So, I’d try to stay out of the line of fire, so to speak. 😉 He does still need his G-tube for liquids, so be sure to give him 2-4 ounces of water after lunch and/or after you come in from outside since it is still so hot out there. He has recently started making a sound like he is clearing his throat and we’re seeing multiple swallows, but he is eating normally and our therapists/doctors are not seeing anything to indicate that we need to stop oral feeds. We have a swallow study scheduled for the first week of school to be sure there are no changes.

Hearing and Vision

Braxton’s ear had some fluid build up in June and his right ear tube started leaking. After a couple weeks his ear tube came out but the drainage did not stop. We visited with the ENT who removed the other tube since it was out of the ear drum and just sitting in the canal. Since the right ear had been draining almost 3 weeks, the ENT cultured the ear and it turned out to have been a staph infection. We started some new ear drops, but within a week of finishing the drops the draining started again. After a trip to the doctor we learned his left ear was now infected and the right ear still had fluid. We began an oral antibiotic and resumed drops in the right ear. He seems to have cleared up, but we have not yet followed up to be sure. As a result of all of this, Braxton has not worn his hearing aids in over a month. 😦 He seems to be hearing well enough to understand and respond to directions and his communication device.

For vision, we did follow up with our ophthalmologist this summer and she said his vision still appears to be normal and again confirmed the CVI diagnosis. We have been working on identifying colors over the summer and he consistently finds the requested color when asked about 80% of the time. Sometimes when we hold up two blocks and ask him to pick a specific color, he looks right at it and grabs the other block while laughing or smiling, so we know he knows the colors and is playing with us. Our communication program also recently had an update that allows us to change the colors of background on the buttons as well as, the “desktop” screen. Instead of the black background, we can now change it to another color. I haven’t tried to change that yet to see if it helps with him finding his words, but it is an option we have now.

 

I’m sure there is something  I am missing, but I think I hit all the highlights. Overall, Braxton is making progress by leaps and bounds right now! It such an exciting time for us to see Braxton’s personality continue to emerge and be able to see him show us what he knows and comprehends. We’re really looking forward to this year working with all of you again and can’t wait to see what new things Braxton will learn. Thank you all so much for the work you do and the continued support you have given Braxton and our family. We really couldn’t ask for a better team! Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or if there is anything you would like to discuss further.

 

All the best,

Braxton and his parents 🙂

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Kids and Family, School, Special Needs Child

A love/hate ode to Rubinstein-Taybi Syndrome

This month, The Mighty is asking bloggers to write a letter to their child’s diagnosis. Here is our love/hate ode to Rubinstein-Taybi Syndrome a la 10 Things I Hate About You (I might have read too many Buzzfeed nostalgia pieces recently).

 

To my child’s rare diagnosis:

I hate that no one’s ever heard of you, and that you’ll always be around.

I hate the way that blue tag in my car hangs down.

I hate the way you make others stare.

I hate when my child hurts and I can’t read his mind.

Braxton and Dad

I hate that so much it makes me sick, it even makes me rhyme.

I hate the ways he’ll always be delayed,

I hate it when you make me cry.

I hate that you stole my child’s voice, even worse that I have to fight to get him a device.

I hate it when his basic needs aren’t met, and the fact that my answer to all developmental questions is “not yet.”

Mostly, I hate the way I don’t hate you,

Not even close…

Not even a little bit…

Not even at all.

 

You see, you’ve made me change my perspective, and

I see that there is so much life to be lived.

Braxton at the beach

That smile we’ve come to love is one of your many hallmark traits,

And that infectious laugh warms the heart and soul of all acquaintances he makes.

I appreciate the way you make me take a closer look

And celebrate the inchstones not found in any baby book.

We say that you don’t define him, but the him we know and love?

Well, without you that him he would not have become.

We’ve made peace with your existence and we know this path will be met with resistance.

Armed with faith, hope, and love this, too, we shall overcome.

They told us not to expect much, but they didn’t know his spirit.

The nevers became maybes, the maybes became soon, the soon became now and now we know he has no limit.

We have the courage to dream again without fear of the unknown,

Because now we have a community of support, and my how it has grown!

The people in our life we might not otherwise have known, had we not started on this journey feeling so alone.

Every challenge faced has made us stronger and now it’s more clear than ever, a hold you have on us no longer.

Braxton and Mom

Leave a comment

Filed under Family, Life, Special Needs Child

The Moments When Disability Becomes ‘Real’

So I’m sitting here waiting for a representative from the DARS Division of Blind Services (DBS) to arrive for our scheduled assessment. I received the call a few weeks ago and the representative briefly told me about all of the wonderful services and programs the DBS offers. There were many that I thought would be very beneficial for our family. She performed a quick “screening” to see if we would be eligible for services, but it was a mere formality, “With that CVI diagnosis, you’re sure to qualify.” I was excited to schedule the appointment and couldn’t wait to learn more.

But after I hung up the phone, a strange feeling swept over me. On the one hand, I was excited about the additional services, but on the other I realized that my child was now classified as “so disabled” that he qualified for all of these extra services. “With that CVI diagnosis, you’re sure to qualify.”

Not too long before this call, I received a notice that Braxton had reached the top of waiting list for the Deafblind with Multiple Disabilities (DBMD) Medicaid Waiver. If eligible for this waiver, Braxton could qualify for Medicaid on his own without taking in to account his parent’s income, which could disqualify him from receiving services. Again, excitement for the new services and opportunities, but sadness because of the “classification.”

BraxtonWhen I look at Braxton, I don’t see “disabled.” And I’m sure it is the same for nearly all other parents of children with special needs.

I see a tenacious young boy learning to exercise his independence and autonomy. A little boy who defies me when I tell him not to chew on his sister’s shoe by clamping down tighter or throwing the shoe across the room. Or even more developmentally appropriate, when he refuses to put it down until I walk up to him and he sets it down and tries to act like he never had it in the first place.

I see wide eyes and a bright smile that fill my heart with so much joy I could burst.

I see a wobbly walking toddler through tears of joy because ‘they’ told me he might not ever walk.

I see a child full of love who walks as fast as he can just to get a hug. Little hands that pull me back and squeeze ever so tightly because you can’t just get one hug.

I see wonderful every time I look at him, but every once in a while, that ugly feeling washes over me when his disability becomes real and unavoidable due to our circumstances.

When I watch him wobble across the room while a friend’s 2-year-old is running around, jumping on furniture, “are you SURE you want a ‘normal’ 3-year-old?” runs through my head.

When I finally gave in and asked our pediatrician to fill out the forms for a handicap placard; And not the temporary red one, the permanent blue one.

All the way back to the NICU when the doctor told us he would need a feeding tube and he might not ever eat on his own. Agreeing to the tube meant he was going to be different for the rest of his life. The tube meant he would not ever be ‘normal.’ What would people say? Would he ever be able to do things like a ‘regular’ kid?

Answering developmental questionnaires and marking “no” for all the things he can’t do.

When sitting in his first school ARD and there was no “fight” for services, because there was no denying that he needed them. Only, I didn’t recognize there was no fight until my ‘typical’ daughter needed help and it didn’t go near as smoothly because her disability didn’t affect her enough.

The day I finally parked in a handicap accessible space only to fear that someone would question me and therefore make me tell them, show them, “Look, look how disabled he is! The placard is for him.”

Perhaps it’s not that his disability is any more real in these moments than it is at any given time, but more so the fact that I have to accept it and recognize the ways in which it permeates our lives that hurts me so.

In three years, I feel like we have all come so far and we are in a good place, a place of acceptance and adjusted to what is ‘normal’ for us, so when these feelings intrude, it always surprises me. But, I recognize that grief is cyclical in nature. We are constantly moving through the stages of grief, sometimes staying in one stage for very long periods of times, which lulls us into a false sense of security until something jolts us back in to active grief.

I also realize that we are still very early in our journey and this feeling is only going to continue as the years pass. With every birthday, every milestone, every IEP Meeting, as I watch him walk next to his peers, as I dream about hearing his voice and awake only to find that he still has no words for me.

But then, there is that smile; the smile that brings me up from the depths of my sadness and self-pity.

That sweet, charismatic, wonderful smile as he turns his head like a bird to make sure I’m looking right in his eyes as I lay in bed and then he comes in for a hug and lays his head so sweetly on my shoulder and squeezes me tight. It is in those moments that the labels and services and countless appointments no longer matter. When wonderful returns and if only for a moment, disability disappears.

 

And with that there is a knock at the door. I squeeze my boy one more time and take a deep breath.

IMG_8832

 

 

3 Comments

Filed under Life, Special Needs Child

We Are So Thankful

The season of thanks is upon us once again and we have so much to be thankful for this year. Along the journey, we have learned to be thankful for everyday and grateful for all of the little moments throughout the year. As we reflect upon the last year, one thing stands out most; progress. We are so thankful for progress. Braxton has accomplished so much in a year and what once was very slow progress, is now exploding in so many ways.

This time last year, Braxton took his first unassisted steps and at most walked about 10 steps on his own. He was eating 2-4 ounces per day. He had no words and minimal sounds. Though progress was slow, there was, in fact, progress. Braxton can now walk unassisted, albeit a bit wobbly, an entire city block.

He’s on his feet more than he crawls around. He eats nearly 16 ounces every meal and you’d never guess there was ever a time he couldn’t or didn’t want to eat. He still has no words, but he is so much more vocal these days. Thanks to technology, he now has a voice through the Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) app, Speak For Yourself on the iPad. He’s learning everyday how to use the app to communicate with us.

Braxton pointing and telling me he wants to eat on SFY.

Braxton pointing and telling me he wants to eat on SFY.

His dexterity, focus, and fine motor skills are still slow to come, but he is so much farther along this year.

Braxton learning to string beads

Braxton learning to string beads

These are huge accomplishments for Braxton, but there are also so many little things we are thankful for this year.

 

 

We’re thankful for the coos and babbles that wake us before the sun, because it means we’ve been granted another day.

We’re thankful for the extra minutes of rest we can steal when Braxton will snuggle in bed with us.

We’re thankful for the sweet smile and not-so-gentle pat on the back that says, “Wake up, guys!”

We’re thankful for the sweet way Braxton pulls you close for a hug and rests his head on your shoulder.

We’re thankful for the way Braxton pulls our arm back around him when the hug wasn’t quite long enough.

We’re thankful for the look Braxton gives when he recognizes you and the way his eyes light up and his beautiful smile crosses his face.

We’re thankful for the way his whole body tenses up and he shakes with excitement, or kicks his little legs.

Big Smiles

We’re thankful for silent way Braxton says “I love you.”

We’re thankful for the incredible sibling bond he shares with his amazing big sister.

A sibling love that cannot be broken.

A sibling love that cannot be broken.

We’re thankful for the messes Braxton makes, because it means he’s mobile and independent.

We’re thankful for the countless hours of therapy that have helped Braxton along the way.

We’re thankful that we are down to seeing our specialists once a year.

We’re thankful for Braxton’s good health as of late.

We’re thankful for the sweet moments in parenting that melt away bad days and tell us we must be doing an alright job.

Sleeping

We’re thankful for therapists who have been in our home since Braxton was 8 weeks old. Their tireless work with Braxton goes far beyond therapy. They love and care for our sweet boy and share in our pride when Braxton reaches a goal. Braxton is not just a patient or a paycheck to them. We have been extremely blessed.

We’re thankful for wonderful teachers who have joined our team this year and have already fallen in love with Braxton. They have such a love for all of their students and we’ve seen such progress since Braxton started with them in August.

Braxton walking with his teachers

Braxton walking with his teachers

We’re thankful for the tantrums Braxton throws when he gets told “no” or has a toy taken away, because it shows he has the cognitive ability to understand and a way to communicate when something is unpleasant. It’s also a “normal” toddler reaction, so it’s a nice reminder that not everything in our life is atypical.

Braxton Upset

 

We’re thankful for the times Braxton gets himself in trouble by opening the oven door, swinging the lid on the trashcan, opening the cabinets and banging pots and pans, or unraveling an entire roll of toilet paper, because do you know what cognitive and motor skills it takes to do any of these things!? Although it can be frustrating and we get upset with Braxton, inside we are elated because this shows so much progress!

We are thankful for the sweet laughter that fills our home daily.

 

We’re thankful for family that loves and supports us in so many ways.

We’re thankful for friends who care and share in our joys.

We’re thankful for people who read our blog and share our Facebook posts and have fallen in love with a little boy they have never met.

We are thankful every day for so very much in our lives. We remain positive in our journey because positivity has so much more power and love than focusing on the negative. We have bad days, but they don’t last long because we allow positivity to permeate every aspect of our life.

We wish the same for you. Look for opportunities to be thankful. Live every day with gratitude and positivity. Let your thanks extend beyond today and this season. From our family to yours, we wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Kids and Family, Life, Special Needs Child