One of my neighbours in the small community where I live recently had twin boys. One was born with Down Syndrome. The family has one another child, a three year old son.
After the first few weeks providing casseroles and the requisite good wishes, many members of our community, including myself, let the stay-at-home new mother know that we were available to help, any way we could. Just let us know, we said. Not surprisingly, we never heard from her.
Another neighbour, a specialist in CranioSacral Therapy, was working with the child with DS in the family home, and became aware of the many difficulties the new mum was having coping with the new twins, their three year old, and all the demanding special tasks, appointments and care needed by her special needs son.
This neighbour called around, inviting a group of us mothers to a meeting. Once there, we all agreed to commit one hour, one day a week, to work with Cody, the child with DS. The mom would train us to do a series of physical exercises with him, essential to develop much-needed muscle strength. As we would be doing this in the family home, we might also help with the other children, do light household chores, give mom respite – whatever we or she thinks needed.
The good will and desire of the neighbourhood moms at this meeting was palpable. We were thrilled to help and be told what specific tasks would be the most useful. WE thanked the appreciative new mum for this opportunity.
As one of the volunteer mothers said in an email after our first meeting: “I have to admit that I eagerly signed up because I so would like to help out, but after my brief cuddle with Cody, I have now fallen in love. can't wait to see him again. And Ben (the twin), what a joyous force he is, toddling around and exploring everything on all 4's. So wonderful. And then there's you...gracious and courageous, and willing to receive. It is a gift for us all.”
This is where my “If Only” comes in.
We adopted our son, our first child, when he was seven days old. Fortunately, I bonded the second I laid eyes on him because he was a difficult baby. I was overwhelmed from Day 1. Both my husband and I were clueless how to bring him comfort during his many crying jags and extended periods of obvious discomfort. Our pediatrician was as clueless as we were.
I seldom, if ever, reached out for help.
In my gut, I had a feeling there was something actually “wrong” with Michael, but no one, including the doctor had any sense of what that might be. So, since there was nothing “wrong,” my husband and I could only wonder if we were bad parents. Perhaps he wasn’t sleeping at nights because we weren’t training him properly. Perhaps he cried so much because we met his cries for a bottle or whatever we thought he needed too quickly. Maybe he needed a stricter hand. Child rearing books and several glaring neighbours seemed to think so. Who knew, maybe they were right.
I was embarrassed by my inability to cope and bring comfort to our much-adored, but difficult child.
Michael was diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome when he was six. Though the birthmother had told the adoption counselor that she never drank while pregnant, she had clearly lied. “We see it all the time,” said the Director of the Child Development Clinic at the Hospital for Sick Children, where he was diagnosed.
At the recent meeting with my neighbours, I couldn’t help but think about all this.
If only I had reached out to neighbours for help in my own hour of need. What a smart thing to do. Both my child and I would have been better off for it if I had. As a mother, I was so alone, so in need of a helping hand.
Sadly. I now think that If I had known that there was a reason for Michael’s distress other than “poor parenting”, maybe I would have reached out. But I was so insecure, so unconfident and so afraid of glaring, judgmental eyes, I never made the move. And, as another mother of a child with FAS recently pointed out, our children are not "cuddly" (the way my neighbour's child with Down Syndrome is),
But really, why did I have to know Michael “had” something (with a name) before I was able to reach out. We mothers can be so hard on ourselves sometimes, in addition to being insecure.
So please, new mothers of adopted children, or any child, don’t be afraid to ask for help from friends, family, and neighbors if needed. They may see the request, as one of my neighbours did as “A gift for all.”
Did you have problems asking for help when your child/children were young?