My name is Rachel. I don’t often put my real name in blog posts but these particular words deserve more weight than that of the blogging pseudonym I fashioned for myself, they deserve the name my parents gave me, because even though I often write in other names, even answer to names so far removed from the name they gave me that a stranger wouldn’t recognize both of them as belonging to the same woman, I love my name and my family. My name is Rachel, I’m 31 years old and I have spent every single day of those 31 years with Spastic Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy.
I’ll tell you a secret, this isn’t the life I would have chosen for myself. If I had been given a choice I would walk, skip, jump, just like everyone else. I would have marched to cadence like my mother before me. I would’ve gone to swing dance events with my younger sister and with our partners we’d turn heads even when we didn’t win.
I would’ve eaten, slept, and breathed, fencing. I would’ve climbed trees and learned to play the cello. There has not been a day since I was four years old that I haven’t mourned the loss, or rather the futility of, these dreams. That girl named Rachel never lived but I see her ghost in the oddest places. Every time my sister got stranded or needed a ride she got into a car I still don’t have to pick her up. She got a job at sixteen , the real me, the living me , hasn’t had taxable income from a job in my whole life.
My point in telling you all this is not to whine about how terrible my is life is, it’s not terrible. My family loves and supports and encourages me to be as independent as possible. They encourage me even when it scares them. I wouldn;t have chosen this life but in living this unchosen life I believe I have impacted people’s lives in ways I might not have had the opportunity to if I were able-bodied.
I tell you this so you know its ok to be sad. You’ve spent months picturing this child’s life in your head, by the time they are born you’ve sent them into adulthood at least a dozen times. Then something changes and that perfect picture you built of your child’s life seems littered with roadblocks and pitfalls that weren’t there before. How will others ever see your child for the wonderful, beautiful spirit they are if they have to look past all the things that make them different first?
They are out there. Finding them may feel a little like panning for gold but don’t give up. Take advantage of your nearest Early Intervention program. That is still the first thing out of my mom’s mouth when talking to parents of special needs kids five years old or younger., they can teach you and your child healthy and safe ways to deal with tantrums among other things. Just because toddlers can’t quite grasp why they are different from their friends or sibling doesn’t mean they don’t know that they are and that can be very upsetting.
My final piece of advice, don’t be ashamed to say this is hard. As the parent of a special needs child,you will be that child’s primary voice for at eighteen years or longer, that isn’t anybody’s idea of a cake walk. If you find yourself overwhelmed by this task please seek a support group or a therapist, to effectively help your child you may need to help yourself first and anybody who belittles you for showing human fragility probably couldn’t stand a day in your shoes anyway.