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I had four kids in five years. I basically spent the first seven years of my marriage either pregnant or breastfeeding. There were . . . ahem . . . there are many, many sleepless nights with so many little ones.

People often say, “I don’t know how you do it.” And honestly, I don’t know either. I guess I would call myself a Type A personality, incredibly organized, and basically determined to stop the naysayers who had a lot of opinions when I decided to have a fourth child. I mean how many times can I hear, “You know how this happens right?” But I firmly believe children are blessings from God and He chose me to be their mother.

Even though my first child never slept for more than 45 minutes at a time for six months straight, I had a second, and a third, and then a fourth. I’m not actually sure why I decided to have more after the first one except maybe that I didn’t know that this wasn’t how it was supposed to be. I always suspected something was different with my oldest son, but as a new parent, do you even know anything?

After having my other children and seeing them grow and learn, I believed more and more that things were just off with my oldest. Before long, my second child was catching up to her brother on many milestones. I brought my concerns to the experienced moms around me, namely his grandmas. But, of course, they thought he was perfect. I asked our pediatrician about his temporary speech delay, his determination to not wear short sleeves and shorts despite the 90-degree temperatures, and his defiance to basically eat nothing beyond Goldfish and chicken nuggets.

I asked about autism. It seemed to fit . . . sort of.

My pediatrician believed his eye contact was good, and he obviously was eating something because he was in the 95th percentile for his age. And I left there that day without answers. She had calmed my fears, and I chalked it up to first-time parenting, again. Everyone around me told me to relax, that he would be fine.

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But how could I relax? Discipline for my oldest son just didn’t work. His willpower was beyond what I could handle. I kept thinking. “This is my fault. I’m just not tough enough. I’m tired from parenting so many kids and working full-time.” People didn’t see the kicking, punching, and screaming I took from a child who was growing bigger and bigger by the day.

I thought God had given me more than I could handle.

I prayed. Not for answers, but relief from having to deal with an unregulated and inconsolable child.

Maybe the naysayers were right. Four kids are just too many. How did I let this happen? What am I supposed to do with a child who won’t listen, won’t eat more than five foods, and has us both in tears every other day?

I was overwhelmed to the point of panic attacks. I sought medication. Though I never thought I was a failure for seeking medication, the negative self-talk about how I was failing ALL my kids did not instantly disappear.

The differences between my oldest son and his younger sister were getting wider and wider. I decided to get a second opinion. After waiting a month and after multiple weeks of testing, I finally felt like I might have some answers.

My son was diagnosed with autism.

I knew it all along.

For some parents, this may have been the biggest disappointment, but for me, it was the biggest relief. I had something to cling to, a diagnosis. Now I had action items and next steps, which for my Type A self was the biggest blessing.

I didn’t wait a single minute. I scheduled my then 5-year-old for occupational therapy to work on the sensory overload he had been experiencing. I applied for therapy at the autism center with a 9-month waiting list. I got him set up in speech therapy to work on turn-taking and communication patterns. I did it all.

All the therapy I did alongside him, didn’t just help him grip a pencil better, wear clothes appropriate for the weather outside, and self-regulate when he’s overwhelmed, it equipped me with the tools and language to walk alongside him in his journey.

I now understood him.

He was always going to be him, fearfully and wonderfully made by God. But now, I knew what to do to help him navigate the world.

RELATED: To My Child With Autism: There’s Nothing Wrong With You

He is not cured. There is no cure for autism, but now I have the tools to become the mom he needs. And because I have the tools, I no longer pray for relief, the violent outbursts gradually decreased over time.

I thought God gave me more than I could handle, but it turns out He had a plan all along. I couldn’t imagine this chaotic life without my four kids and especially not without my son with special needs. God chose me to be his mom, of this I am sure more than ever before. 

Danielle Rivenbark

Danielle is a 30-something event professional, wife, and mom of four kids, loves blogging about her life “coordinating kids and events” on her personal website: daniellerivenbark.com. She is happily married to her polar opposite, Jerry. Together they co-host their own podcast, Have Kids They Said.

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