Written By:  Tiffany Verzal

I have spoken to about 30 different high school classes about abusive head trauma over the last three years. I start my speech about Alexis telling them to ask me any questions that they have, saying nothing that they want to know will offend me and that I will answer them honestly. One of the first questions is if Alexis has any brothers or sisters, and then they follow up by asking if we plan to have any more children.

I have never said yes. I have never said no. It’s a topic of conversation that comes up several times a month between me and Brandon. Both of us are “go with your gut” people and there hasn’t been a time over the last three years when both of us, at the same time, have felt that we should try to have another child.

I’m glad about a couple of things. First, Brandon and I both respect each other’s opinions. There is not a battle of wills when it comes to this subject between us. Second, we never had a set idea on what our family was going to look like. We didn’t set specific dreams for girls or boys, we’ve never had names picked out for our future children. So when you look at it that way, I feel like we have something going for us.

Before Alexis got hurt we thought we would have two or three. And that is where one of our biggest hang-ups is. We hate that one traumatic life event would influence such an important decision for our family. Other people have experienced similar things (or worse) and they find a way to move on with their life. In a way, if we didn’t have another baby, we’d feel like her injury is getting the best of us.

At the same time we have so many other things to consider. I worry about time for Alexis and our family. Alexis has a list of things that she needs. Everything takes longer with her. I have a hard enough time making sure she get stretched and e-stim, and speech practice, and practice writing, etc. Most weeks only a few of those things happen once or twice the way it is. I fear even less would happen- or they just wouldn’t happen at all.

When it comes to our family, we try to do most things together such as grocery shopping and recreational activities. Getting Alexis in and out of the car, in and out of her walker, a shopping cart, and playing on playgrounds takes organization and extra steps. I fear that adding a baby would be too much to manage going out of the house. I’m afraid that most of the things we do together would become individualized, in order to make it easier.

I worry about a little sibling leaving her in the dust physically. She’s going to have to deal with it enough at school- is it fair for her to have that reminder at home?

What if we had another baby and it had health problems? I am sure that any more time in ICU or a hospital would definitely send me over the edge.

I worry how I would respond to a baby. I listened to Alexis scream constantly in therapy for a year after her injury. I had to condition myself as a mom to push through those natural reactions to save her, comfort her, and make her feel better. Crying children don’t phase me anymore. I guess the positive is we know a baby would get more than enough tummy time!

And the sleep…

For almost two years after her injury, Alexis rarely slept at night. Brandon and I rarely slept too. Alexis ended up sleeping with us, and has yet to leave our bed for more than a few days at a time. We’ve finally started to have less “episodes” of sleepless nights. I don’t know if I have the energy to be awake in the middle of the night with a baby. In fact, I don’t even hear Alexis wake up anymore and Brandon usually takes care of her when she wakes up now. It would be too much for one man to handle.

We haven’t had that natural road of independence that most families have with their children. It is rare for Alexis to eat an entire meal without needing help with a fork, spoon, or cup. When we go out to eat, she falls out of booster chairs, can’t fit into a highchair, and she ends up on our lap half way through the meal so she can get herself positioned correctly to eat. What if we tried to manage two that were like that?

If she needs to go to the bathroom- we have to help her walk or carry her to the toilet, pull down her pants, lift her on, and make sure she is positioned right. Then we wipe her. She can pull down her pants if she has help, and can wipe as long as a person is holding her up. She’s five-and-a-half years old and fifty pounds….she’s not two years old anymore. Most families have moved well beyond that point of help by this time…and I don’t know how long we are still going to be doing it.

What happens when the other child needs help…but I still need both hands to help Alexis around? I am afraid of having to choose what needs of which child are the most important. I fear that Alexis would usually win.

Sometimes I tell people I have had two kids. One baby that was healthy and developing normally for 14 months, and then I started over with a new child…

The bottom line is that I don’t know if I have the energy for a baby. I don’t have the answers to any of the questions above, and I don’t think I ever will. I wish I did.

We have storage full of baby things that we just can’t make ourselves get rid of. I don’t want to give it away, but I don’t want to keep it. Sometimes I just want to pull all of the stuff out and set it on the curb for people to pick up, thinking that I could have some closure. Because that baby stuff is also labeled in my head as “before she was hurt” and “after she was hurt”. This is a “therapy toy” or the “toy she couldn’t play with”.

I could go on and on, but I think you get my point. The list of negatives could be two pages longer than the positives.

It’s really, really sad. It’s really, really sad that one person’s actions in a few quick seconds can cause something that is beautiful to become “a negative”.

So will we have another child?

I don’t know. I don’t know if there will be a right time in our lives for another baby. But I think that we will have a bigger family someday. Brandon and I talk a lot about being foster parents or adopting down the road. We’ve got a lot of love in our hearts and want to share that with other children…but when and how we get there, only God knows.

Tiffany Verzal

Tiffany Verzal was raised in rural Nebraska, and now lives in Lincoln, Nebraska with her husband Brandon and daughter Alexis (9) and Abby (2). In 2008, Alexis (then 14-months-old) was the victim of shaken baby syndrome at the hands of her daycare provider in Texas. Alexis suffered severe brain damage and has spent over 2000 hours in rehabilitation since her injury. Tiffany continues to raise awareness for traumatic brain injury, shaken baby syndrome and child abuse. Brandon and Tiffany serve as members on Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital’s Board of Trustees. Brandon is currently the Chairman of the Nebraska Child Abuse Prevention Fund Board.