The thing the baby books don’t tell you about leaving the hospital is that two new people emerge. Yes, you’re going to come out of there with another person, but you’re going to be a different person too. The world changes in the matter of a moment.
Some part of me was buried, laid to rest back in that stark birthing room after I gave birth to my first child. A new person emerged who was intensely immersed in his little toes and the piercing cries, waiting with bated breath to catch the first smile. The feeling of mine-ness and the responsibility were both exhilarating and frightening. And it didn’t stop there. Four more babies would come from my body; three would live earthside. Something about making life and nurturing it brought about a new life in me as an individual. Surprisingly though, it also brought a dying of sorts.
When the second one came, I thought I knew what to expect. She arrived with stick-straight hair in the air and in the middle of marital trauma. She was a delight, but she never crawled. She hopped on her knees across the room, and we laughed it off. “She sure knows how to get across the room!” I simply bought her leg warmers to keep her from tearing up her knees. But language never came.
As time passed and nothing changed, I sought an ENT doctor. I didn’t know then, but from that point, I was learning advocacy for her. The ENT looked at me with a sigh after she checked her ears. “Well, this makes sense; she cannot hear. Luckily, it can be fixed. Anatomically, part of her ear isn’t draining; it’s as if she is underwater listening to us.”
They assured me she’d start talking once she could hear. But months passed. At two and a half, she was falling so far behind her peers in labeling animals and noises, I became worried. She refused to potty train, and I couldn’t get her in any preschools. So now I had no real answers, a child who didn’t speak, and a doctor telling me it was nothing to worry about. My gut wouldn’t let it go.
So when Lila was three or four, I googled my brains out and called two children’s hospitals to get her evaluated. They both had nine- to twelve-month waiting lists. This can’t be how it is! Where’s the instruction manual? Where’s the guide on what path to take when you know something isn’t okay with your child and you might lose your mind if no one helps you? I finally asked my Facebook friends, and lo and behold, there appeared like a northern star a nurse who mentioned a developmental preschool.
The nurse took her job seriously but also had a cheery disposition, and I immediately liked her. “We spoke on the phone. I’m CeCe. Lila is a real joy. Her tutu is so fun!” she said as she slid a paper across the table. “Now, here is the evaluation we just did, and you are right. She is very delayed. I can’t believe no one is helping you! Speech is here . . . should be here. Motor skills are here but should be here. . . .” On and on.
I tried not to cry from the sheer validation and the disappointment that I was indeed right all along. She noticed my watering eyes. “I know this is so hard. No one tells you how to do this. Anyway, I’m going to talk to my supervisor to see if we can make room. We’re going to get that girl the help she needs!”
Lila made great leaps in her motor skills, speech, and emotional milestones. We had her genes tested to no avail and ended up finding a neurologist to make her official diagnosis: “She’s quite honestly a mystery, and I am slow to put labels on children because they linger quite long even if untrue. But she is severely developmentally delayed with apraxia (difficulty with skilled movements, such as the motor skills of the mouth, tongue, and voice) among other various deficiencies. We don’t know how it will be for her in the future; she most likely will not read or live alone fully independent.” He said this gently, and we received it. I went home and put her down for a nap and laid down my dreams for who I thought she would become too. I shut the door and wept.
Another thing those baby books don’t tell you is what happens when dreams die. What the process is like. What the grief is like. She won’t get married; she won’t become a teacher or a doctor. Yet, as time went by, the acceptance and the gratefulness arrived. How unnecessary it became to change my children and how it freed me up to simply love them for exactly who they are. How they will surprise me. How they will be a doctor that fixes my broken perspective and gives me a new and better prescription. And how they will be a teacher who teaches me a better way to love and accept and dream.
Every day I look at Lila and thank God for giving her to us, even though I don’t know what I’m doing. She has taught me what my oldest has as well: how to love and that while one part of you dies (the old you), another part begins to live. There is always life in death. Often through death.
The way through the valley, in between the mountains, is where I’ve changed the most. It’s where I find God’s presence nearest and where I find my greatest rewards. And it’s where I find a cemetery of old Jamis. I’ve buried the past versions of myself, the expectations I had of myself, and all the things I knew for sure. I sometimes visit the gravestones and rub my fingers across the dates. I remember her; I remember that. It would be sad, except what arose from those graves is the person I was always meant to become.
Adapted from This Must Be the Place by Jami Nato, provided by Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Copyright 2023. Used by permission.