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Archive for November, 2010

Written by Dave for a graduate school assignment.

To say that my daughter’s birth did not go as planned is probably an understatement. She was our first child so my wife, Julie, and I did not really know what to expect. We had decided to have the birth in a birthing center and to do it in a natural way. Julie went into labor during Saturday Night Live and we were in the birthing center by nine o’clock Sunday morning. Everything was going very well except that Julie had been pushing for about four hours and the nurse midwife said that my daughter, Ella, was stuck on Julie’s pelvis. After another hour or so, Ella was born and everything for me kind of slowed down. Ella was unresponsive and not breathing and later we would learn that she had meconium aspirated. I remember just about everything from the birth because it was as if I were being effortlessly directed to do what was needed of me at the time. I remember holding my daughter’s head, which was so limp and floppy, as the midwife tried to insert the suction tube into her nose; watching the nurse’s hand tremble furiously as she failed to get the suction into Ella’s nose; to kissing my wife who was frozen stiff in shock; to thinking OK it has been long enough they just need to stop, it is over; to thinking holy crap she is pinking up; to talking with the 911 operator who had to transfer my call; to my father-in-law kicking the wall and yelling damn; to the ambulance ride thinking why aren’t these cars getting out of the way and asking the ambulance driver if this happens often; to walking into the NICU and being placed in a closed and very small reception area by myself and sitting on the floor and crying; to calling my wife who was still at the birthing center getting stitches and sobbing telling her how sorry I was for what had happened. Then the most profound thing that has happened to me occurred Julie just said “It’s OK. Everything is going to be alright!” And in that instant I realized that I did not have to feel sorry for myself or feel that my daughter’s birth was tragic. My daughter was alive and still perfect in every way just like every other child who is born.

See, I believe children with disabilities (and without for that matter) are gifts, not tragedies. They just have a different lesson to teach or a different gift to give the world than the average child. However, we have to be willing to “listen” to them and suspend our judgements, expectations, and past experiences in order to receive their lesson and gifts. My daughter has cerebral palsy spastic quadriplegia and she has taught me more about life than I ever could have imagined. I believe that if I had been unwilling to accept what had happened at my daughter’s birth I would have missed the most important lesson of my life. The lesson on how to love. She has taught me so much about love that I believe it is in fact possible to love all children (and adults) in the same way that I love her. I believe we have to accept children exactly for what they are. That way we are always seeing the present moment of that child and not our past experiences or future expectations. So, although as educators we make goals, plan lessons, and set expectations we are by no means bound by them. We have the freedom to teach in the present and by doing so we address exactly what is needed and not what is expected.

 

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One of my pilates clients is a lovely Hindu woman. Just the other day as we finished up our private session she asked me how long I’ve lived in Vermont and what brought me here (I think she detected a hint of my Baltimore accent Hon). I explained to her that we moved to Vermont for Dave to attend UVM’s Doctorate of Physical Therapy program, however after a semester he decided that he wanted to work with Ella on a full time basis. By that time we had fallen in love with Vermont and wanted to stay. Now Dave takes Ella to school as her full time paraeducator, and is attending UVM part-time working on a Masters degree in Early Childhood Special Education. As I explained more about Ella’s disability I expected the normal look of pity that I usually get, however instead her beautiful smile just got bigger as I explained the difficult circumstances of Ella’s birth and the cause and effect of Ella’s cerebral palsy. After I finished telling her our story she held my shoulders and said that in Hindu belief children like Ella were given to special people and she was very humbled and honored to be in my acquaintance. My eyes began to well up and I felt like my heart was going to explode with love. During this week of Thanksgiving I would like to thank my wise friend and give thanks for the gift of Ella.

Namaste-I honor the light in you which is also in me.

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Recently, I met a family that was going through a very similar situation to our family’s. They were in the early stages of dealing with the fact that their child had a severe disability that would make a normal life for the child and the family impossible.  Mom was weepy, crushed and depressed. Dad was strong and taking care of his wife and new baby the best he knew how, the parallels to Dave and me were pretty stunning. The Mom and I spoke about acceptance and getting to a point where it was OK to be happy and enjoy your life again. I assured her that she would get there.

I remember having the same feelings after Ella was born.  Overwhelming sadness, depression and hopelessness, but somehow deep in my being I knew that that feeling was temporary. Someday in the future I would be OK and happy again, that acceptance would come. It may take a few years as it did with me, but the day will come . You may go through many stages of grief  and ways of handling grief–like my red wine and pasta bolognese phase, my shoe buying phase (according to my sister I am still in this one–she may be right), my once a week pedicure stage and my thinking that Dave and I needed to divorce so he could be happy phase. Then there will also be times when you are doing OK and your spouse is a mess. As I look back on where I was 7 years ago and where I am today as a Mom, wife and friend I am not sure that I would have acquired the integrity and grace that I have without  going through such a life changing experience.

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