Emma was not a beautiful baby. She had “skid marks” an unfortunate term coined by one of the mid-wives, meaning her face was streaked red from passing through the birth canal. She had baby acne. Richard lovingly referred to her as Edward G. Robinson because her nose looked as though it had taken a hard right hook and she had a perpetual frown. “You should have seen the other guy,” Richard joked. “Uh, yeah.. that would be me,” I replied.
With each day, Emma slowly transformed from a disgruntled looking infant to an adorable baby and then into a beautiful little girl. Her skin cleared up, the mottled coloring dissipated; her nose went from an ill-formed pancake to delicate and defined. Her blue eyes developed a mischievous twinkle and her wrinkly body began to fill out. It was incredible to witness. Richard use to stare at her lying in her bassinet, hands folded across her chest, and claim he could see her skull change shape as though he were watching time-lapse photography.
Those first three months of her life she had constant indigestion, seemed to be impossibly uncomfortable internally and utterly miserable. Our tried and true methods of soothing Nic were no match for what ailed her. Eventually she found her thumb and was able to soothe herself. And while I was relieved something calmed her, I felt a twinge of failure that it had not been from something I was able to do or give her.
Looking back, I wish I had known about sensory integration. I would have given her baby massages, tried stoking her body with soft fabrics, used oils, lotions, but even so I would not have been able to help her with her internal distress.
When my grandmother died, my sister’s mare gave birth a short while later. I will never forget watching my sister sitting in the stall massaging the newborn colt with long, deep strokes. My sister told me it helped the colt acclimate to human touch, soothed them, made them less skittish later on.
Emma reminded me of my sister’s colt. I wish I had known.
After we learned of Emma’s diagnosis I went through a period of feeling that I should have done everything differently.
“Like what?” Richard asked.
“I wouldn’t have eaten any fish for my entire pregnancy. I would have moved to a rural area, eaten only food that I had grown or was organic. “
In the beginning Richard would try logic, “But I’m pretty sure there are autistic children being born and living in rural areas.”
“Yes, but I would have moved to the mountains, where the air is cleaner, lived in a log cabin with no electricity, lived off the land, drunk boiled water retrieved from snow drifts and…”
“Worn a coonskin cap and carried a flintlock,” Richard interrupted.
Eventually Richard realized the futility in arguing with me, no amount of logic could dissuade me. One day he tried a different tact. We were getting on the subway, having left a talk on ‘Potty Training the Autistic Child’. I met and spoke to another mother after the talk ended. I liked her and told Richard about her and her son who just turned three.
“Do you blame her?” Richard asked.
“Do you think she did something to cause her son’s autism?” He said, not looking at me.
“Of course not! Why would you ask that?” I said, feeling a seed of indignation rising.
“Because you blame yourself, so I’m just wondering if you blame her too.”
I said nothing for a few minutes.
“Okay,” I said.
“You’ve got to stop doing that, Ariane. You can’t keep blaming yourself. You didn’t do this to Emma. This isn’t your fault.”
“Okay,” I said. “Okay.”