Every year when Mother’s Day rolls around I think about buying a trophy for Ariane. But if you’ve ever seen the kind of “World’s Best Mom” statuettes they sell in gift shops, you’ll understand how easy it becomes to resist that impulse. To do full justice in honoring her ceaseless sacrifices, her boundless commitment, and her indomitable courage in the face of repeated heartbreak, I’d have to commission a giant gold statue of her in full Viking Goddess mode, hair blowing in the wind, fist outstretched in an upward and onward call to arms as she stands atop a mountain of diapers, empty vanilla milk cartons and pancake batter, Emma perched on her shoulder with her thumb in her mouth, her other hand clutching her blanket Cokie as it flutters behind them like a triumphant flag.
Maybe next year. God knows she deserves it.
It’s hard being a mom. It’s hard being a mom for a normally developing child. Harder still raising two normally developing children, which is what we both thought we were doing in Emma’s first year of life. She logged in countless hours in countless playgrounds, bookstores, zoos and museums – with more than a gazillion trips to the Museum of Natural History alone — which Emma still calls the Snakebite Museum because she obsessively goes up to the third floor on each visit to see the diorama of a boy laying on the ground that’s been bitten by a snake.
And it’s hard…really, really hard…to be the mom of an autistic child. It’s hard being the dad of an autistic child too, but not as hard as it is for Ariane. For one thing, Emma can only bond physically with one person in the world, and that’s mommy. She might sit next to me, or lay in bed next to me, but we can’t cuddle. She likes to stroke my arm and she really likes to slap it. But I cannot hug her for more than a few seconds, I cannot hold her in my arms, I cannot sit with her in my lap in the rocking chair, not for long anyway.
She is not daddy’s little girl. She is mommy’s little girl. And along with the joys of that affection comes a world of responsibilities that are extremely difficult to bear when they rest on one person’s shoulders. Only mommy can comfort Emma when she stubs her toe, or gets a cut. Only mommy can hold her and say, “It’s okay.” I cannot count how many times I’ve run to Emma’s assistance when I’ve heard her screaming, only to have her run right past me and into mommy’s arms. And when Ariane is out of the house and she injures herself, there isn’t much I can do but try and calm her while I get a bandaid.
This next part is difficult to talk about, but I think it needs to be said in order to fully appreciate what this has been like for Ariane. Emma has only been able to poop in the toilet by herself for the last year. She has had chronic constipation we have tried everything to relieve for as long as I can remember. Ariane, being the only one who could really hold her, had to hold her on the potty while Emma screamed in agony, trying to relieve herself. This could go on for more than an hour. Every day. For years. Think about it. Now add to this the fact that Emma screams louder than a jet plane on takeoff. Nuff said.
Mothers of autistic children have to cope with another burden that never seems to fully go away, not that I’ve seen anyway. Guilt. Ariane is not alone in this respect, every mother of an autistic child that I’ve ever spoken to about this has said pretty much the same things: “I shouldn’t have eaten so much fish when I was pregnant. Or exercised. Or done those leg lifts the midwife told me to do because they said she was breached – and she wasn’t. I shouldn’t have gone down to the World Trade Center after they blew it up and all that smoke was in the air. I was too old to have another child. That’s what did it. That’s what made her this way.”
I’ve never heard the father of an autistic child wring his hands over his role in ‘causing’ their child’s autism, even though some studies have said that one possible factor in the disease is the age of the father, not the mother. But the mother bears the child and that seems to lead to countless recriminations and self-blame that doesn’t even end after the child is born. “I shouldn’t have given her that MMR vaccine. I shouldn’t have given her any vaccines.” And so on.
I once said to Ariane, “If you were talking to another mom with an autistic child, would you blame her? Would you tell her it was all her fault?”
Of course not. But I wonder how much these thoughts have faded even after all this time.
As soon as we got the diagnosis, Ariane must have read every book on the subject. While I consider myself to be a pretty good dad, equally concerned and committed to healing our daughter, I have still never read a single book on the topic, not cover to cover. Maybe I’m just being a guy, but my initial response was to Google everything I could discover about possible causes and treatments in the most concise descriptions possible. I couldn’t take the pain of all those details, of all those suffering voices. “Bottom line it for me.”
Ariane tried every possible treatment she had heard about on the internet – from other mothers, of course. She has documented many of these efforts on these pages. For example, she mentioned here that she once baked a casein-free/gluten-free cake for Emma’s birthday that took her hours and hours to make. No flour, no yeast, no dairy, no sugar. I couldn’t believe how good it tasted. “What’s in here, fairy dust?” I asked, reaching for a second slice.
Emma never took a single bite of it. That trophy I was talking about should have been awarded for this feat alone. I might have to commission one after all.
Happy Mother’s Day Ariane. I love you. Nic loves you. Emma loves you.
You are amazing.