I gave birth to Emma in a birthing center here in Manhattan. It was a relatively “short” labor being just shy of 20 hours, compared to Nic who took more than 38 hours to appear. Okay, it wasn’t remotely “short”, but that was the word everyone kept using when predicting how long it would take, and compared to Nic, it was certainly short-er, but that’s really the only way you can use any version of the word “short” in describing my labor with either of my children. Richard caught Nic, as he likes to say, as if he were a football being hiked during a long, boring and tedious game. The first hands Nic felt were Richard’s. The first face he became aware of was Richard’s and they bonded immediately. Not so with little Em.
First of all the labor was more painful or maybe it was just that I wasn’t as exhausted and so I can remember it better. Richard was comforting me and holding my shoulders when I began to push. When Emma appeared the midwife was the one pulling her from me before placing her onto my chest. Richard missed that “father/daughter” moment of connection those first few seconds of her life. Later, when he didn’t feel the same kind of innate bonding he’d had with Nic, we assumed it was because he wasn’t there to catch her. For years I felt badly that I’d asked him to hold me and as a result he wasn’t able to be there to hold her. But as with so many things in life – it’s easy to look back and see things differently when you know the outcome.
When Emma was diagnosed it kind of closed the book on the whole – I should have let Richard catch her during her birth – it was the one bit of guilt the diagnosis freed me of. As time went on we saw how Emma seemed aloof around friends and other family members. We came up with ways to rationalize her seeming indifference. She was independent, she liked doing things on her own, she was her own person, she knew what she wanted, had a mind of her own, etc. These were all things we said to ourselves and each other as we tried to make sense of Emma during those early years.
Yesterday Emma said to me, “Go swimming at the Y with just Mommy?”
“Yeah. Okay. Just the two of us,” I agreed.
Later when we returned home I said to Richard, “I’m not sure why Em wanted just me to go with her. She pretty much ignored me every time I tried to engage her at the Y today.”
“You’re the only one she’s ever really physically bonded with, Ariane. You’re the only one whose lap she likes to sit in. You’re the only one she really likes to be held by. It’s always been that way,” Richard said.
This morning as I was getting ready to take Nic down to his bus, I heard Emma giggling and Richard laughing, “Emma! What are you doing?”
I turned around to see Emma climbing from the window sill onto her dad’s shoulders, unprompted, of her own volition and utterly happy.
For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism and our attempts to keep up, go to: www.EmmasHopeBook.com