Having a Daughter with Autism

Someone asked me the other day – What’s it like having a daughter with autism?

The flippant response would be – I don’t know what it’s like to have a daughter without autism.  But the more thoughtful answer is a bit longer and more complicated.  My own experience of being a daughter to a mother with whom I feel deeply connected to, a connection that many, I have learned over the years, do not have certainly plays a role in my answer.  I have always felt my mother and I share something that goes beyond the usual feelings of responsibility and gratitude toward someone who gave so much in order that I might have a good life.  It is as though we share something much more than the history and past of living under the same roof for the first 17 years of my life, something I cannot adequately put into words.  We have a closeness, a bond and yes, a friendship that only a few of my female friends can relate to regarding their own mothers.  I have often said that if my mother were not my mother, I would wish she were.  I don’t actually know many people who can truthfully say that about their mothers.  I am lucky.  I get that.

So when I was pregnant with Emma, I fully expected to have a similar experience.  I knew right away she was a girl.  Don’t ask me how, I just knew it.  For one thing I began to wear pink, a color I never liked until Emma entered my being and for another I craved spinach and blue cheese during my first trimester, as opposed to steak and all things meat when pregnant with Nic.  Okay so I’m not being completely serious – though all of this is true – the pregnancy was different with Em, it just was.  Without meaning to or even consciously trying to, I visualized my soon to be daughter.  I knew she would have blonde hair, blue eyes and broad shoulders, as both Richard and I share these things, but beyond that I couldn’t know. I sang to her, just as I did when I was pregnant with Nic, I talked to her, read to her and dreamed about her.

While pregnant with Emma, I was walking on Fifth Avenue one afternoon, when I passed The American Girl store.  It reminded me of my first and favorite doll, Maribelle, a gift from my mother to me when I was little.  Maribelle came in a blue and grey striped trunk complete with shoes, gowns, dresses, she even had a fur coat!  (I still have Maribelle – she and her trunk reside upstairs in my mother’s house.) I saved her, intending to give her to my own daughter, were I fortunate enough to have one. Looking through the large windows of the store I fantasized of the day I would bring my daughter there and how she would choose a special doll.  A doll that would be like Maribelle was to me – a companion, a doll she would whisper secrets to and spend hours upon hours playing with.

Richard and I were not the kind of parents intent on placing our yet-to-be-born children on waiting lists of the most coveted New York City preschools, looking to the day we could sit listening to our child’s speech having graduated  from Harvard Summa Cum Laude.  Ours was a more unconventional approach – at one point we fantasized about putting all of our belongings in storage and traveling the world for a few years.  We spent many an evening discussing the places we wanted to travel to, which included Tanzania, Lebanon, Egypt, Brazil, Morocco and Laos.  We poured over guide books and vowed that once both children were out of diapers we would make our fantasies reality.  We had no way of knowing that Emma wouldn’t be out of diapers until she was eight and a half years old.  We couldn’t know that once she was out of diapers we would be scrambling to cover the staggering cost of her care, making any dreams of extensive travel abroad impossible to seriously contemplate, not to mention the sheer logistics of traveling to a foreign country with a child with special needs.

(To be continued.)

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:   www.EmmasHopeBook.com

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