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Sunday, November 11, 2007

SortaCrunchy Q&A #5 - Motherhood's biggest challenge

Today's SortaCrunchy question is from a very sweet reader I have really enjoyed getting to know - "seattlebags" Sheila. She asks, "What has been your biggest challenge as a mother thus far?"

It's tempting, actually, to write that getting through D's earliest and most high-needs weeks and months has been my biggest challenge. But that's not really true. The biggest challenge I have faced so far involves something that I am pretty sure I have never blogged about. My closest friends and, of course, my family all know about this challenge, but I just never have known if and how to talk about it here.

When D was about seven months old, I began to realize that she wasn't very "talkative." I would read my monthly "Your Child This Month" updates from Babycenter and carefully watched the development charts and suspected that she wasn't babbling and trying sounds the way she should have been at that age. Other parents I talked to about my concerns assured me it was very early to have too many expectations and to just keep talking to her and reading to her and it she'd be up to speed in no time.

By the time she was twelve months and many of her peers were mimicking words and saying at the very least mama and dada, we had nothing. Just the occasional squeals and shrieks, but nothing even close to speech. At eighteen months, still nothing. By that time, I was starting to get a little freaked out. Finally, when she was days away from turning two and still had no spoken words at all, I called Early Childhood Intervention.

The ECI assessment confirmed what I had known to be true for months. D had a severe expressive speech delay. At this point, she was a year behind in her expressive language. I remember being quite emotional over the results. On the one hand, it was such a relief to have someone confirm for me that my concerns were legitimate. On the other hand, it spoke of another kind of confirmation . . . that there was something wrong with my daughter.

When I was pregnant with D, I would sit in the rocking chair in her room and rock and talk to her and pray over her. I prayed that God would knit her together in my womb exactly according to His plans for her - whatever that would mean. She arrived healthy and whole and I breathed a sigh of relief thinking that we were on our way to raising a normal child.

Discovering that your baby falls outside the normal curve is not just a little upsetting. I struggled with guilt that I had done something, or not done something, to create or contribute to her delay. I battled the jealousy that arose as I overheard conversations her peers were having with their parents. I mourned for the dialogue that didn't exist between D and me.

We weathered months of speech therapy that rendered very little improvement. Foolishly I began searching the Internet to see if perhaps D's speech delay was symptomatic of a bigger disorder. Just before she hit the two-and-a-half mark, I found myself sinking into a heavy, dark sadness that bordered on despair. Frustration over her lack of progress combined with guilt over my inability to draw speech out of her left me feeling exhausted and empty.

And then, something amazing happened. I have a friend here in town who spent years working in early intervention before her children were born. When I shared my frustrations and concerns with her, she invited D and I to come over to play. I simply cannot explain how or why, but it's as if that day a switch was turned on inside of D. My friend showed me some new techniques and approaches we hadn't tried yet, and using these approaches marked the beginning of an explosion in what D showed us she was capable of doing. (Explosion may not be the best description . . . more like slow and steady and remarkable growth.)

It's been a little over three months since D has started talking more and more. It was no surprise to her father or me that her first two-word phrase was a command - "Mama, here!" I swear she really started talking so she could boss us around! There are days when the constant "mommy, Mommy, MOMMY!" starts to wear my nerves a bit, but I stop to remember that there were oh so many days and weeks and months when my heart just ached over not hearing that word from her lips. It has been indescribably rewarding to listen to the new words and sentences that each day brings.

And so, to answer Sheila's question, this - more than the days of no naps and sleepless nights and toddler tantrums and sibling angst - this journey has been the biggest challenge I've endured since the day I earned the name Mother.