It seems as if every woman I know is pregnant or just had a baby. I hover silently around conversations where decisions are discussed about names, breast or bottle-feeding, disposable diapers or cloth, and medicated or natural childbirth. Often, they ask me if I immunized my children, obviously meaning to make the opposite choice. Some of the babies have already arrived and their moms are feeding them pureed vegetables of their choosing out of stubby glass jars. The babies drool it out in orange streams onto bibs that say things like,”Mommy’s Angel” or “Daddy’s Helper”. They serve to protect the adorable outfits their moms dressed them in.
I am not sure when I started being immune to the intoxicating smell of a newborn’s head. It may have been when I discovered that the swaddled ball of an infant morphed rather quickly into a teenager. Grandmothers were not being glib when they warned without reservation or invitation that babies turn into adults in the blink of an eye. The realization that I was tired of obsessing over the seemingly unending choices of motherhood, broke the spell of biology.
When a child is autistic, the choices a parent has to make grow exponentially. Decisions about therapies, schools, diet, and medical intervention must be made with little definitive guidance. Confidence about the ability to make the proper choices leads to many silent, subconscious arguments.
A few months ago, my daughter Maya, decided she wanted to pierce her ears. She sat bravely while a stranger pierced her lobes with multicolored gem flowers. A month later when she wanted to change her earrings, my reasonable daughter cried in confusion and pain over the process of inserting new earrings into her tender lobes. She wanted first to do it herself. Then she wanted her dad to, and also let me have a brief try. Her father was eventually able to get just one earring in.
Maya was uncharacteristically crying. I told her she had three choices. She could take the earring out and not have pierced ears right now. She could put the other earring in which would hurt for a while, but would heal, and she would have two pierced ears. The other choice was to leave just one earring in and have one pierced ear. I told her that I would put both in and the pain would go away. Maya chose to have one pierced ear. The decision was hers.
I should have felt disappointed that my daughter made a choice I didn’t agree with. Instead, I was relieved she made it and accepted the consequences. I will be making decisions for her autistic siblings as long as I live. I chose breast over bottle, cloth rather than disposable, organic food, natural childbirth, delayed immunizations, Applied Behavior Analysis, Secretin, Auditory Integration, gluten-free diets, and vitamin therapy. Each day brings new choices I am not able to ask my autistic sons for their permission or guidance. Maya and Spencer, probably more than most typical kids, have years of experience witnessing me fail and succeed in the realm of making choices.
Some days they think I am crazy. Other times they seem amazed. My children have seen me swear, laugh like a lunatic, and cry. Often I have received nuggets of wisdom they have dispensed with gratitude. I find it a relief to let go of some of the threads of my responsibility.