The taut skin surrounding your abdomen is losing the battle to contain the voracious life confined under the surface. You look like a snake that swallowed prey too large to properly digest. Vitamins are faithfully taken, diet is monitored, and previous unhealthy habits are foregone. You are the queen, the sacred vessel, awaiting the prince you and your husband have always known you would create. This boy will be the best of you. A golden child who will be presented with every opportunity you were not given who will succeed at everything. You are smug and superior in this truth you have created. How unfortunate to be another woman, not carrying a perfect being within her body. You are as bloated with conceit as you are with child.
Sometimes you are kicked so hard you cry out as pain tears through your insides like fire come to life inside you. Movement is visible through layers of clothing from unnatural distances. Jokes are made that your son will be a natural athlete. The pain that makes you drop to your knees in the supermarket line and keeps you awake for hours as you try to be silent is taking you by surprise. Something must be wrong with you. No woman in relaying her morbid details of pregnancy and childbirth has yet spoken of this. You begin to feel weak in body and soul. Not worth to be the mother of the prince you will unleash upon the world.
You go Christmas shopping and stay out too late in the evening for someone two days past her due date. You finally decide to go to bed, steeling yourself for another evening of what most would not consider sleep. Your husband hears the sound first, like a thick band of rubber snapping under shallow water. You don’t react initially, because by now you are used to unpredictable pain. Upon sitting, fluid rushes between your legs. The prince will wait no longer. He is breaking free from his confinement.
He finds the way out of your body like the true Viking he is. He turns and contorts, creating his own path. His journey is as important as the destination. Your son, Connor, arrives as perfect as your imagination has created him. Hair of platinum surrounds a face of cream and petals with eyes of piercing blue. You count toes of pearls and fingers soft and delicate as butterfly wings. His cries ring in your ears with lusty urgency. With your bundle swaddled in your arms, the pain of pregnancy and birth is already fading. Your obstetrician proclaims him a keeper as your prince is awarded a perfect 10 on the APGAR. You look into his eyes ready to begin the ageless, reciprocal dance of the bond between mother and child. Eyes brimming with joyful tears, you await the powerful streams of emotion that fuel the success and sustainability of the human species. As his sapphire eyes strain to focus, Connor looks at you for the first time. He is looking just past your left temple at the dancing patterns of shadow and light against the sterile white hospital wall.
When you come home, both of you begin to cry. When you breastfeed, he pulls away, arching like a cat and screaming. Your husband makes the necessary phone calls. Someone with experience is needed because you both are beginning to feel the nagging fear of inadequacy that is invading your souls like a cancer. Grandmothers and sisters smile smugly and assure you that all babies cry and soon settle into predictable rhythms of wakefulness and sleep. No one speaks of it, but everyone knows that you, the mother, are the problem. They say you read too many parenting books. You know they mean you are too rigid and intellectual. You find the advice from these women not only hurtful, but ineffective. You cease asking for aid and advice. You begin to erect the walls which you will learn to parent behind. For the sake of this perfect little being your heart explodes with love for, you will learn to create your own version of normal. Somehow you will learn to be worthy to be the mother of this boy you know you do not deserve.
College and work are part of your past now as you devote yourself to motherhood. Time becomes something not punctuated with predictable patterns of days ebbing into nights. Sometimes Connor sleeps for five minutes and sometimes for two hours. You never know when you can fit sleep in for yourself. Connor cries when you hold him and when he is laid down. Exhaustion sets in as these patterns continue while days morph into months. The nature of motherhood is sacrifice and you are learning to wear the thick garments of martyrdom as protection from this truth you fail to embrace. Every day your son greets you as if you are a stranger and his smiles are bestowed only on plastic toys. You spend your days searching for ways to give your child some measure of peace in his world. However, you are failing miserably in secret, too proud to admit your inadequacy.
Your son is hitting every physical milestone early. He rolls and sits, then stands and walks months before he should. He is never sick. You are proud of his beauty and strength, but saddened over his apparent desire for autonomy. Nothing is as you expected it to be. Breastfeeding is abandoned at five months of age because Connor prefers sitting alone to the closeness of gaining sustenance through intimate contact. He learns to walk at ten months, so he can go where he wants without having to be carried. Soon after, he learns to run and climb in order to be more efficient in fulfilling his desires. Your husband finishes his degree and begins a successful career while you feel invisible. Your son thrives without ever directly looking you in the eyes.
Your hands are trembling as you light the candle on your son’s first birthday cake. Connor is screaming and someone is leading him back to you, his mother, to provide solace in the sea of chaos created by so many visitors. You abandon the cake to pick him up. Once in your arms nothing changes, so you and your husband take him to his bedroom to continue his tantrum in private. Truthfully, you are embarrassed that after one year of motherhood, you have not yet mastered the art of comforting your son.
Spencer arrives less than two years after his brother. Your second son is a rule follower even before becoming part of your world. This time when you succumb to the process of labor, the cooperative rhythm between mother and child seems effortless. He slips out of your body, into your arms, into your life. He stops crying when you hold him. He looks into your eyes.
The realization that something is not right with Connor’s development is more difficult than blaming yourself. Another variable of guilt is added to your equation of motherhood as you calculate these thoughts at unpredictable moments. You try not to compare your two precious boys, but the truth you try to suppress is too evident. Maybe this is not your fault. You do some amateur research. You learn to know, but no one yet believes you.
You finally convince your pediatrician that Connor may have autism and six months are survived waiting for the appointment with the specialist in Syracuse. A three hour evaluation results in a heavy pile of paperwork resting on your lap as you crawl along snowy streets in the family Jeep to go home where everything will change, but nothing will be different. Only the top sheet with the diagnosis “autism” has any real value. Though you have always taken pleasure in being right, the one to first solve the puzzle, this time you wish you had been wrong. This is not the future you envisioned for your beautiful prince. The child of your imagination is dead.
The stack of papers on your lap is heavy, but you know the information is as ethereal as air. You hold page after page of information about preschool programs and therapies. So much useless information about something that supposedly has no known cause or cure. It is time to create a new purpose and make this right for your son. This diagnosis sheet is validation that you are not at fault, but what a shitty thing to be right about. You suck. You ask your husband to stop the Jeep. You get out, lean on the bumper and light a cigarette. As you breathe smoke in and out, you alternate between feeling heavy and light.
You take on your new role as Mother of Autistic Boy with a vengeance. You sometimes remember having sex and enjoying it, playing the piano, or writing a poem. Because your true nature is that of a coward, you make yourself forget. Remembering might make you unable to clean the shit off the walls, attend the autism support groups, and research and schedule therapies. You live with this fear that you could run from your life without even a glance backward. You are now the solver of medical mystery and the queen of drudgery. You implement a gluten and casein free diet for Connor. Auditory integration training is undertaken and you begin a forty hour per week program of Applied Behavior Analysis, which occurs seven days a week at home and at preschool. You don’t laugh and you never really smile. The pieces of the person you used to be slip away like beads from a severed string. No one knows who you really are anymore and fewer and fewer people care.
You become increasingly contemptuous of other mothers. They attempt to make small talk about the trials and tribulations of their lives. As time marches along and Connor becomes stronger, you are too frequently scheduling a broken window to be repaired. There is always a hole somewhere in the sheetrock from where your son’s inexplicable rage broke free from his body. Friends stop looking you in the eye Connor style. They call less and avoid your home like a plague. They want to pity or admire you. You allow them neither.
Amidst your daily chaos, you become the mother of two more children. Your next son, Alexander, is autistic, but calm and at peace in the world he creates. Your daughter, Maya, is like Spencer and deliciously perfect. Shampoo, rinse, repeat. You are now the mother of two autistic and two typical children. You are the wife of a successful software engineer. Your husband wonders privately why he ever married you. Connor is now bigger than you. He bites through your skin leaving wounds that sink too deeply as time unfurls. Your hair is being twisted out of your skull in clumps that reveal gaping patches of skin. Bruises are always visible, so you can’t wear short sleeves. These wounds you still want desperately to hide.
One fall morning when Connor is twelve, you call him from where he is swinging in the backyard. His bus will arrive any moment. You turn to begin the walk back and sense his rage building behind you. Instinct tells you to run, but pride makes you keep your pace steady. You are overtaken on the front porch and more hair is wrenched from your head. There is no escape and you manage a feeble cry for help while your face grinds into the floorboards. Spencer is alerted by your feeble cries, but is too small to help you. He finds your husband who manages the extrication.
Inexplicable grief is shed between the two of you as you discuss the realization that Connor can no longer live in your home. You realize that he could eventually kill you without fault or malice. You make arrangements for your son to live in the residential program at his school. Every time no one is watching, you cry. The battle was fought and lost.
Your son doesn’t know he won’t come home again when he boards the bus. While he is at school, you remove the contents of his room. Everything is set up for him in his new room when he goes to it at the end of the school day. It is not his fault you failed him. This must be made as tolerable as possible for him. You visualize him crying for Mommy and asking for home in this new, but familiar room. When you call to check on him, staff tells you he laughed hysterically when he entered it and is not asking for you yet. The nights where sleep will elude him as he begs for Mom have not yet arrived. He seems amused by his new living situation. You are learning to find his independence endearing.
You are alone in your kitchen while only three of your children sleep upstairs. You weigh ninety-four pounds and are secretly pleased that your body has stopped asking you to feed it. Your bones look like they are fighting to escape through your skin. When Connor went to live away from you, the amber bottles of potent medication he takes daily were left behind. The ones that were supposed to calm his violent outbursts and improve his quality of life. The ones that did not work, like so many other attempts. Sometimes, you imagine taking them all in swallows jagged with regret. Perhaps the most humane thing, would be to crash the minivan with you and your autistic boys inside it. You don’t act on these impulses, just retreat further into sadness. Further into yourself.
Maybe it is the yoga that ends up helping you find balance in this insanity. Perhaps, just hitting rock bottom is when you realize you need to work on yourself. Your four children are healthy and beautiful. Each is equally fantastic and ridden with fault. They all need you. You are learning that things can be right and wrong simultaneously. It is possible to feel it all, and so preferable to feeling nothing. You are the mother of Vikings, great and terrible. The north wind that created you only serves to make you stronger.