28 January, 2014

I Don't Hate Autism, I Hate Migraines.

Last night my baby girl had her first migraine. Or maybe it wasn't a "real" migraine, but it was a headache so big, that it made her cry on the floor, holding her little seven-year-old head, while afraid to touch her scalp. It made her need help lying down for fear that that her head would 'crash.' She wept and moaned, and looked scared by how the pain took over her entire brain and she told me it made her unable to think of anything else.

myGirl at 7
She didn't have the aura that I get, though she found it painful to read or look at light. It was a headache that built up over the course of the day, and had not diminished after water, food, exercise, or relaxation. She was so miserable, and almost unable to be understood between her sobs and pleas for help.

We have the tools to make those kind of headaches go away at our house, and so with a cool glass of water and a magic melting pill (Maxalt) she was able to crawl into bed, and lay flat, and eventually her swollen eyes closed, and she slept. She awoke today pain-free and chipper from a solid night's sleep. 


I don't sleep all the way through the night very often, between checking on children, and restless dogs and the occasional bouts of snoring (mine or my husband's, or the dog's) I awake at least once an hour, and I get out of bed 3-4 times a night to be sure that the hatches are truly battened down and no one has escaped, or died. But mostly I fall back asleep easily, unless there is something big playing around in my mind.

Last night, each time I awoke, I realized I had been expecting something. I listened each time waiting to hear the sounds of un-soothed uneasiness. I had been expecting Lucy to be throwing herself around her room, or sobbing, or screaming in pain, because I had been triggered, and I remembered all of those horrible nights when Jake was younger. All of those days we had before we knew he had migraines.

Watching Lucy on the floor of the hallway last night so upset, barely able to speak, I realized how lucky we are that we figured out Jake's headaches at all. Right in front of me was my eloquent daughter with all of her ability to speak, unable to communicate her needs; how did Jake ever stand a chance? 

myBoy at 7
It took us years-- years of testing, and reading, and researching, years of praying, with people we barely know, praying. We drove 'round and 'round, and devised elaborate set-ups to rock him gently even when his body was too big to be held in the gliding chair, or the IKEA swing. We hired caretakers to allow us to sleep, knowing that he would be crying and screaming all night long. We made his twin bed into a giant gated box so he could at least throw himself down onto the mattress over and over again. We took turns holding his hand as he leapt up from between us in our bed and threatened to fly off onto the floor. We tried to keep him safe even as he knocked into and broke our noses, and his grandparents' glasses. We tried to keep him eating and drinking. I remember holding him, crying with him, and making him every promise to try to help him, feeling like I was failing when I had to take a break and pass his care to my husband. He was at least seven before we had a handle on it.

And for all of it, as bad as it was for Descartes and I, and how ashen we got, and how it affected our friendships, and our careers, and our health, and our marriage. I know that it was so much worse for Jake. It was so obvious he was in pain, but no spinal tap, MRI or genetics test could tell us why he was biting at his own hands in frustration. You can still see the scars on his beautiful hands.

Those years before we figured out the migraines are often a blur, sometimes other people need to remember them for us, but I do recall how sad Jake was. So very, very sad. I remember the desperate look in his eyes, like he wanted out of his own body. I remember how he yelled at me, and I just kept hoping that the sounds would turn into words that I could understand, so I could help him. Not being able to soothe him was the most helpless feeling I've ever had.

He had all those sounds, and actions, and giant movements (despite his cerebral palsy), to try to tell me something, and I just couldn't understand the one thing he wanted to tell me: Mom, I have a migraine. 


Sometimes people in the online-world think that Jake must have very few needs because I speak about parenting him without saying things like "I hate autism." or "Autism can suck it today."  I have never felt like something "stole my child," or that the "real child" is "hidden behind the autism." I don't believe that saying there is an "autism epidemic" helps my child, or my family. I don't believe that autistics are burdens on society. But just because I don't buy in to all of that doesn't mean I don't find this particular flavor of parenting harder than I thought it would be. It doesn't mean that I don't sometimes long for my son to encounter the world with fewer hurdles. It doesn't mean that I don't want, sometimes, for things to be different than they are. 

But those notions or longings and desires are not always about autism, and my guess is that similar wistful thinking happens for all kinds of parents and people all the time.  I don't need to hate autism to want my son to have an easier time at things, just like I don't hate being tall just because no store-bought clothing ever fits me properly. Autism is intrinsic to who he is, and you can't hate a part of your child and not have that child feel like they are damaged goods. 

I don't hate autism. I hate migraines.

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