The Worth of a Child

Kerry - Portland, Oregon
Entered on April 21, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50

My son is autistic. Other mothers’ sons are not. For a long time I questioned why this was. I worried about my pregnancy, when I took anti-nausea medication. I worried over the long labor, the epidural, the hours of pushing, and the minutes the pediatricians suppressed his breathing to make sure the meconium had not reached his lungs. For a year I researched. I considered the few vaccinations he had received, the mercury fillings in my teeth, ran his diet anxiously through my memory. I studied my family – my uncle’s antisocial tendencies, my father’s obsessive interests. People around me expressed their concern. They wanted to know what my son was like as a newborn, as an infant, as a toddler. They wanted to know what I would do to fix him. They wanted to know how to keep their own children from being like mine.

Meanwhile, my son, my little boy, was growing. He was laughing and dancing and spinning until he was dizzy, his shaggy blond hair flying in the breeze. He was tottering here and there, curiously touching objects with his chubby, dimpled hands. He was examining the world around him. My husband and I dressed him in overalls and striped t-shirts and when he fell asleep, after I rocked his soft body in my arms, his warm little back rose and fell with each breath. He liked to walk through the neighborhood, to see the leaves and flowers and bugs. He loved music and clapping and funny-sounding words. One day, months after he had turned two, he said, “More,” his first word. Other words came slowly, hard-won. Slowly, slowly, I started turning from all the research, the excessive, often contradictory information, and I began to look more at my son. My beautiful, precious son. He communicated differently than I did, yes. He engaged differently than I did, absolutely.

But I believe my autistic son is worth as much as everyone else.

It pains me to have to announce that, to have to express it as a belief. Other mothers without autistic children don’t have to. Their children are valued without question. They’re entitled to focus on their children’s futures instead of their pasts. It doesn’t matter where my son came from, or why he’s here. He is not empty or tragic or part of a catastrophic epidemic. He is a whole person, with dreams and desires, just like anyone else. He is the best kind of person: loving, honest, funny, smart, and happy.

These days, when I think back to when he was a baby, I let myself sink into the memories other mothers are entitled to: his small, animal body; the soft white fuzz on his shoulders; his tiny lips and nose. I think of how I held him close, buried my nose into his neck and inhaled. How he was this perfect little being, and, like every other new mother, I was deeply and unequivocally in love. I still am. I always will be.