For those who have been involved in our lives intimately since we’ve had our second son will know why this video of him counting when he was almost three years old was so earth shattering for me. Even more importantly, why it was so pivotal in terms of what his life could look like from that moment on…
When Ward was born, he failed his hearing test. In retrospect I am thankful that we ended up in the system at birth, but at the time, it was mildly troubling to know that he had a birth defect. Nothing major, I know, but I always had a tendency to worry and focus on the bad aspects, and so do so many others.
Have you ever noticed when people (with mental health issues or not) start to think about a negative thing, it leads to a thought of another negative thing, and so on? I call this particular negative thought pattern the ‘what if’ spiral… what if he never gets his hearing back… what if something happens to his other ear… what if he has a brain tumour causing the hearing loss, etc. I have other names for other negative spirals, but in this circumstance, it was the “what if.”
I felt overjoyed and blessed by our new son, but I wanted answers right away, which of course, here we are, four and a half years later, and we still don’t know the cause of his hearing loss. Either way, we were in the system, and we went in for his next hearing test at six months. Which came back inconclusive. And then another one when he was 12 months old, which also came back inconclusive. He was scheduled to be anaesthetized when we was a year and a half to so that he couldn’t pull out the ear buds to get a proper reading on him. It turned out he had moderate to severe hearing loss in his right ear.
The doctors and audiologists asked me questions about him. Does he respond to his name, does he look for his teddy if we ask, where is the teddy? Does he look at me when I’m speaking to him? Do I think he knows what sound a dog makes? Is he trying to speak? Does he babble? Question after question and my answer to a lot of them were no or I didn’t know. He wasn’t meeting milestones, though, and the hearing loss shouldn’t have prevented him from reaching those milestones. So, our ears, nose and throat (ENT) doctor put in a referral to speech therapy… a queue we sat in for 13 months.
That wait felt like it lasted an eternity because no one knew what was happening behind closed doors during that time. When my youngest was a baby, he just kind of looked around at everything, not really engaging, but content. Looking a bit grumpy, but he was pretty calm for the most part. Didn’t like places with a lot of noise or lights or people, but that’s common for a lot of babies. However, when he turned one, it’s like he woke up, and holy crap… It was like he was angry. He screamed, and screamed and screamed, sometimes up to an hour a half at a time, and this could happen three or four times a day and day after day after day. Additionally, he was hitting me sometimes, constantly biffing toys around, usually something hard, and I would sometimes get hurt. He didn’t have any words or babble. He wouldn’t look at me when I was trying to communicate him. He wouldn’t let me play with him. He just screamed.
Months of this was really getting to me and I felt exhausted and then something happened. There was an ‘incident’ when he was a couple months shy of being a year and a half, during one of his freak-out screaming bouts when I really realized how desperate I was feeling. While he was marathon screaming for I think, the third time that day, I picked him up by the shoulders and I glared at him. Face to face I angrily looked at him. And for that one tiny, significant moment, I hated him. I hated my beautiful baby boy. What kind of horrible mother would hate her child??? Apparently me! I was that terrible mother who hated the child that in fact, she loved so much.
And immediately the mom guilt set in.
I took him to his bedroom, in a non-tender way, and I put him in his crib, closed the door and walked away while he continued to scream, kicking the sides of his crib. I turned on the TV in the kitchen, and put up the volume to shut out the noises that were coming out of his room, and started to do the dishes and mentally went down, what I call the “negative proof” spiral.
Brain to me: “See, Sarah? All of this proves you’re a bad mom.” I can’t believe I did that. This proves you’re a bad mom. I yelled at him. This proves you’re a bad mom. Why couldn’t I just keep calm? This proves you’re a bad mom. If anyone knew that I hated him, what would they think of me? This proves you’re a bad mom. What is wrong with me?
I started to shake. I couldn’t hold the dishes anymore, and I couldn’t breathe. I started to bawl. I was done, done, done. I couldn’t handle it anymore. I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t know why he was like this, I didn’t know why I hated him and I couldn’t stop sobbing.
I got through that moment, but it stuck with me. And it wasn’t until months and months later that I forgave myself, because I realized that it wasn’t him that I hated. It was what was going on at the time that I was angry with because I felt desperate and needed help.
It wasn’t the only time I put him in his crib to get away. I knew that I needed to take a break from him sometimes when he was in a fit. I recognized that for my sanity, I needed a few minutes of space to regroup, because when he got like that, my emotions were way up here and I was no good to him or myself until I took a breath. And I needed to forgive myself every single time I closed the door and walked away. It was the safest thing for both him and me at the time until I eventually got a team of experts and received strategies and help. However, the self forgiveness, was always the hardest thing to do. This may be relative to parenting in this story, but the difficulty of self forgiveness relates to soooo many aspects of my life.
Failed hearing tests led to ENT, then speech therapy, early intervention, a pediatrician, occupational therapy, and the developmental clinic at the children’s hospital for an autism assessment. I was given tools to help us both, and the screaming bouts shortened and shortened, and I finally discovered how cool my little guy was. And we’re getting through it, day by day.
I will share more in detail about how we both learned and grew, and more specifically about his challenges and how often I struggled with forgiving myself because I felt like a bad mom. For now, though, I’m going to smile and be grateful that I was able to capture him on video, smiling, engaging with me and watch the video a million more times.
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