Second Annual “Blogging for TSC Awareness Month” Day 29
by guest blogger Sara Weathersby (Decatur, Georgia)
Unlike many who have blogged about TSC, I am not diagnosed with it or caring for someone who has the diagnosis. I became aware of TSC and the havoc it wreaks through my friends Becky and Chris and their son Connor. Becky and I went to college together and remained friends in the following years. We were delighted to find out we were pregnant at the same time. Connor was due just a month before my second son, Malcolm. My older son, Max, was a young toddler at the time, so I would share product recommendations and advice with Becky over the next several months.
One day, Becky told me that the doctors found something irregular with Connor’s heart on an ultrasound and were going to observe him more carefully and call in a specialist to examine him once he arrived. I honestly, confidently believed with every fiber of my being that the doctors were being overly cautious. If ever there’s a time for doctors to be so cautious, it is certainly when the health of a baby, particularly my friend’s baby, is at stake. Neither of us were very worried as we talked about ponytail holders and chapstick going into the bags to go to the hospital.
When Connor was born, Becky and I texted back and forth. The delivery went well and she and Chris were just waiting for the nurse to bring him back to them after some observation. They waited to hold and cuddle their precious new son. I waited for the obligatory pictures to pop on my phone. They waited to gaze into his eyes and memorize every inch of his perfect face. I waited to hear once and for all that everything was great.
But it wasn’t great. While in the nursery a nurse noticed Connor was having a seizure. While Becky and Chris waited, the nurses and doctors were trying to figure out what was going on with Connor and how to treat him. They diagnosed him with TSC and kept him hospitalized for a month. They determined that he would need neurosurgery to remove a tuber from his brain to hopefully stop the seizures. The doctors expected him to have developmental delays but didn’t have a clue what that would look like.
This is not the kind of thing that happens to me or my friends. We work hard, pay taxes and make good choices. How could this be happening? How could someone that I know and love have to go home from the hospital without her baby? What could I possibly say to Becky and Chris? I certainly had no “been there, done that” mommy advice to offer.
Somehow, Becky and her family were absorbed into some kind of parallel universe where you don’t get to room in with your newborn and take him home to his new nursery in a day or two. Instead, my friend stayed at the side of her baby’s incubator surrounded by tubes, wires and machines that allowed the doctors to best figure out a plan for his treatment.
Meanwhile, I’m waddling around, near the end of my own completely healthy pregnancy with my completely healthy son. I wondered what in the world I had to offer this friendship while Becky was going through so much. I felt a strange sense of guilt and sadness. All the while I shared in Becky and Chris’s joy that their son was born.
If I was feeling all these emotions, how much more intense it must have been for Becky and Chris! I grieved for all the expectations, spoken and unspoken, I had for this new phase in my friendship with Becky. We were both moms now and our sons were supposed to play together. But what now? How was TSC going to change our friendship? I determined that it was better to show up not knowing exactly what to say or do and risk putting my foot in my mouth than to do or say nothing. Becky and Chris sat in that parallel new parent universe where nothing comes easy. They were so sad that Connor was having seizures and had been diagnosed with TSC but yet overjoyed to have a son. They were devastated that there son is not typical but hopeful that his growth and development will come along such that TSC will not put any limits on what he can do.
In the universe I’m accustomed to of course parenting is tough and an emotional roller coaster. In the parallel universe where Becky is, it seems more intense. There are more doctors and appointments to keep, more worry, more money to spend, more resources to find. Everything is just more. Meanwhile, my own little one made his way into the world and disrupted everything in just the way you expect. How do I step into this strange place where Becky and Chris are without sounding trite or lacking compassion?
It actually turned out to be pretty easy to be maintain our friendship. We just kept texting and talking about our boys. Connor’s milestones look different
from Malcolm’s. Connor has to work so much harder to get from milestone to milestone, but he’s doing it. I was afraid Connor’s diagnosis would put awkwardness in my friendship with Becky because I just wouldn’t understand how different it is to parent a child with special needs. When the boys play together (as much as they do as young toddlers) it’s clear that Becky and I have a lot more in common as moms of toddlers than there are differences in parenting a special needs child and a typical child. The fact that Connor has special needs actually didn’t alter our friendship all that much. Perhaps that’s because Becky and Chris love Connor so completely and have managed to accept that TSC is a part of their lives now. They haven’t let TSC cast a shadow on their lives or rob them of the joy of parenting. They have made it easy to ask questions about TSC and what it means for Connor.
As the months went by, I started to realize the idea of the parallel universe where families with special needs children live wasn’t really accurate. We buy the same diapers, and clothes for our kids.
We live with the same healthcare system. Instead of thinking of families with special needs children living off and away somewhere doing mysterious special needs things they don’t want people like me bugging them about, they’re actually at the same Target store I go to. We live in the same world but unless you know someone whose child is ill, you can keep going along in your own circles and never hear the stories of these families and their precious children.
In Georgia, we recently had an opportunity to legalize medical marijuana for children with seizure disorders. Our state representatives failed miserably to pass the very popular bill. This experience made it clear to me the importance of raising awareness of TSC and the reality faced by families with special needs children. Just because a policy, or law or healthcare plan works for you or at least doesn’t hinder you doesn’t mean that you don’t have a voice in improving the lives of our most vulnerable children. Those of us who are blessed with healthy children owe it to our friends, relatives and the people in our communities who are raising special needs kids to keep investing in those relationships even when, and especially when, a child is diagnosed with an illness or syndrome. We can make our healthcare system work better and our government more responsive. But first, we all have to be aware.