April Salzano | Praying for Red Lights

They said I could move around to try and break my water, but I figured I’d be moving enough after the baby was born so I’d just lie there and watch some TV. I wasn’t in any pain. I wasn’t having contractions. It was as if I had just chosen to come to the hospital and have him today because I knew I would be dilated enough and they’d keep me. Actually, I can’t remember why I came, how I’d gotten my mom over, how I’d gotten out of the house without waking Nathan who was asleep in bed beside me. Oh well, I was here now and they told me to stay. At 10:00 a.m. they said they’d come and break my water. They did. It was unexpectedly painful. By 11:00, this was happening and it was too late for an epidural. Focus. Don’t push until they say. Got it.

“What’s going on?” Thom asks.

Jesus.

“Your son is going to be born soon,” the nurse says, smiling, condescending.

Thom looks at the doctor. “I am giving her a Pudendal block,” she says drawing something into the longest needle I’d ever seen.

This makes sense to Thom and he nods. He yawns. “I’m sorry baby, I’m just sooo tired,” his eyes say. “Fuck you,” mine say back.

He looks at Ronnie. “You wouldn’t wake up,” I explain. He nods. Yawns again. “You’re out, she’s in.” We all laugh. “Fuck you,” I say out loud this time.

There is so much pain I have to close my eyes. Behind them a kaleidoscope forms. I wonder if that is adrenaline made visible. Push. I am pushing. Before the nurse places the baby on my stomach, before I see him, I know him. I love him in a way that is completely different from the love tinged with fear I felt for my first son, though I do not yet know why. His first moments in the world beyond my body are spent in silence. He does not cry. He does not breathe.

We named him Thomas. Of course we didn’t know that two years after he slid free from my body he would be diagnosed autistic. That he would break my heart a thousand times a day. That he would become the focus of my life, of my love. That I would give and give until I fell asleep sometimes not knowing what else I could do to make him okay, or that what I meant by “okay,” was something closer to “normal.” I did not know then that ultimately I would fail, but that failing forced me to learn to accept him for the beautiful gift he is, would make me have to find a way for him to fit in socially without changing his personality. That there would always be more to tell, more to do, more to try.

As the doctor was stitching me back together, I did not yet know I would never be whole again. Adrienne Rich says “motherhood is a raw, open wound.” Apply that quote to an autistic child, and you have a wound that is not only raw and open, but at times feels so infected you think it may need amputation. The pain is that intense, but the joys and reliefs are also multiplied thousand-fold. You learn that the only way to ease the pain, is not the remove the limb, but to pull it in closer, to hold it tighter against your body, to help it heal.

Mine and Thom’s marriage fell away like baggy clothing. The ghost of what it symbolized was just as easily forgotten in the shadow of autism.

I would never have suspected as I lay on that hospital bed that the real story of my life had yet to begin. That story is not the failure of a marriage because of my husband’s addiction, or his affair, or the end of a love I thought would transcend all space and time, but the story of our son’s autism. I did not know that I would spend most of the next few years in the car, praying for red lights so that I could play DJ, serve fast food French fries, re-fasten seatbelts, pass Thomas his sippy cup over and over again because sensory aversions would dictate that he not look at his cup once his thirst had been temporarily quenched. I did not know that I would spend the next few years after that as his advocate for a mainstream education, as his translator, as his voice. I did not know that what I set out to do in life would just as easily become irrelevant, as arbitrary as Christmas, as unimportant as the time of day when a child needs you.

Looking back, it was as if Thomas’s brain could not convey the signal to his body that it needed air. He was not afraid. He did not ask for help with the language of a newborn, but waited patiently for someone to push oxygen into his lungs. Had I known what was going on across the room in those first seconds of his life, after he tore me open right along the scar tissue his brother had left, as if he knew even then, the fastest way out, I would have jumped off the table and rushed to him. I would have filled his lungs with my own breath. In the twilight of exhaustion, I missed my first opportunity to rush to his aid. I swore it would never happen again. I reaffirm that vow every day.

A year later, when I swim back up to the surface after anesthesia from the D&C, the pain is gone, replaced with a void I will carry for the rest of my life, a lost hope, an altered future. More than one person will later tell me the miscarriage was for the best. I will never feel that way. A close friend once told me the universe has a plan, though it may not always make sense. The plan still does not make sense, but each day I move a little closer to understanding that it doesn’t need to, as long as we are somehow provided enough red lights, places to pause and gather strength before moving forward when it is time.

 

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