After starting physical therapy a few weeks ago, Autumn switched from afternoon appointments to morning appointments. Arriving for an afternoon appointment after a long day at day care meant that she was often exhausted, crabby. Morning seemed to be a much better fit for her rhythm. But it meant that she would begin seeing a different therapist.
Her previous therapist would often give Autumn breaks. If she had worked hard standing up or cruising along, she would allow her a few minutes of playing while sitting down. This new therapist pushed Autumn a lot harder, not giving her much chance for breaks. I was a bit surprised, given that it was the first session and they needed to start building a relationship. The new therapist asked if Autumn had any speech delays and I replied no, which was the same response that I had given her previous therapist six weeks earlier.
But when I thought about it later that night, I realized that Autumn had not had many changes in her speech in the past six weeks. No new words that I could think of, though her count of words at the time had seemed to be a good amount. This sent me frantically running to Google to determine if her speech was indeed delayed. Even though in my head, I also know that babies can often take on only one major developmental milestone at a time. Even though she does clearly say words and has signs, and is very expressive.
I poured back through my own writing for clues about where her brothers were at the same age and found that they had a larger vocabulary. I found something I had written about the number of signs that Quentin knew and guilt settled in. We haven’t done signing nearly as consistently with Autumn. Older kids demanding attention, and trying to focus on our jobs and marriage and we just haven’t spent as much time, on the floor, watching Baby Signing Time. Ger joked that he is thrilled – he hates those videos – but I cringed as I felt like I had failed my youngest baby. The baby that we worked so hard to bring home, and now I hadn’t been giving her the same attention that I had given her brothers.
It was around 2:00 am when I was done beating myself up, vowing that I would spend time with her, focusing on words and signing. When to add this to the day? Morning of course. Time that she would spend in her high chair, eating breakfast, and time that I would sometimes capture for myself to write – I could give her that time.
But of course, the day that I was eager for her to wake at 6:00 am so that I could spend time with her, she kept sleeping. Finally the clock rolled around to 7:00 and I knew I had to wake her up so that we could leave for day care on time. I went into her room and she didn’t stir in her crib at all.
That “parenting after loss” panic set in and I immediately rushed to her side, thinking something was wrong. She startled, and then sat up. My heart was racing but I realized she was fine. Nothing was wrong.
It was then that I realized she was covered in vomit. She had vomited at some point during the night. True to her personality and not making a fuss, she didn’t even cry – just rolled over (in the vomit) and went back to sleep.
After vomiting again at breakfast, she needed to be kept home for the day. Ger and I juggled her back and forth while we worked. After she took a long nap, I was going to hang out with her until the big kids arrived home from school. I watched Baby Signing Times, mimicking every sign and heartily praising the signs she copied. I sat with her on the floor and looked at books, emphasizing animals, body parts, and anything else I could think of. I realized how ridiculous it was for me to expect that suddenly in the course of an afternoon I could see any type of change, but I could feel myself searching for a signal that she would catch on.
Parenting after loss is a roller coaster of hyper-awareness. I can cruise along for days or weeks thinking “Third kid, the one that needs the most attention in terms of food and diapers, and the one that needs the least attention because there is no homework or arguments.” And other times I think “Fifth child. I’m so glad you are here and I will never take for granted what it took for you to be here.” I desperately want everything to be “fine” and any indication that things are not fine make me upset. Yes, I can be told that there is a huge range for milestones or that she only has a tummy bug. My head can know these things. My heart will be elsewhere.
After my repeated, earnest efforts to have her mimic my words, sounds, or signs, she gave a throaty “Baaaa!” when looking at a picture of a sheep. Then she tossed the book aside and crawled into my lap. My little cuddle bug, always wanting to snuggle. Something was funny and she began to giggle and couldn’t stop.
Yes, fifth child. I’m so glad to have these moments with you.