Hearing 'Mama' for the First Time From My Son on the Autism Spectrum Was Worth the Wait
Henry babbled as a baby. He met all his milestones early but at some point unclear to me things got quiet. He said, “ball” for a week and then said it no more. He said, “hi” a month later and then silence. I searched within the “goos” and “gagas” for some meaning or code I could solve in order to communicate with my son. As the months went on, the unanswered questions piled up like dirty laundry in my brain. Will he ever talk? Is he autistic? Will I ever hear him call me “mama,” or tell me he loves me in return?
I knew Henry was a late talker, I knew it two years ago and proactively got him into weekly speech therapy and child development therapies. However, it was not until my younger son was born that I could see Henry’s disabilities in bright flashing neon lights and I could not look away. The baby’s babbling didn’t dissipate, it sustained and it grew and then the day came when he said it. “Mama.” Instantly bittersweet pangs of joy and sadness filled me up completely until they began running down my cheeks. I shed tears of joy over hearing my sweet baby call me “mama” for the first time, and I shed tears of sadness because I had not heard it from my sweet Henry. The sad and happy tears pooled together in my eyes, making it difficult to discern one emotion from the next. The paradox of motherhood stained my cheeks for a brief moment before being swept away by an aloof and apathetic hand, eager to shut down the inner conflict. I didn’t know what to feel.
In the last few months, Henry’s babbling increased, and to our amazement, Henry’s voice slowly and ever so cautiously came out. One by one, he began to try and identify objects, colors, shapes and so on. But no “mama.” He couldn’t say it, he wasn’t ready. He was doing so many new things. He was growing right before our eyes. We cautiously celebrate each word or approximation, not knowing what diagnosis could be thrown into our lives, when the next word will be spoken, or if it will get quiet again.
Yesterday morning, I had no more answers than the day before, or the year before that, but as my beautiful mild mannered boy walked into the kitchen and grabbed my hand to lead me toward what he wanted, he looked up at me with those big blue eyes and said, “mama” and he dragged me out the room. I didn’t drop to the floor, nor did I begin to cry. I needed to process what I had just heard. Did I really hear it? Am I imagining it like I have so many times in my head? Would I ever hear it again? I was so guarded, turned off, protective of my heart that I could not believe it. “Don’t get excited. Don’t get your hopes up. Don’t tell anyone. Don’t jinx it,” I said to myself. But this was so much bigger than my fears. This was so much louder than my doubts. This was everything. My 3-year-old gave me hope with one word.
I still don’t have a definite diagnosis and I am still looking for answers. Yet, upon hearing my nonverbal 3-year-old call me “mama” for the first time, I was reminded of something I had affirmed away with fear and doubt. But in that moment, looking into my son’s eyes as he called for me, I was excited. I wanted to tell everyone and I wasn’t afraid of jinxing it, because it was real and nothing could ever take that moment away from me. It was worth every moment of disappointment, fear and doubt I had to go through to get there. There is always hope.
To all the mamas out there worrying, waiting and worrying some more, I can’t stop you and I wouldn’t dare try. We will always worry, and we can’t help but wait for the rare moments that make all the worry worth the while. But keep your hope close. Know life will surprise you when you least expect it and often our burdens are our blessings. I don’t know what comes next for us, but my hope allows me to live in the unknown for one more evening, put the unanswered questions to bed along with the kids, and know I am his mama, and that is enough.
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