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How My Son's Brain Injury Helped Me Find a New, Rewarding Career

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When my son, Max, was born over four years ago with hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, my entire world shifted. Not only were we thrown into a complete tailspin of unknowns with his recovery from a brain injury, but I was a new mom… and I was a mom with a career.

I had always known I wanted children, but focused much of my time building my career and always figured having a child would just fit into our life easily and I’d join the legions of parents who work outside the home. I transitioned about as well as a jet landing in the middle of a hurricane. It was rocky and rough, the course changed, and for a while, I was surviving in a fog.

About two years ago, I landed. I landed in a place where I didn’t recognize myself, or my life, and finally felt that I could plan the future knowing how we were going to manage Max’s cerebral palsy, vision issues and other effects of HIE. We began talking about a sibling for him, and this past year, we added Emily into the mix… the best gift we could give any of us.

Something nagged at me, though, with my career path.

I felt there might be an even better fit where I could blend my personal and professional talents and passions. While the job I had was stable, flexible and purpose-filled work, something was missing.

A few months ago, I found myself sitting across the table from two incredibly passionate leaders of an independent school for different learners. They spoke about neuroplasticity, and viewing each child as an individual, having an unshakable belief that each child can and will thrive, learning how to turn a learning challenge such as dyslexia or ADHD into an opportunity.

Every day, students with learning challenges have a school that believes in them. I knew I needed to work there. I knew the passion I had and the person I had become through the trauma, grief, and uncertainty would be exactly the lens needed for that role.

And so, I began the next phase of my career. I knew the instant I was on a tour during my first parent Open House that I was in the right place. While connecting to a mother whose son had been diagnosed with dyslexia, I found her words were my words: “We got the diagnosis 15 months ago. I’ve tried to learn about all the different educational modalities, treatments, research that I can. I’m looking for hope.” Her voice was my voice. Her fears were my fears. She was looking for what I continuously seek for my son. I know that in this role, I can pass along reassurance, kindness, empathy and hope to families who feel defeated, who feel lost, and who need to find a community who “gets it.”

I am in awe that I get to work alongside the doers, the movers, the dreamers, the empowerment professionals. We are giving children with learning differences the tools they need to not only find the best way to learn in school, but grow into compassionate, kind and strong leaders who can and do self-advocate — as early as first grade! These students will be future writers on The Mighty, or the New York Times. They will add to the number of alumni who come back to be teachers. They see the strengths in each other, and they are the leaders of tomorrow building a better world for all.

There are so many difficult things that can come out of a traumatic experience with HIE, or any challenge that life may throw at you. But there is also great hope, and great opportunity to turn that experience into something marketable, something tangible and something transformational.

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Originally published: October 25, 2016
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