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An Open Letter From A Mama Whose Child Became Medically Complex After Adolescence

Yesterday two of my three children went back to school for the 2022-2023 school year. We did all the things to prepare for the first day: schools supplies, meet the teacher, picked clothes out, talked about what they looked forward to and what they were fearful of.

I walked them to school (we live a few houses away), hugged each of them and waved goodbye reassuring them they were going to have a great day. Then I turned around and headed home.

On my walk I was flooded with the feelings my heart had been storing. My other child will not be returning to school with his siblings because just 11 months ago he suffered a severe hemorrhagic stroke caused by a ruptured aneurysm at the site of an unknown arteriovenous malformation within the left portion of his brain. That was a lot of words right?!?! Yep, that’s what I thought too when it all happened.

The aneurysm that led to a catastrophic bleed resulted in a brain injury we could have never foreseen. See that’s what happens with rare diseases; there is not enough research or education for people to be aware they even exist. Even when the result is lifelong recovery to a degree that is different for each case.

Some parents are informed pre-birth about genetic anomalies or diseases because of genetic testing or ultrasound results. Some find out after the birth of their child takes place or within the first few months because of difficulties or symptoms. We were completely unaware there was a ticking time bomb tucked deeply away in our son’s brain just waiting to explode.

Having your child acquire their disability and become medically complex after their adolescent years is… well, not something words can describe or that I would wish upon anyone. The grief is heavy and the learning curve steep.

I have joined groups of other parents with similar diagnosis’s only to be utterly discouraged by seeing so many others’ miraculous recoveries or much shorter timelines.

I have also built community with other moms who know all too well what it is like to have a medically complex child. I feel more support in these relationships, but still a hole and lack of relation when it comes to the stage of life we are in and grieving what we have lost.

I cannot care for my now 10 year old the way I could if he was 4 or 6. He is just too big. I need to use a lift for transporting and a slide sheet to move him in bed. I cannot pick him up and move him from place to place nor can I easily change him.

The advocacy and focus is also different. They advocate to embrace who their child is and the fact that they are no less and their needs are human, not “special.” WHICH IS ALL COMPLETELY, 10000 PERCENT ACCURATE AND ON POINT!!

I’m just not there. I’m not in that place or space. My child, at this time, is no longer capable of expressing who they were or doing the things they once did. My advocacy is more towards awareness about grief, sharing space and about his condition.

Only a parent who has experienced their child acquiring a brain injury, through disease or trauma, later in life knows the mourning and pain that accompanies every old photograph, every childhood video, every backwards milestone, every part of moving forward your other children experience without their sibling, every word not spoken, every smile not taken, every dream not lived every story not shared.

My goal here is not to discredit other parents’ grief or pain they experience with their children’s disabilities. Or their voice and message. Mine is different, not better or worse.

I grieve what was, what would have been and what could have been. Others grieve what would have been and what could have been. Both are still grief that needs to be explored and dealt with. Both have experiences that are valid and real.

The intent of my writing is to shed light so that when comfort or advice is shared, it is done so with knowledge and wisdom. When you approach a mama to a medically complex, rare disease, disabled child and share words, please be cautious to not put her in a stage of life she is either not prepared for or will never reach. If you do so, those words become a poison that attacks her heart and mind instead of a balm that soothes her soul. #BrainInjury #TBI #avm #PediatricStroke #RareDisease #disabilityparent #MedicallyComplexChild #MedicallyFragile #medicalmama #medicalmom #Caregiver

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Parents of Medically Complex Children Aren’t Born We Are Forged

As a parent, if you have experienced pleading to God for your child’s life or asking the unimaginable request (and often unmentionable because it holds a great amount of guilt and shame) for God to take your child home if it would be the best thing for them and would end their suffering, it changes who you are both as a parent and as a person. This kind of trauma and suffering rewires things down in your soul you thought would always be you. The way you process the constant information around you and the lens you use to filter that information towards your overall outlook on life.

I was speaking to a very close fellow mom of a medically complex child a while back and I remember this conversation after one of the hardest days I will ever experience in my life. On this day (and days to follow) I honestly prayed both of these prayers in the same breath because I wasn’t sure what would be best for my baby, but I knew God did. The surrender, grief, love and knowledge you have to embody to make these requests simultaneously is not something anyone would understand unless they have lived at least one of those moments. For us, we’ve lived many, and continue to live them.

Parents of medically complex children aren’t born with special capabilities or super powers. We are forged. God didn’t make us “special” or endow us with a skill set beyond your own. We were, and are, refined by the hottest fire so that we come out with enough change to endure for our children.

Did you know Gold is the most corrosion proof metal, but it’s also the most malleable. It is too soft to withstand the everyday stresses of wear so in the refinement process other metals are added in to give strength and durability. This is what we go through to be prepared to love, nurture, care for and advocate for our children. Honestly, I don’t even believe it is a one time event (my personal experience).

So the next time you see a parent of a medically complex child, don’t tell them how special they are or how God made them just for this, tell them:
I see you
I don’t know what you experience and I know I can’t imagine what it’s like, but I see you working so hard, and doing your best and you’re doing amazing job.

And maybe give them a gift card to get some coffee or a hot meal.

#MedicallyComplex #medicalmom #medicalmama #RareDisease #Parenting #disabilitymom #Disabilityparenting

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Release: A NICU Fairytale

I was in the NICU with my daughter, Charlee for 48 days. It was not a good place for us. After Charlee failed a swallow study, it was determined that she needed a g-tube. That surgery was hard on her. After that, doctors ran a sleep study. Computers recorded indicators of airway obstruction and with that data, NICU doctors urged us to consent to a tracheostomy for Charlee. We didn’t feel Charlee could handle another surgery and we declined. We were discharged shortly after. Within twenty-four hours, we were back in the emergency department. Admitted to the PICU, they found that Charlee had a collapsed lung caused by a pleural effusion. The computer had misread her shallow breathing caused by the condition as obstructions. She didn’t need the trach after all.

I was upset that a collapsed lung had been missed in the NICU. I was upset that the recommendation of the trach, a decision so weighted for our family, was not more carefully considered. And I was upset at how it felt like the NICU washed their hands of us because we declined the trach. I didn’t have time to voice my anger because I was consumed with round the clock care Charlee required at home and preparations for neurosurgery. Charlee had a condition called hydrocephalus in which excess spinal fluid was building up and putting pressure on her brain. Like the providers in the NICU, we didn’t feel like decisions made were right for Charlee. We were running out of time and proceeded with the recommendations of the neurosurgeon. An attempt to surgically create an opening in the floor of the third ventricle failed and we were back in the emergency room ten days later for a shunt placement. I felt like everything that I had to hold in was going to explode if I didn’t get it out somehow.

While Charlee was recovering in hospital, a family support worker had dropped off a care package. It included a sketchbook and colored pencils. While Charlee slept, I drew ships rolling in whirling waves and clouds playing in the wind. It was a good distraction, but then I drew out a cartoon poking fun at the hospital culture to vent my frustration with the lack of patient space it provided. It felt really good. After that, I started to draw out Charlee’s NICU story in a graphic novel format. As the story started pouring out of me like an opening dam, I felt my anger lifting. It allowed me to work through what transpired during our time in the NICU. The more I worked on it, the more I felt I took back control over the events that happened to us. And I felt like I found some beauty in those traumatic events as the love and devotion we had for Charlee shined bright through the darkest moments of the story. I called the book Release: A NICU Fairytale ultimately because it was about Charlee’s release from the hospital, but also about the release of emotions this project gave me.

#NICU #Trauma #MedicallyComplex #MedicallyFragile #Healing #medicalmama #Disability

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Medical Cares Will Not Stop Us From Going Out in Public

When we first came home with AJ, I was really self conscious about doing his medical cares in public.

I would take his stroller outside of the restaurant to suction him. I would schedule our trips into town and stores to be in between his meals and meds so that I wouldn’t have to do them in public.

It wasn’t because I didn’t know what I was doing, it was because I was afraid of offending someone else. It was because I had read stories from other parents who had been confronted by strangers, or were even asked to leave a restaurant because caring for their kid was “gross”.

I really wish I could go back to the me who thought that way and shake some sense into her.

First - I was setting a ridiculous example for AJ, showing him that he should essentially be embarrassed by his medical cares. I don’t want AJ to grow up thinking that he should try to hide himself from the rest of the world for any reason - medical or not.

AJ has just as much right to experience the world as anyone else. I would actually argue that he has fought so hard for his life that he deserves those experiences more than most. His medical needs should not hinder him from getting the most out of his life - even if that is just a trip to Target for groceries. (Well, except during cold/flu/rsv season when we go into lockdown, but that’s a whole different story!)

Second - If AJ needs to be suctioned, then he needs to be suctioned. If it bothers someone at a table in a restaurant, or in the waiting area at sports clips, then oh well. And the same can be said of him getting his meds and food.

Maybe it sounds harsh, but those meds and cares are what keep him alive. If it ruins someone else’s meal to hear a suction machine then oh well. That person will live just fine without finishing their loaded mashed potatoes. AJ, on the other hand, might not live without his cares.

Third - People in general really aren’t mean. They may look quizzically at you, or do a double take. They may turn around to see what the noise is. They may even ask a question or two. But we haven’t had one person say anything negative to us at all while we have been out and about.

In fact, we’ve had more of the opposite. People will tell us they think it’s amazing that we are able to get out and see the world with AJ. Or they will tell us how cute or sweet he is. We’ve even had strangers anonymously pay our bill at restaurants.

Ultimately, if someone has something negative to say or are offended by the medical cares he needs to have done while we are out and about, the real problem is that they’re missing out on seeing the truly amazing kid that’s right there in front of them.


#DownSyndrome #trisomy21 #t21fam #TheLuckyFew #TrachMom #Trach #Tracheostomy #Gtube #blendeddiet #blenderizeddiet #medicalmama #SpecialNeedsParent #Awareness #Acceptance #targetrun