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To Moms and Dads Whose Child Just Received a Life-Threatening Diagnosis

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mom and her son christopher smiling

I know you’re scared.

I’ll never forget the words from our neurologist when she told us our child has congenital disorder of glycosylation (PMM2-CDG). She told us this was not a sprint, and we were beginning the longest marathon of our lives. And that’s exactly what I wanted to do. Run.

I wanted to scoop up our baby boy and run. I had an overwhelming desire to protect him, paired with immense fear. I had no idea where I wanted to run, but I wanted to get as far away from her words as possible. I wasn’t ready to accept it. I wasn’t ready to give up all of the dreams I had for our son. You may grieve the life you planned out for your child, but as time goes on you’ll start making new plans. You’ll start to change your goals and dreams. Your new plans will make you smile and bring you joy. I promise you there will still be times of celebration. I’m still grieving. I don’t think that part will ever go away; it’s woven into us now and that’s OK.

You will celebrate. Every. Little. Thing. I am telling you, every accomplishment your child makes will be enhanced on the celebration scale. I’ll never forget when our son rolled from his side to his back. While I was clapping and cheering, my aunt looked confused and asked, “That’s what we’re excited about?” She didn’t get it. A lot of people won’t get it. Accomplishments and triumphs will make you want to stop everyone at Target to tell them your 3-year-old has just started sitting for minutes at a time.

Learn to forgive family, friends, and strangers for ignorant comments and well-meaning words that come out wrong. I’ve been asked if my son will outgrow his condition and for his life expectancy from strangers. Unless someone lives in your house and wears your shoes, they have no idea the life you lead, so cut them some slack and instead of getting upset, try and teach them. Practice grace and try to explain your feelings instead of holding it against them. As much as they may try to understand they simply can’t.

You will become things you never thought you would. Teacher, nurse, therapist, fundraiser, and advocate. Fight for your child. You are the expert on your child, and don’t be afraid to voice your opinion. Your child is counting on you, and I know you will become the greatest advocate. It’s unfortunate that fighting for services, equipment, and therapies will be a constant struggle. Don’t stop fighting.

There will be days you want to give up. There will be moments you retreat to the solace of your room and cry. You’ll cry at the unfairness. You’ll shed tears as you watch your child struggle day after day to do something so many take for granted. You’ll wonder if all the hours of therapy are worth it. You’ll question your decisions and wonder if you’re doing the right thing. I’m here to tell you that you are absolutely not alone. Any feeling or thought you have has been felt by another parent. I’ll never forget a time I was sitting in the therapy observation room watching my son wail and protest during physical therapy as tears streamed down my face. I wanted to just be done. Over 200 appointments and countless practice hours at home, and he still wasn’t sitting. I felt so utterly defeated. I thought to myself, “This is something that is never going to end.” He will always need therapy, always work for everything. The thoughts of “forever” were too much, but my feelings of defeat quickly faded as I watched him continue to work through the tears. He isn’t giving up, and neither will I.

Find your tribe. Find those who cry with you, lift you up, laugh, and simply listen. Find a support group, whether it’s an online community of parents whose children all share the same diagnosis, or a group of old friends. You will need them, and they will need you too. You’ll find out some of your friends want to understand your life and some don’t. It’s OK. Your new life is not for everyone, and along the way you’ll change too. I have to say that some of my best friends are women who live “this” life. They are strong, courageous, badass moms who live across the globe but are always here for me whenever I need them. They truly understand the battles, and they wholeheartedly celebrate the triumphs along with me.

For me, I became a better version of me. I love deeper. My days are filled with gratitude for the little things. My bonds with my tribe are stronger. I no longer focus on the things I used to, frivolous or not; the things I find important in life have changed. Moments. Smiles. Giggles. Change. I’ve learned to embrace it all. Even the moments of tears. There will be plenty of those, but I feel those moments have made me stronger. They make me want to fight harder, learn more, teach more, and love far more fiercely.

It won’t be easy.

It won’t be fair.

But it will be worth it.

Find the joy in the journey. It’s there. I promise.


A member of your tribe

Follow this journey on Christopher’s Journey with Courage Determination and Grace.

Originally published: July 1, 2016
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