All posts in the motherhood category

Clarity – Seeing Autism For The First Time

Published May 23, 2014 by Jen Rosado from MyAlternateUniv

When I was in the second grade, the eye doctor said I needed glasses for far-sightedness. This was quite exciting for a seven year old. My mom helped me pick out pretty frames, and I felt special when my teacher, Mr. Smith, asked me to stand up and show the class my new glasses. Of course, it wasn’t long before the novelty wore off. Lucky for me, my eyes corrected themselves, and I no longer needed them after a few years.

Thinking back on the early days of my son’s diagnosis of autism, I am reminded of the phrase, “Hindsight is always 20/20.” My son is almost five now. There is no question that he has autism. The signs that were there when he was 18 months old were so clear from where I stand now. How could I have missed them?

Part of it was, honestly…I was farsighted. Up close, the world was blurry and confusing. It was so much easier to focus on the far-off future, to dream of the progress he would make once he “outgrew” his developmental delay. Still clinging, was I, to a universe that was no longer my reality.

Another reason I missed the signs? Autism is complicated. Really complicated. In fact, the full name of autism is “autism spectrum disorder”, with the “spectrum” referring to the overarching range of symptoms and the continuum of severity, from mild to severe. So autism isn’t just one thing, it can mean many different things depending on the individual. A common saying in the autism community is: “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met…one person with autism.” My husband and I, our friends and family – we all had images of what autism “looked like” based on people we had met or characters in movies or on TV. To us, our son didn’t “look like” them.

The weird thing was my husband and I not only had a hard time picturing what autistic behavior looked like, we had trouble picturing what typical behavior looked like. Many friends had children who were well beyond their toddler years and others had infants. Unfortunately, those who did have children around the same age as our son lived further away, and infrequent visits made it hard to observe and compare any differences in our son’s development.

But even our pediatrician, who sees toddlers all the time, was unsure that our son showed warning signs of autism. She admitted, however, it would be difficult to determine based on a 15-minute check-up. She also said she’s not an expert in autism.

Wait…so, if my pediatrician isn’t the expert in diagnosing autism, who is?

Remember that thing about autism being “complicated”? We learned pretty early on that finding an “autism expert” is not as straightforward as finding a specialist for other disorders and medical conditions. Let’s just say that years later we have a TEAM of experts for our son.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Our first referral by the pediatrician was for services through “Birth-to-Three”, a state agency that assesses developmental delays in children and provides “early intervention” in the home. Their initial assessment would take place at the end of his 18th month and would determine if he was eligible for Birth-to-Three services. If he qualified, an educator from the early intervention team would work with our son in our home, and that person would refer him to the autism specific team if necessary.

The ball was rolling. We were finally going to get some answers.

Two women, Sandy and Marie, arrived at our house the morning of testing – Sandy would test my boy and Marie would interview me.

In typical fashion, my son was completely uncooperative. Sandy put three blocks on his tray and asked him to stack them. “Do this,” she said, as she demonstrated. My son took one block in his tiny fist and brought it close to his eyes for a better look. When Sandy tried to take it back, he screamed and refused to return it. For the next test, she showed him a small stuffed bear, placed the bear in a cup, and then handed the bear to my son. “Put the bear in the cup,” she said. My son grasped the bear tightly and, with a bear in one hand and a block in the other, fussed to get down from his high chair.

Hmm…Things didn’t appear to be going well. “He likes to hold things,” I explained apologetically, as I tried to wrestle the objects out of his hands.

Sandy continued with her tests while Marie began asking me questions about my son’s medical history and development. Some of the questions were from a checklist called the M-CHAT (Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers). I found myself struggling for answers.

“Does you child ever use his index finger to point, to ask for something?” Maybe once or twice. “…to indicate interest in something?” Not that I can remember.

“Can your child play properly with small toys?” Well, he probably COULD, he just doesn’t.

“Have you ever wondered if your child is deaf?” Yes. He never responds to his name. But we know he can hear just fine, because he comes running from the other room when the “Elmo’s World” song comes on the TV.

“If you point to a toy across the room, does your child look at it?” and “Does your child look at things you are looking at?” (I thought about all the times I had tried to draw his attention to something really interesting by pointing or gesturing.) No. No, he definitely doesn’t do either of those things.

Some questions were confusing to me. “Does your child try to attract your attention to his own activity?” What the heck does that mean? “Does your child ever bring objects over to you to show you something?” Do toddlers his age DO that? “Does your child look at your face to check your reaction?” I have no idea.

As the interview continued, a wave of frustration hit me. “I have to pay better attention to his behaviors! I’ll have to look for these things from now on!” I thought.

I know now, this is not a test you needed to study for. If I had seen these behaviors, I would have known. Still, in the weeks that followed, my husband and I watched for pointing and waving, shared interest and eye contact – all those things that Marie had asked me about our son’s behavior.

By chance, we were visiting some friends a few hours away in Boston. Their daughter was 15-months old and also had a speech delay. Yet despite the speech delay and the fact that she was several months younger than our boy, she performed all those behaviors we had been looking for in our son…all within the first ten minutes of our arrival! She was so excited to see us, making eye contact and smiling. She ran to the other room and returned with a backpack, which she handed to me and indicated (without words) that she wanted me to open it. Inside was one of her favorite toys. Pointing to it, her face lit up and she checked my reaction to see if I felt the same way about the toy. Still beaming, she handed it to my husband and watched his face, too. Of course, we both gushed and made a huge deal. Squealing with delight, she ran to find more toys to share.

Eyes wide and mouth agape, I glanced at my husband. He had the same exact look on his face. We smiled. THAT is what we had been searching for.

Finally. Like putting on my glasses and seeing things clearly for the first time, I observed the vivid contrast between my little boy and another child his age. The differences in their behavior were so profound, so undeniable. And the fact that this child also had a speech delay put sharper focus on the behaviors.

It was clear our son had more than a speech delay.

As I mentioned in a previous post, my mother-in-law was actually the first person to make the connection between our son’s development and autism. She had given us several websites months before, but we had avoided looking at them for fear of getting “all upset over nothing.” When we got home from Boston, my husband and I decided it was time to check out the information about autism on these sites. Now that the glasses were on, we were determined to find all the clues we could.

I put my son down in the living room and turned on “Elmo’s World”. He started twirling with excitement. “No spinning, Silly Goose!” I said, placing my hands on his shoulders. Laughing, he began his usual laps, running back and forth from the couch to his little chair, occasionally throwing himself into the cushions.

I sat down with my husband at the computer. He clicked on a video about the early warning signs of autism. We watched and let the truth sink in.

Our son had autism.

I looked up from the screen to see my son spinning in circles, his head tilted toward the ceiling, staring at the ceiling fan out of the corner of his eye, smiling. “No spinning,” I tried to say, but I choked on my words. Overwhelmed, I crossed the room and scooped up my little boy, holding him tightly as the tears came. My husband hugged both of us. For several moments we stayed like this until, protesting loudly, my son wriggled and tried to get away from his crazy parents. This made me laugh and broke the mood.

After all, his world hadn’t changed. Only ours had.

Although the truth can be painful, it can also be incredibly freeing. My vision at that moment was in no way 20/20. Things were still very blurry and confusing. But my focus on the present was clear now. The itinerary I had written for my previous universe no longer applied here, and I needed to come up with a new plan for the journey.

There was a lot of work to do.



Sleep Spiders – And You Thought Sleepwalking Was Creepy…

Published April 9, 2014 by Jen Rosado from MyAlternateUniv

One night, months after my son was born, I awoke to find a very large spider working its way down an invisible thread right over our bed. I shook my husband and said, in a strangled whisper, “Don’t move! Spider!”

My mind was racing. I had to prevent the spider from reaching the sheets, but how? I remembered easily moving a small spider hanging from the living room ceiling by gently gliding my hand above the spider, catching its sticky thread, and moving it to the safety of a houseplant. I decided to try that with this much larger spider, at least to get it away from the bed. However, I underestimated the weight of the spider, and when I ran my hand above it to catch its thread, the spider plummeted into the waves of the bed sheets below. I shrieked in horror and started patting and flicking the sheets, hoping to either squish the spider or catapult its giant, hairy-legged body out of our bed.

Meanwhile, my startled husband moved to the edge of the bed where he sat watching me, confused. When I asked with exasperation, “Didn’t you see the spider? It was HUGE!” he just shook his head, rubbed his hand over his eyes, and sighed deeply. (You know – the way people do when it becomes clear that you are nuts, and it’s too exhausting for them to even try to find logic behind something you are doing.)

Slowly, my mind cleared. There was no spider. I sheepishly apologized and told him that it was ok, he could go back to sleep.

That was my first “sleep spider” visit.

Sleep spiders are a relatively new phenomenon for me. Sometimes I wake up to see one skittering across the wall, or poised on the ceiling right above the bed, or hanging from a thread over me, like that very first spider. Naturally, I find them threatening and scary, but, in a way, also fascinating. For those first five seconds or so, the spider seems real to my senses. If I blink and focus on it and tell myself it’s not real, it doesn’t disappear right away. Instead, it fades gradually into the shadows as I become more alert or evaporates as soon as the lights come on.

How strange it is to have your mind play tricks on you, to be briefly caught between two plains of existence – the dream world and reality. Strange, scary, but kind of cool, if you think about it.

Writing this post got me wondering – why a spider? Of course I find them creepy, but I’m not terrified of them like I am bees and hornets. What was the significance of a spider?

In my quest to figure out my sleep spiders, I did a Google search of “seeing spiders in your sleep.” A few sites had a medical explanation about being deprived of REM sleep, how your mind continues the dream state as you are waking up, causing you to see things that aren’t there. That made sense – even after six months, our boy was still a terrible sleeper, and I was woken up repeatedly at varying intervals every night by his crying.

That explained the reason I was seeing things in my sleep but not why the things I was seeing happened to be spiders. So I looked up the symbolic meaning of spiders in dreams. Now I must say, there are many interpretations of what a spider means, but most books and sites agreed that the spider often symbolizes a feeling of being stuck or trapped (like in a web).

Aha! Ever since our son was born I had felt trapped in an endless loop of feeding and holding and rocking and diaper changing. Of course, there was my ever-present anxiety about being a mother (like something to be feared is lurking in the shadows), the disappointment that reality did not match my expectations (like a fading dream world overlapping reality), and the perception that things were beyond my control (like being stuck in a sticky spiderweb, unable to break free).  More than that, I felt like I had lost my identity. I longed for a sense of direction and purpose, a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day, a sense of self again.

My sleep spiders are so wise.  Mystery solved!

Well, perhaps not entirely.  There is one more explanation for my sleep spiders, and it is my least favorite: The spiders (at least some of them) might be REAL.

Before you shake your head, rub your eyes, and sigh deeply at that suggestion, I have one more story to tell. And, by the way, I was fully awake during this spider encounter.

Not long ago, my son (now older) was playing on my bed, while I stood by making sure he didn’t do anything that would result in an ER visit. As I pulled the curtain closed over the window at the head of the bed, the biggest frickin’ spider I have EVER SEEN fell onto my pillow. So humungous was this spider, that I actually HEARD the sound that its legs made as they impacted with the pillow. I pulled my boy from the bed and screamed something high-pitched and unintelligible to which my super-hero husband responded, leaping into the room with a “what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-you?” look on his face. I pointed at the spider and only left the room when I was sure that he did, indeed, see it and that it was not a figment of my imagination.

After about fifteen minutes of thumping, banging, cursing, and moving of furniture, I heard the toilet flush and my husband emerged from our bedroom victorious. He guessed the spider had probably made its way in through the window and had not been living in our room for long. He also reassured me that although the spider was big, it was not dangerous. Pssh…who cares?! I slept with the light on for about a month after that.

Now when I awake to see a spider, I wonder – Is this my subconscious telling me that I’m stressed out and feeling trapped in my life? Or is that just a really big-ass spider dangling threateningly from an invisible thread over my head?


Colic – Holy Crap, This is One Crazy-Ass Baby!

Published March 25, 2014 by Jen Rosado from MyAlternateUniv

If I were to pick a movie soundtrack that would define my baby years, I think I’d pick the “When Harry Met Sally” soundtrack, with jazz standards and big band favorites performed by Harry Connick, Jr. Now I’m not saying that I was a particularly “hip” or sophisticated baby, but the mood of the music…the smooth sound of brushes on the drums, the sweet, sometimes understated melodies played on the piano, the occasional blaring of the horn section just to be sure you’re paying attention…that fits my personality as a baby.  I was a calm observer of the world and a self-soother, with a furrow in my brow and my thumb in my mouth.

My husband’s baby soundtrack (according to him) would be “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure”.  He was an easy-going, playful, and happy-go-lucky baby and (given the frantic nature of this music) apparently had A LOT of energy.

That brings us to our boy.  My husband and I had imagined that our baby would be a balanced mixture of both our personalities, and since we had been “easy babies” there was no need to worry that fate would deliver karmic payback for anything we had put our parents through.  But here’s the thing – your baby may have half the chromosomes of mom and half the chromosomes of dad, but he is 100% his own temperament and personality.

We weren’t expecting that.

If I were to pick a soundtrack for our baby’s first few months of life, I would choose the theme to “2001: A Space Odyssey”. You know the one – It begins with the trumpets quietly playing the first note, gradually building in volume through the next two notes, then the orchestra joining in with two more spine-chillingly loud notes, followed by the reverberating tones of the drums.

Baaaa….Baaaa…Baaaa…BA! BA! (Boom, boom, boom, boom)

Ah yes, that was our baby boy.

His doctors had a medical term for his behavior – “colic”, which I assumed meant “really cranky and irritable for reasons we can’t determine”.  Colic is actually distress caused by gastrointestinal pain.  My little guy very likely had some stomach issues that were causing him discomfort, and we were giving him medicine for acid reflux and gas. But the more I read about colic the more I felt like that wasn’t the whole picture of our baby. He often didn’t appear to be in pain, he just seemed…discontented.

Our boy required nearly constant attention. He needed to be held, but not just held – he needed to be walked and danced and bounced.  Feedings were a nightmare, because every time you took the bottle from his mouth to burp him he screamed and screamed and refused to burp.  And he rarely slept. The longest stretch we could get him to sleep in his bassinet was 3-4 hours at night.  He did take naps during the day, but only if he was being held.  If you tried to move him ever-so-gently into his bassinet, then carefully slide your hands out from under his sleeping body, and then…DAMN IT!  His eyes would pop wide open, and that would be it.

So I held him.  A lot.  I carried him everywhere and became quite adept at doing things one-handed. My husband made mix CDs of songs that a baby might like, and my boy and I danced up and down the hallway for hours.  As he slept in my arms on the couch, propped on a pillow, I napped as well.  (Otherwise, I would never have slept.)

Time started to lose its meaning.  One day seemed very much like the one before, and they all blurred together, with no breaks to signify when one day finished and a new day began.  It felt like a long, endless, dark tunnel.  No light at the end.

I tried to create those peaceful scenes of motherhood, even the “scapbooking on the porch” scene I mentioned in my last post. But those scenes were desperately out of reach when your baby was not content to sit quietly in a swing, when he cried and howled and demanded your full attention at all times.

Exhaustion set in, and with the exhaustion came disappointment, bitterness, even anger, that my motherhood experience was so unlike the image I had created in my mind, the image of motherly bliss that I knew my alter ego was enjoying.

So I went in search of answers.  My search brought me once again to the “Parenting” section of Barnes and Noble, where I found, The Fussy Baby Book by Dr. William Sears, which helped me properly label my boy, not with “colic” but as a “high need baby”.  It was  comforting to read quotes from parents who had been in my position and had survived to tell the tale.

At the same time my husband found an amazing video by Dr. Harvey Karp called The Happiest Baby on the Block.  Dr. Karp is the Obi One Kenobi of baby soothing.  Seriously, he’s like a “baby whisperer”.  His techniques (along with a swaddling blanket aptly named “The Miracle Blanket”) helped us tremendously in understanding and controlling our boy’s superhuman powers over sleep and temperament. It became clear to us that our boy simply did not experience the world the same way that we had as babies. We just had to make him feel safe and comfortable until he reached the point that he could start to soothe himself.

How did my husband and I survive those long, long months with our sanity still intact?  Humor.  It felt so good at the end of a rough day to look at each other, shake our heads and say, “Holy crap, this is one crazy-ass baby.”  We shared rueful but heartfelt laughs about the absurdity of what our lives had become.

When I asked my husband to think back to those days and pick what he thought our baby’s soundtrack should be, with a little smile and with no hesitation he looked up the video on You Tube for, “What Does the Fox Say?” by Ylvis.  I laughed – clearly he had either mentally blocked out the experience of our son’s infancy, or he was not taking the question seriously.  Of course his song choice doesn’t make any sense, but, then again, logic and reason had been pretty hard to come by all those sleepless months in this crazy alternate universe.  Best to just acknowledge that fact and laugh.








Birth – Alternate Universe via C-Section

Published March 5, 2014 by Jen Rosado from MyAlternateUniv

As I stated in my first post, I’m pretty sure this universe where we are right now is actually a parallel universe to the one I once inhabited.  I don’t know much about Quantum Physics, String Theory, or Hugh Everett’s “Many-Worlds” Theory, but I’ve read enough to know that this is a totally plausible explanation for where I find myself today.  What’s more, the “old me”, my alter ego back in my original universe, is right now, I’m sure, enjoying all the benefits of my hard work and careful planning.

When did my reality shift to this new universe, you ask?  Well, my adventure begins with a birth.  Not MY birth…the birth of my son.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  You think I’m going to write about how, after months of anticipation and many hours of intense, painful labor, my newborn boy was placed upon me (skin-to-skin, of course, for proper bonding), and we gazed in each other’s eyes, and the heavens opened with the sound of trumpets, and we heard a chorus of angels and the sighs of thousands of small, woodland creatures, and my husband and I locked tear-filled eyes, and that moment…that was when my universe changed forever.

You’re thinking of my alter ego’s blog.  Perfectly understandable.

Because, you see, that is EXACTLY how I pictured it would be.  I can’t really be blamed for this image because all you have to do is read a few pregnancy books and talk to a few people and this is the story you are told.  Time and time again I heard, “Oh, it hurts like hell!  But as soon as you see that baby, you feel no pain.  You just fall in love and nothing else matters in the world.”

My hormone-addled, anxiety-ridden brain just ate this stuff up.  But somehow the logic side of my brain got a message through the haze and told me to prepare.  I attended birth classes, read several books on childbirth, took copious notes on color-coded index cards (in three colors – one for each stage of labor), and made a list of preferences about labor and birth to review with my doctor.  #1 preference:  Water-birth (Laboring in a big bathtub; relaxing right?  I imagined my baby swimming around like the baby on the cover of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” album).  #2 preference:  Natural Childbirth (Like women through the ages, right back to cavewoman days).  #3 preference:  Epidural (Just in case, if I absolutely have to).  Things I wanted to avoid:  episiotomy (I’ll just let you Google this one) and c-section.

I read about c-sections and saw the movie about it in my childbirth class.  No one in my family had ever needed one, and since my pregnancy had been normal so far, there was no reason to believe I would need one either.  As I watched the c-section movie in class, I saw that they still put the newborn in the mom’s arms right after he was born.  I was thinking it looked like the easy way out – no pushing or sweating or crying.  They just hand you the baby.

OK, remember that the subtitle of my blog is “Life Lessons from a Cosmic Kick in the Pants”?

Cue Kick in the Pants. 

So my day of delivery arrives (ten days late), and here is a brief synopsis:  Water-birth – not possible. Natural labor – for a while until Pitocin is given.  Then, holy crap, all bets are off – just give me the damn epidural.  Complications.  Emergency c-section.

The complications had to do with my son, and the nurses worked on him for several minutes before holding him up for us to see, saying, “Here’s your baby boy!” and rushing him out the door to the NICU.

No trumpets or choirs of angels.  No sighs of small, woodland creatures.  My husband and I did look into each other’s eyes, but any tears were not tears of joy but tears of “What the hell just happened?”  Even if my son had not needed immediate care, holding him for “skin-to-skin bonding” would not have been possible like that movie had shown.  Both my arms were completely numb, and I was having difficulty breathing.

This was not beautiful.  This was traumatic.  And it definitely was not an easy way out.

Some of you might be thinking – it turned out fine.  You ended up with a wonderful little boy, so why does it matter how he was born?  It could have been worse, after all.  Indeed, it is shame that kept me from expressing my shock and sadness out loud.  After all, some women can’t have children, or have miscarried, or have lost a child.  I would not even suggest measuring my sadness with the same measuring stick used to measure their grief.

But this fact did not lessen the gnawing, hollow feeling I had for days after the birth.  I couldn’t quite identify it until a friend said something that finally brought it into focus.  “Hey!  It’s almost like you never gave birth!” she said.  I know she probably meant that all my “lady parts” were undamaged (and I had avoided the episiotomy after all).  But now my feeling had a name.


Did I really not give birth?  Can I not claim a connection to my foremothers through the ages who sweated and cried and pushed their babies into the world?

Of course time has healed this wound, and I can honestly say that no, it does not matter how my son came into this world.  And yes, I did give birth to him, and it was not “easy”.  Maybe the scariest thing, the thing that set my universe on a different course, was that no amount of preparation could have prevented or changed these events.  They were completely out of my control.



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