Holding Hayden & Owen
I have held a lot of babies in my time. It is an added bonus of working as a birth and postpartum doula. I don’t hold nearly as many as I used to but I still get to fill my arms with baby love at my monthly breastfeeding mothers group.
You have heard me mention at least 600 times before that we held Meredith for fifteen hours per day for 8+ years. We still hold her every day but for very short periods of time like in the morning when she first awakens or before bed.
When you hold your child with cerebral palsy for hours a day and for years on end, you grow very accustomed to the unique patterns of movement. I wrote in a past post that “she is like an extension of me (and her father) and holding her is like a dance that we have rehearsed and perfected over the years. We intuitively anticipate her movements milliseconds before they happen. She throws her head back and we stop it with cat like reflexes. She curls her left arm up like a chicken wing as though she were about to throw a punch and we know that micro seconds later her she will thrust her pelvis outward. If you are not used to holding her, this particular move will have her launching off of your lap onto the floor if you are not ready for it. Her body and the way she moves it is as familiar as my own. ”
So it only made sense then that the longer I held Meredith the more unfamiliar I became with holding neuro-typical children. My sister had four children after Meredith was born and as each one grew and developed, my husband and I would hold them as though they needed trunk support indefinitely and we feared accidentally yanking out their feeding tubes (which none of them actually had). My sister used to laugh when Tim would hold our 15 month old niece, for example, and have his hand placed on her upper back and neck anticipating a sudden throw-back which, of course, never happened.
Three weeks ago, I flew to Portland, Oregon to attend the United Cerebral Palsy of Oregon and SW Washington family conference. During a brief intermission of my keynote address, I was approached by a young mother and her baby boy, Hayden, who was about 21 months old (if my memory serves me correctly). I asked to hold him and she warned me that he was heavy. Heavy? It’s all relative. It was so wonderful to hold a child that reminded me of Meredith as a baby. For the first time, I held someone else’s child in a way that came naturally to me.
That evening, we gathered for drinks and conversation with professionals and parents who were attending the conference. One particular mother arrived with her son, Owen, who was sitting in his wheelchair. I had first met them right after the keynote that morning. Owen’s mom had been a follower of this blog and had read everything I had ever written. It was amazing to meet her in person. Owen was in a wheelchair identical to Meredith’s and although he was half her age, he was about the same in weight. Seeing him that first morning made me very, very lonesome for Meredith.
When they joined us at our table that evening, Owen was fidgeting and squirming in his chair. His mother explained that he wasn’t a big fan of sitting for long periods in his wheelchair (sound familiar?). I offered to hold him if she was okay with that. I scooped him into my arms and he snuggled in for a big cuddle. I think he felt secure as he could sense that I knew exactly what I was doing. He just looked at my face and smiled making me even more homesick for Meredith.
These two experiences were the first in almost eleven years where I held two children ‘like” Meredith. Out of all that happened during the conference, these moments of holding Hayden and Owen stand out to me most.