afterlight 2

E at 5 months old.

And just like that, now she’s five.

Our sweet little baby girl, born into our family at a time when both J & I were pretty much still babies ourselves. We had no idea what we were doing. Granted, most first-time parents don’t but I feel like we really, really didn’t know what we were doing.

Her birth was traumatic and everything I didn’t want it to be. 30+ hours of medically assisted labor that finally culminated in an emergency c-section after two hours of unfruitful pushing. She was immediately whisked away to the NICU for observation, her 10 lbs & 4 oz of newborn girth a stark contrast against the preemies that usually dominate the NICU.

I remember being in the surgery recovery room, exhausted and no baby to hold in my arms. J was so tired he could barely keep his eyes open but in a bleary state of fatigue, he gave me my first ever push gift – something that I’d coached him on in the 9+ months leading to this momentous day. They were Tiffany earrings that he had thought were pearls but were actually silver orbs (the lighting in the store was tricky, I guess). We both had a good laugh at that and then it was silent because .. I had just given birth but we didn’t have a baby with us. Is this what it’s supposed to normally feel like after you have a baby? Empty and exhausted?

We were all eventually discharged to our tiny 2-bedroom apartment and that’s when the real adventure began. Newborn colic, nursing troubles, her need to constantly be rocked 24/7 in order to fall and STAY asleep; this girl kept us on our toes from Day 1.

And then things started to settle down a bit and I thought maybe, just maybe, the crazy stuff was well behind us now. Just another collection of stories to keep in my back pocket and conveniently whip out at future baby showers or coffee dates with friends.

Except that a year passed, then two, and she still wasn’t saying mommy & daddy like all the other little babies her age were. My mommy instinct raged strong inside me, warning bells screaming their alarm even against the pediatrician’s reassurance that everything is fineall babies develop at their own rate. Luckily for E, I’m not a mama to be told to sit when every fiber of my being says that I need to stand, so I fought for an evaluation even thought it wasn’t professionally recommended.

And then came the bombshell diagnosis that imploded our entire universe and changed everything forever. Autism. On the spectrum. Possibly high functioning but really, still too early to tell. Future difficulties include making friends and possible cognitive deficits, among other things. It’s a wide spectrum so there really are no answers other than yes, your precious baby girl, the one you’ve spent the last two years loving and raising, fits the qualifications for autism and may never learn to speak to you. Boom.

The darkness and heartache that followed is indescribable. I’ve blacked it out from my memory but my husband tells me that there were days that I didn’t even get out of bed. He’s now told me that he’s never been more scared than those months, seeing his wife curled in fetal positions and crying herself to sleep every night. I don’t remember but I believe him when he tells me these things because unless you’ve been through it yourself, you can’t know the pain that kind of diagnosis brings.

That is, until it doesn’t really bring that much pain anymore. Some sadness on some days, yes, but not the gut-wrenching-can’t-function-can’t-think-foggy-days kind of depression that initially followed me post-diagnosis. There’s a true hope that radiates when you’re being refined by fiery trials; everything the Bible promises about character & faith building during times of difficulty is true.

And now here we are. Five years old and so much SO MUCH so much to celebrate. This vibrant little girl whose words are at last starting to click with her mind; she’s beginning to let us see so much of that funny personality that we always knew was inside of her. She has developed such a compassion for her little brother and others around her. If she sees someone sad, she worries about them and wants to comfort them. Her favorite foods are pizza and bell peppers; her favorite colors are blue and pink. She’s shy and quiet, not one of those kids who will constantly be vying for your attention. She’s content to sit and look at a book by herself. She loves snuggling with us in the quiet hours of the morning, when the house is cold and little brother is still asleep. She’s girly to the core, and loves dress up, make up, and jewelry. She’s a perfectionist, always hesitant to try something unless she knows she can master it fully.

But most of all, she’s a blessing to us and to all who know her. She’s taught me more about faith, compassion, and kindness than my entire life taught me in the 25 years I lived before having her. She pushes me to be better because she reminds me that this life right here, although it seems like everything, it’s not everything. There is more & greater that is promised for us; a place where sinners are perfected, where autism doesn’t exist, where little girls who don’t have all the words they need to express themselves can open their mouths freely and worship The Creator who knows and sovereignly ordains all.

afterlight 3

Happy 5th birthday, my sweet E. I can’t wait to see how the Lord will continue to write your story and mine. I love you to the moon and back.