Last week, my child's occupational therapist asked if my pregnancy had been particularly stressful. Initially, I recalled it rather uneventful, despite some bleeding and constant nausea. Then, as I discussed it with her further, she informed me that the pregnancy was in fact highly stressful and could have played a major role in the development challenges my child faces. And then I began to play this detrimental game we mothers know all too well. It's called The Blame Game.
When I was eight weeks pregnant, I experienced significant bleeding. After the doctor examined me in the emergency room, he told me that it was highly likely that I miscarried the baby. He went on to explain that it was not my fault and listed the host of possible factors that may contribute to a miscarriage. He ordered an ultrasound and to the greatest relief of my life, I heard this child's heartbeat. With the AWEsome news that I was still carrying our baby in my womb, I was also told that there was only a 50 percent chance that I would carry to term. Around this time I became violently ill with all day morning sickness, vomiting up to 30 times a day. At 16 weeks, I was hospitalized, given fluids and several anti-nausea pills and diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum. The American Pregnancy Association defines this condition as one that is "characterized by severe nausea, vomiting, weight loss, and electrolyte disturbance." The doctors told me that if I continued the pregnancy without taking medicine, my baby would not thrive and I would likely miscarry. With immense reluctance, I began taking Zofran daily for the remainder of my pregnancy. During this time, we also prepared for my husband's second deployment to Afghanistan, something that brought intense distress. When the baby was two months old, he would leave us for war and we would move into my parent's home for the duration. His helicopter was shot down during his first deployment and we'd spent the last couple years learning to reintegrate after that experience. I was not ready to do this again! When I spent time detailing my pregnancy, I see that it actually was immensely stressful.
Our child's occupational therapist went on to explain that she had just received training from a nationally recognized therapist who discussed the correlation between the stresses the mother deals with during pregnancy and how the child develops in utero. We are so intimately connected with our babies at that point that they too "experience" the stressors, negatively affecting their tiny brains in the womb. I appreciated this information and began to do my own "mom research" later that evening.
I started by looking for a correlation between Zofran and developmental delays in children. The first site on Google is Zofran Lawsuit Guide. This page listed a few of the issues I dealt with upon delivery and that we continue to experience now. To my surprise, I also found an interesting study done by UCLA that found a link between women with hyperemesis gravidarum and developmental delays in their children. The summary of this study states, "Women who experience extreme morning sickness during pregnancy are three times more likely to have children with developmental issues, including attention disorders and language and speech delays, than women who have normal nausea and vomiting, a study has found." I know this type of Google exploration can be questionable and requires a critical eye, but it did answer (possibly) some of my questions.
In the initial hours of this new information, I found myself leaning dangerously close to blame. These accusations have been in the back of my mind for years and that night I allowed myself to blow through the door labeled Blame. Are my child's challenges a result of my daily dosage of Zofran? What if I would have listened to my instincts and not the doctor? What if I had searched for a natural alternative? What if I had not been so anxious about my husband's impending deployment? What if I had not been obsessively concerned about miscarrying every day of the pregnancy. What if I hadn't eaten all those Sour Patch Kids I craved (filled with fake dyes and artificial flavors)? What if I hadn't eaten that non-organic produce? What if I shouldn't have vaccinated my child? And on and on I wondered. It's a massively slippery slope that no one needs to ride.
And so, I stopped the thought train of destruction. Are you a mother of a child with special needs? If not, I can guarantee you know someone who is parenting a child that has some form of developmental delay. Below are a few ways we can finally stop blaming ourselves.
How to Stop the Blame Game
1. Pray, pray pray!
I have been actively praying for peace in this area of my life. Initially, upon our child's diagnosis, I became obsessed (literally) with his or her diagnosis and treatment. It was ALL I thought about and talked about--my poor husband. I ordered and read every book, talked to every parent I knew going through a similar situation, set up all his or her treatments, saw every specialist available to us, and made Amazon A LOT of money by purchasing every tool on the market to aid in his or her therapies. Through the Bible study, Breaking Free, I found peace on this front. I worked tirelessly through the book, praying to God and spending time studying His Word. True to the author's promise (and God's!), I found peace. I sought prayer through a few faithful prayer partners and between our circle of friends and family, our sweet babe is prayed up and developing beautifully, in his or her own way.
2. Find a support group.
There are so many of us parents out there going through this particular trial of raising a child who requires extra attention. We need people we can relate to and share ideas with, our successes and failures. When we connect, we find out that we cannot all be to blame. Many churches offer groups for parents with special needs children or you can locate one online.
3. If the experts cannot figure it out, how can we be expected to know the key to prevention?
There is no clearcut answer to why this generation of children is widely affected with special needs. Maybe it's the water, the vaccines, the pesticides in our food, prenatal ultrasounds, or some combination. We will do our best to be educated and make the wisest choices for our families. For me, that means eating organic, using natural body and cleaning products, avoiding dyes and artificial flavor, and following a delayed vaccine schedule. For you, that may look completely different. You are doing your best, and be proud of that. Take heart that you are your child's champion and protector.
4. Share your knowledge.
I feel like I should have an honorary doctorate degree in my child's area of developmental delay, and any mom of a child with special needs probably deserves the same. We have to learn to fight for our children and we become experts in the tools and strategies that best work to help them cope. When you meet a mom who is dealing with the same struggles, share your wealth of knowledge! I have been a recipient of this and the benefits have been immense for my child. Recommend therapists, books, websites, tools, and videos to one another. We're all in this together. Praise each other for being transparent and offering a hand (or should to cry on) as we wander through this endeavor together.
5. Know that God's got this.
He is in control. He knit your child in your womb with specific design and purpose in mind. We have to trust that there is a plan in place that He is working for our child's good (and our's). As a follower of Christ, this season of my life is growing me in areas I didn't even know I needed to grow. What an unexpected blessing to start looking more like the Son of God through raising my sweet child that needs me in different ways than I expected, in ways that (on a good day) let the light of Christ shine brighter than ever.
Does your child have any unique challenges? If so, what works for you to stop the blame game and embrace this season of life?