I’d like to begin by recognizing that everyone’s experience with raising a child with special needs is very different – at a minimum there are differing levels of needs, differing capacities in caregivers, and very different family dynamics/structures/finances. This is our story and the benefits I have seen to having multiple children.
When our third child was born with severe special needs, our family plan of having 4 kids was put on hold as we tried desperately to recalibrate to this new and totally unexpected shift. When Lanie was about 18 months old, the dust was finally settling after seeing every possible pediatric specialist out there. We had established a new ‘normal’ that included hours of therapy and my heart and mind finally had the capacity to revisit the conversation about the family size that Tad and I had always dreamed about.
I waffled for weeks.
‘What was Lanie’s life going to look like?’
‘Could I handle 2 babies for the first year?’
‘Was this unfair to the kids I already had?’
‘What unknown thing was around the corner?’
‘Would there be enough of me to go around?’
‘What if I have a total mental breakdown and lose it?’
Eventually, Tad said he was okay either way and he would let me decide since I did most of the work. He left every day for his plumbing job and I stayed home and was a jack of all trades: mom, nurse, therapist, medical taxi, nutritionist, house cleaner, swim instructor, and on and on.
What it came down to for me was that choosing to not have a 4th child would be a decision based out of fear. I would be at the end of my mothering journey and possibly regret making such a big decision based on the unknown. And so, I got pregnant again.
Pregnancy and the first year were physically tough. Growing one human while caring for a fully dependent 2-year-old (and a 4 year old and 6 year old) left no room for staying in bed when I woke up feeling lousy. It required me to dig deep into my own strength, ask for more help than I wanted to, be disciplined in taking care of myself so there was enough of me to take care of everyone else, and remind myself that one day I would sleep again.
My first two neurotypical kids’ development was as expected, and therefore relatively unnoticed, and I didn’t have a clue that I should appreciate how little work was necessary to facilitate growth and change in babies. Then Lanie came along, and we spent hours upon painstaking hours trying to get her to do ‘normal’ things. (Although in hindsight, I’m not sure why. She’s never gotten in trouble for talking back or running away. Why am I to trying to change that?!?) But when our last child came along, I watched her progress normally with renewed eyes to the incredibly miraculous ease of typical development. Having another child redeemed many aspects of motherhood that I had grieved in Lanie’s life.
Her siblings haven’t had a typical childhood either; in some hard ways and in some fun ones. They’ve spent hours in doctor’s office waiting rooms, they’ve sat patiently in their car seats while I finish a phone call with a therapist, they’ve had fun plans ruined by an unexpected vomiting session. But they’ve also been privileged to be part of special things that wouldn’t have been part of our lives without Lanie. Having a wheelchair bound family member sometimes lets us cut the line, Make-A-Wish gave our family a swim spa therapy pool, our family gets a free National Parks pass, Lanie’s Halloween candy is gladly fought for by her siblings. By growing up with Lanie, they are developing eyes to see the vulnerable and somewhat invisible people in our society and hearts full of compassion rather than discomfort of those different than them.
Lanie has changed how I see all my kids. They all have unique needs, individual strengths, and the ability to make me cry sometimes. The innocence of Lanie is so precious. The naughtiness of her siblings is also precious, in a different and sometimes teeth-gritting way. When her siblings want to fuss about the injustice of something being ‘not fair’, Lanie provides us with a very tangible and objective lesson that ‘life isn’t fair’.
Lanie’s sisters and brother are her absolute favorite people in life. They love building forts around her, being a powerful motivation in her therapy sessions, and explaining to new people who their sister is. They aren’t uncomfortable wiping drool off her face, acting like utter fools to make her laugh, or helping out with her very regular poop-splosions. We still don’t know what Lanie’s future will look like, but I feel more confident with the unknowns knowing that she has as whole tribe of people that will fiercely love and protect her.
I’m so thankful I didn’t let grief or fear decide how our family would look.
It hasn’t been easy, but it is so worth it.
Bio: Laura Lazechko is a wife to Tad and a local Colorado mom of 4 amazing children, ages 12, 10, 8 and 6. Her 8-year-old, Lanie, was born with a rare chromosomal arrangement called 8p inversion duplication and deletion. The Lazechkos love being outside and active – hiking and camping and skiing and swimming, while finding to creative ways to include Lanie in their family adventures.