Nothing But Yes
After last week’s column, I was asked, “Do you think about what it would be like to have a kid with autism yourself?” And I do. In fact, I tend to imagine any future child as having autism or other special needs.
In part because of my life with my brother, in part because of my current care-giving work, it’s difficult for me to picture a family without autism. And,the jury’s still out regarding the statistical likelihood of me having a child with autism.
When I consider starting a family with my husband, I am faced with several truths. One truth is that I am intimidated at the thought of having a child, any child. The idea of being a mother seems daunting to me, perhaps because I appreciate the level of commitment it demands.
That said, I have spent the last five years in a professional care-giving role. These years have been rich and full. My life experience in tending to physical, emotional and spiritual needs (my own as well as another’s) would stand me in good stead should I become a parent.
Yet even with my experience, I am afraid.
I fear for my imagined child with autism, born into world of prejudice, a world wherein people who are differently-abled are not offered the same choices and opportunities as those who are considered “normal”.
So this is one part of the truth: my intimidation, my fears and our collective bias. And yet this truth is not the complete picture. It’s not the end of the story.
There is another truth, the truth of the people with special needs and autism that I’m honored to know, the truth of being my brother’s sister. This is the truth that we all change each other. And, in changing one another, we begin to change our world.
Knowing and loving one another alters us in ways we cannot understand fully. Caring for one another alters us, deepens us. All children are individuals, with unique strengths and weaknesses. In this way, having a child is always a risk.
I know the risks. I know what it is to feel unsafe in your own home. I know what it’s like to question whether or not you actually love your own brother. And yet I also know what it’s like to come through these things stronger, kinder and more fully human.
On my wedding day, I am told that my brother made an announcement. After remaining quiet throughout the ceremony, he spoke up just after my husband and I exited the room. Willie stood up and told everyone, “Now Caroline's going to have a baby!”
While his statement wasn’t exactly accurate, it was, I believe, straight from the heart. I can guess how it was in his mind: Willie has seen friends of mine get married, and he knows that babies often follow their unions. Knowing this, I wish I'd been there to hear him say it. I would have laughed along with everyone else, because who knows? He may be right. And I like to think of that announcement as Willie’s own oblique way of giving his blessing.
In the end, I believe it comes down to faith. Do I have faith in love and its transformative power? Do I have faith in the beauty of diversity and differing abilities? Do I believe that people who have autism are just as fully alive as I am?
And, at the end of the day, there is nothing I can say but Yes.