No one really prepares you for the times as a mother that you will need to advocate for your kids. They talk about the newborn stage, the postpartum struggle, the teen years, but not about the sheer divine instinct you will be overcome with during certain times in raising a child. The times that when trusting your gut as a mother is all you have to stand on. I went through one of these situations early on in motherhood when my oldest was about two and a half.
We had just moved and I took Tanner in for his well-visit with a new pediatrician I thought would be a good fit. As we waited in the exam room, Tanner played with the rollercoaster toy (you know, the one with the wood beads that you push along the colored wires) and I looked through the paperwork we were given at the front desk. The doctor finally walked in and greeted Tanner and me. She was tall, dark brown hair, and fairly young, maybe in her mid-30’s. We talked about Tanner for a bit, his sleep tendencies, his eating habits, how I was doing, and then she went through examining him. Reflexes were good, 90th percentile in height, 10th percentile in weight, eyes were clear, and everything else seemed perfectly on track. A healthy growing kid.
After reviewing him physically, she then asked how his speech skills were coming. “How many words does he say right now?” she asked. I went through them in my head as quickly as I could and counted all the way up to seven.
When that number came out of my mouth you would have thought I told her that he also sees dead people. Her eyes got wide as she questioned further about his cognitive skills. “At this stage, he should be saying a minimum of 25 words”, she responded with. It was at this point that we entered the lightning round as she began rapid-fire questioning. Can he follow instructions? Can he remember the things you ask him and then complete the task? Is there a family history of delayed speech skills? I suddenly felt like I was in an interrogation room, but not sure how I even got there. My palms became clammy as I answered her questions as thoroughly as I could. And as I discussed these questions, I did my best to paint Tanner in the best light as I started to feel as if there was an agenda that had not been made clear to me yet.
I told her of the fact that I can give him three to four tasks at a time and he can go and complete all of them. I told her how good he is at puzzles, how he points to correct colors, and how well he can already throw a ball. She nodded her head along with what I was telling her while typing into her laptop. A few “mmm hmms” were muttered as I wrapped up my closing arguments. She then reached into the drawer and then stretched her arm across the exam room with a pamphlet in hand. I took it from her.
My blood began to boil. My internal temperature literally rose as I tried to search my mind for a response. I swallowed down the lump in my throat as I softly began to speak, my voice growing more confident as I began my rebuttal while simultaneously gathering our things to leave. “You know nothing of my child other than the 15 minutes we have spent here with you. You know nothing of his physical abilities, the things I see him accomplishing already, and the fact that nothing has indicated to me that there is something wrong aside from him not filling your word quota. And if that is your only barometer used to tell a parent that their child may have autism then you have no business being a doctor.”
Picking Tanner up off of the chair, I informed her that we would not be back and walked out of the exam room. We found our way through the waiting room, down the hallway, and out into the parking lot all the while keeping my head held high. I held it together as I strapped Tanner into his car seat, but by the time I had sat in the driver’s seat, the tears began to roll down my cheeks. I let out an audible sigh as the floodgates opened and I was uncontrollably sobbing. The emotions were both from my issues with authority and confrontation as well as being proud that I said what I needed to say in the moment. I advocated for my child. I may not have the letters ‘MD’ that come after my name, but my gut was telling me what I knew to be true.
That moment changed me as a mother. And while I tried to not let myself worry that my pride had clouded my better judgment, I went through the next several weeks and months watching Tanner closely. Not a single thing caused me to think there may be a deeper issue. He was a perfectly healthy, rough, and tumble toddler who was learning things as he was ready to. I knew in my heart of hearts there was nothing wrong.
It wasn’t until about six months later when I was willing to try out another pediatrician. And it was then that I felt completely justified and supported in what had transpired earlier that year.
We found ourselves in another exam room waiting to be seen and this time my nerves were high. I did not want to deal with a repeat situation, but I was armed and ready to advocate for Tanner again if it was needed. The doctor walked in with a warm hello, greeted both of us, and then started chatting with Tanner. Asking him questions, Tanner responded by pointing, or with a word if it was in his wheelhouse, and playfully handed the doctor the correct block for the color he asked for.
He then examined Tanner physically – reflexes were good, 90th percentile in height, 10th percentile in weight, eyes were clear, and everything still seemed perfectly on track. A healthy growing kid.
After reviewing him physically, he then asked how his speech skills were coming. “How many words does he say right now?” he asked. I didn’t have to think about it this time as I confidently told him fifteen.
“That’s good, that’s good”, he responded while writing on his clipboard. He asked if Tanner liked sports and we chatted about his ability to throw as well as catch a ball, how much he likes to run, and how much he keeps me on my toes doing front flips off of the couch. I happily told him all the things Tanner was doing while, in the back of my mind, I was waiting for the serious discussion to start.
“Well, I think he’s doing wonderful. Right on track and perfectly healthy”. I stopped for a moment, kind of frozen, thinking “that’s it?”. I asked him if he thought there was anything I should be concerned with. He looked at my puzzled as he responded if there was anything I was concerned with and wanted to discuss. I then spoke honestly with him about what we had been through six months ago. He listened intently before saying the exact thing my heart needed.
“You know, it’s a difficult thing to fit every child into the same box. While, yes, usually at this age we would like to see them saying more words, Tanner’s cognitive skills are right on point. He also seems to be more advanced physically than most three-year-olds. Sometimes with kids, they will advance in areas more than others while other skills take a bit more time. This is because their brains can’t grow at rapid rates in all areas. We just need to be patient and allow Tanner the time he needs to really take off with his speech.”
Tears welled in my eyes as he warmly smiled back at me, indicating where my heart has been for the past six months. He asked Tanner for a high five, thanked us for coming in, and told Tanner not to forget his lollipop at the front desk on our way out.
Driving home that day, I was once again changed. I felt validated and justified. Shortly after turning three, Tanner began to talk non-stop. It seemed like every day he said something new. It would be a few years of speech therapy and having an IEP that Tanner would work through his articulation, annunciation, and a few other snags in his speech. By third grade, however, Tanner no longer needed his IEP. His reading was one of the best in every grade level he entered and he would often be invited by his teachers to read a book to his class. He would even visit his younger sibling’s classrooms to do the same. He excels in school, is currently learning Swedish, and has a sense of humor that will rival most adults I have met (you can catch a hint of that in my daily musings over on Instagram). Who knew he would then be followed by three siblings who would put me through the exact same thing – oh the excitement of motherhood! It definitely is not for the faint of heart and always keeps one on their toes!
I wish someone would have talked more about trusting my gut as a mother when I was pregnant with my oldest. I wish we talked more about the divine abilities we have through the gift of motherhood. One that allows for intuition and discernment. That allows us to know what our child needs or when something is wrong and we need help. And I wish for every woman to trust their motherly intuition. To stand for their child without doubt or fear.
After all, we are mothers. Hear us roar.
For more tales of motherhood, click here.
What experiences have you had in advocating for your child?