By Barbara Yauch
As a mother of 4 adult children, two boys and twin girls, I have recently had the chance to reflect upon their lives and our life together. I have discovered that each one, in his or her own way turned out just as I had hoped and expected they would – independent, self-sufficient, strong-willed and successful adults.
The path to successful adulthood was not without its bumps in the road.
I recall being a young mother of two boys expecting my third child (a girl?, I’d hoped) . It was the 1960s and the pregnancy was proceeding as expected, until the sixth month, when my water broke. This was unexpected, after all, to this point, everything had proceeded normally, as expected. I believed I would deliver a healthy baby.
My husband and I traveled to the hospital, only to find interns, nurses and even the doctor saying, “very small baby”, “very big baby”, “ too early”, “you will be going home soon”. Each proclamation was wrong, and eventually, 10 weeks before my due date, I delivered not one, but two baby girls – 75 minutes apart. Talk about unexpected!
My husband and I were excited by the news. This was truly the buy-one-get-one deal of a lifetime. However, our excitement and my relief that all that pain of labor was over were short lived, as nurses were heard to say, “This may be your only chance to see your babies!” (They were very small and babies that size, in those days, did not live long). Again, unexpected but also unacceptable. We called our pediatrician and he went into action.
As days turned into weeks, my family and I waited patiently for “the girls” to gain weight, recover from jaundice, and be released from the hospital. That day came 6 weeks later. We all breathed a sigh of relief and brought the girls home. We began to build our lives together raising a healthy happy family of 6, as expected.
All mothers, as they watch their children grow expect that they will hit their growth milestones predictably—roll over, sit up, crawl, stand, walk etc. My sons did, why shouldn’t my daughters? But they didn’t. Being proactive and wanting my children to continue along expected lines of development, to the pediatrician we went. He suggested we see an orthopedist. His diagnosis: Cerebral palsy. Our reaction: Shock. But after the shock: Action. We would not take this lying down. We were educated parents. I had a Masters Degree in Special Education. My girls were going to grow up fine, as expected.
As they grew up, never once did I believe there were things they could not do. We never treated them as disabled children. We never told their brothers or their friends to treat them differently. I/we expected them to be part of an active family. I expected my girls, like my boys, to:
- Dress themselves. Put on and lace up their own shoes (no matter how long it took). If you have to get up an hour early because it takes you an hour to lace up your shoes, so be it).
- Walk (assisted or unassisted). The doctors told me my younger twin would never walk with crutches – her right hand was too weak. But she did, and at her sister’s wedding, she walked with a cane!
- Do their chores.
- Go to school. Of course I also expected they would go to the same school, which did not happen until their 6th year. ADA, Title 9, PL94-142 did not exist way back then.
Therein began the battle for education rights. Educators believed my daughter, who was in a wheelchair (for long distances) would have to be bused to another city instead of going to the neighborhood school that was within walking distance for her brothers and twin. All she needed was a bathroom with a grab bar in it to succeed, but they said, “No”.
Having little choice at the time, I sent her to that ‘other school’ expecting a good education. When this did not occur, I protested, wrote letters, talked to everyone who would listen until finally, the new superintendent of schools arrived. When I went to talk to him, fully expecting a confrontation, he said, “I don’t see any reason why she can’t come to our schools”.
The girls were back together. Family and community life continued as expected. I expected good grades — which they got. I expected them to participate in all aspects of their education, which they did, becoming involved in student government and theater arts, learning to ride and fall off their bikes, just like their brothers did. Sometimes they fell with their bikes, when we tied their feet to the pedals to keep them from falling off, but each time they got up and started again.
I believed that if my children put their minds to it, there was nothing they could not do. I know to this day they believe that. As their lives went on, each graduated high school with honors (as expected), each went to college, (rival schools) and I’m not sure if the separation was harder on them or me. They graduated from those schools with Masters Degrees, in the same field and are leading independent, productive lives, helping others with special needs.
They were able to do that because of my desire, and their will to be independent. I taught them life skills, which all of us need to make our way in the world. I taught them to be good citizens, to respect others and expect respect in return. I taught them to stand up (literally and figuratively) for themselves and not to let others (even if they are your brothers!) push you down. If they do, get up and push back.
Sometimes I think mothers of those with special needs expect too little of their children because “they aren’t like other children… they can’t do what other children can”.
I don’t believe that. My daughters remember a poem I placed over their beds when they were little that read, “I’m Special”. How true that was. They were special, not for what they could not do, but for what they could. They had lessons to teach us about taking life by storm and not letting anything get in the way of what you want.
I believe every mother should expect great things from all her children, no matter what their abilities. I did and I have never been disappointed.
About the author
Barbara Yauch has a Bachelor’s Degree in Education and a Master’s Degree in Special Education from Wayne State University in Detroit, MI. After teaching children with Special Needs for over 25 years, Barbara retired to southern Florida where she can be found ‘living the dream’ and enjoying the Detroit Tigers Spring Training in person. Contact Barbara at firstname.lastname@example.org. .