Monday, March 3, 2014

Treading Water - Thoughts on redefining normal

When you find out you're pregnant for the first time - and you're actually going to keep the child - you read every book that was ever written by anyone who has any kind of experience with children. You're nervous. You fret about everything you ingest. You absorb all the horror stories. You try all the advice. You know... typical new parent stuff. Then you realize that babies are, for all intents and purposes, pretty unbreakable. They're these beautiful clean slates; moldable and malleable. Sure, you have to contend with genetics and all that, but nurture has to have some effect, right?

As I may have mentioned, Liam (The Nugget) was recently diagnosed with ADHD. In my quest to understand everything I can about what's going on in his head, so I can help him navigate the waters of life, I'm reading everything I can get my hands on. The more I read, though, the more guilty I feel. It turns out, despite my best intentions, my boy had the chips stacked against him from the outset.

First, let's talk genetics. The Ex is ADHD, too. He never really outgrew it, as a goodly percentage of children with the disorder won't, but he seemed to have learned how to cope in life. Aside from a severe Peter Pan complex he seemed fairly normal. Or maybe I was just young and stupid, and didn't know any better.

Now let's discuss womb environment. So, Liam already had a potent cocktail of genetics working against him. I'm not proud of this, but I smoked during all three of my pregnancies. I cut way back, but I still smoked. While pregnant with Liam, I was down to no more than four cigarettes a day... until The Ex decided to leave me while I was  7 1/2 months pregnant with Liam. I immediately went back up to a pack a day.

Did I mention that, early in the pregnancy, I contracted bacterial meningitis? Theoretically, the placenta filtered the bad stuff out, but nobody really knows for sure that he wasn't affected.

Now let's get back to the stress and depression I felt during the latter part of my pregnancy. I couldn't eat. I could barely consume liquids (depression does that to you). I ended up losing weight. Combine that with a nasty smoking habit and Liam's womb environment was less than ideal.

When he was born, his APGAR scores were damn near perfect. There was no oxygen deprivation (he was as pink as the shrimp I was so fond of while pregnant with him). The delivery, via c-section, went without a hitch. He was smack dab in the middle of the weight and height ranges. Nothing indicated that he wouldn't be perfectly normal.

So what was different? My pregnancy. The Monkey had the same genetic cocktail to work with and yet he is, at least as far as I can tell, unaffected by ADHD. Hell, I didn't even cut back as much on the smoking while pregnant with The Monkey (which accounts for his birth weight being on the lower end of normal), and I definitely drank a ton of coffee with him. But I hadn't contracted meningitis and I wasn't suffering from a broken heart.

There's nothing I can do about any of this now, short of building a time machine. And I'm all out of plutonium at the moment. What I can do is try to help my boy navigate the waters of life in the context of our new definition of normal.

But the spectrum of normal has shifted a great deal for me. I freeze when I need to address a discipline issue because I don't know what the right move is. I am wracked with guilt and this guilt tinges almost all of my interactions with Liam. My thought processes are frozen in a constant loop of "you did this to him. you did this to him. you did this to him." I want to help him, but I don't know what helping him means anymore.

Intellectually, I know this is bordering on insanity on my part, and probably the result of internalizing far too much of what I'm reading right now. But emotionally, I can't help but feel like I'm treading water.

When you get a diagnosis like this for your child, it doesn't come along with a bunch of handouts about what to expect with your ADHD kid. No. Instead they send you off with the test results and a 504 plan with calm reassurances about reevaluating him again in a year. They don't explain how to intercede when outbursts at the supper table just won't stop happening. They don't explain how you're supposed to be able to tell how much of the behavior is " imperfection in the brain that causes the... poor impulse control..." or how much of it is your kid, who is abnormally perceptive anyway, trying to use his ADHD as an excuse to be an asshole. They don't explain to you how to explain to your kid that it's not OK to hug strangers, no matter how much you want to, because other kids will make fun of you. Because, guess what? ADHD kids have a really fucking hard time processing future consequences. In fact, future consequences don't exist in the ADHD world. They don't tell you that part, either.

No map. No directions. You're a foreigner in a new land and you don't speak the language.

So how do you parent that? How do you guide your child through the rapids when your child sees the rapids as just any other body of water. Oh and your kid can't swim, either.

Where's the fucking manual for that?

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