Having a child with special needs affects the whole family.

Having a child with additional needs changes a family.  I think you become more insular as no one can truly understand how much your life has changed.  We are not the same people, same couple, same family as we were before our special boy, Hugh, was born.  Our priorities have changed.  Our needs have changed.  Hell, even our political views have changed.  It’s not all bad though.  Yes, I am beginning to feel isolated from even my closest friends, but in turn, we have grown stronger as a couple, talk more openly and rely on each other more.



My overriding concern has always been though, the effect having a brother with special needs will have on my eldest son, Sean.  He is nearly three and I worry almost as much about his future as I do about his younger brother’s. Will he get bullied for having a brother that is so ‘different’?  Will he feel neglected because his brother demands so much care and attention?  Will he be embarrassed by a brother that can’t walk or talk?  Will he be jealous…

What a difference a year makes.

A year ago today my wonderful little boy was christened. It was a beautiful, hot, sunny day. Family and close friends came to a lovely little service at the local church and then back to ours for a barbeque. Our garden looked great, courtesy of the flower filled hanging baskets my mum and I (ok mainly my mum) had prepared. A new ball pool and piles of toys kept all the kids entertained while bottles of champagne, jugs and jugs of Pimms and enough beer, wine and spirits to sink a ship, ensured the adults were kept happy too. The men, as always seems to be the case took, charge of the barbeque.  Music blared out and there was a great party atmosphere. Everything you could possibly want to celebrate such a special day. And yet, I was filled with an overwhelming, indescribable sadness.


There's a photo from that day, my eyes fill with tears even thinking of it, of me in the church gazing down at the Hugh in my arms. I don't know what other people see when they look at this photo. A proud mother and her son on his christening day? A beautiful boy in his christening outfit? A mother bursting with love? But I see such sadness. I see a son that doesn't recognise his own mother. I see the realisation that this isn't the child I expected and that something is very wrong. If I'm honest, I see something akin to grief in my eyes. It’s not a photo I look at often. 

That day surrounded by family and friends I began to mourn. The aching sadness inside juxtaposed with the laughter and frivolity. Half way through the day, I took my little boy from his party and put him to bed. And as I watched him sleeping in his cot, I wept.

My son barely looked at me, he didn't respond to the sound of my voice and apart from the fact that he sometimes calmed when I cuddled him, I suspected he genuinely didn't know, or care, who I was. His days and nights were spent sleeping, crying or vomiting and at five months old he was no closer to sitting, rolling or weaning, than a newborn. He showed no interest in his surroundings; people, noises, lights, toys, and it broke my heart that his older brother tried so hard to engage him, to make him smile and he rarely registered he was there.

And what difference does a year make?

It would be lovely to say that a year of appointments had brought us answers, that he'd made tremendous strides in his progress, that my heart no longer ached for the life I thought he'd/ we'd have...

 But I sit and write this by his hospital bed, his 17th hospital admission in nine months. I ponder the meaningless labels attached to him - extremely rare and complex chromosome abnormality, severe global developmental delay, microcephaly, hypotonia, severe visual impairment, severe and difficult to control life threatening epilepsy- and I wonder what the future holds for my beautiful baby. He makes eye contact more often and he smiles more but his progress is hindered by his epilepsy and recurrent illnesses and hospital stays. He first rolled from his back to his front at seven months. Ten months later he can occasionally still do this.
 

I love him dearly. With an overwhelming, all encompassing love I never imagined possible. I would walk bare foot to the ends of the earth to keep him happy, to keep him safe.

 And yet, my heart still aches. And I wonder, what difference does a year make?