When You Disappear for Three Months and Your Toddler Can’t Ask, “Where’s Mommy?”
If the basis of talk therapy is having the simple ability to talk, what happens when there is significant trauma before we have learned to speak? This happened to my son. It’s hard to know the exact impact, but I see an attunement to others in him I believe may be rare.
I was a dedicated full time, stay at home mother to Travis from the day he was born. I was taken away in an ambulance one morning when he was 22 months old. He was just learning how to talk by saying things like “Mama” and “Dada”.
My husband called the neighbors to come get Travis after he called 911 early that freezing morning in February, 1999. They took him home with them only knowing I was 6 months pregnant and was being rushed to the hospital because I woke up unable to move.
It was late that night when they learned I had a stroke. Brain surgery saved our lives. I was put in the neuro intensive care unit where we were put in a coma to help keep me still after the surgery.
Now my husband would be Travis’ primary care giver in addition to running his machining business. He was the stable, steady force in his life as their world fell apart.
No one was sure about whether it would be a good idea for Travis to see his mother with her head shaved and bandaged with tubes draining blood and fluid out of her skull. It was one of those impossible questions parents are presented with regularly. He wasn’t able to have a conversation about where his mommy was as the rest of my family was processing their grief with words.
My family decided Travis needed to know his Mommy was around so they brought him to the hospital to see me. I don’t remember this visit at all. I wasn’t really myself because my brain was swollen with blunt connections in its processing. I was able to speak, but my voice had changed from the damage done by the intubation as well as the stroke. My brother remembers the dazed look of confusion and shock on my son’s face when he first saw me.
Maybe it was best for him to know I was still here even if I was not the same; maybe it was too traumatic for such a young child. Impossible question.
I stayed in the acute care hospital for 53 days, pregnant and paralyzed on my left side.
After I had the baby, I was moved to a rehab hospital where I stayed for 6 weeks to learn how to walk and take care of myself. My parents took the newborn baby home with them during this time.
I went home in a wheelchair. And the baby was returned home. More trauma for Travis who had turned 2 years old while I was hospitalized.
I suggested we take him to a therapist when he was 3. My husband thought this was not a good idea so we never did it.
Life went on in a blur of rehabilitation that remains incomplete to this day.
Travis had many of the usual behavior issues boys have in school. Some of it got away from us as he entered middle school. He attended a therapeutic wilderness program when he was 12 where there was nowhere to hide from his issues.
He became a mentor for a boy in middle school who was on an extreme end of the autism spectrum. The highly trained counselors and social workers marveled at his ability to draw him out where no one else could. They even gave him an award.
Travis is now a seemingly well adjusted 23 year old man. He works in his father’s machine shop and runs his own social media marketing company. Our relationship was never an easy one. The usual mother/son schism has always been widened by my disability and his immature impatience. He invented the word “hurryupcmonletsgo” when he was very young to prod me along.
I was momentarily stunned yesterday when I saw him in the kitchen standing still deliberately trying to catch my eye. He stopped and stared at me with tears welling up in his eyes. I immediately thought the worst. Someone died. His heart was broken.
“Oh my God, what’s the matter?”
“I love you so much.”
Big hug. Tears all around.
“I love you more.”
“I wasn’t sure if you know how much I love you. I know it may not seem like it sometimes, but I really do.”
“I know you love me, even if you don’t always show it.”
“I wish we had a better relationship. I don’t think it’s how it should be.”
“What can we do?”
“You could be less annoying. I don’t think it’s good that you need us to do so many things for you.”
“What do you want me to do? Stop being handicapped?”
“Life has a way of not being how we think it should be. We just have to deal with it as best we can.”
I wondered where this emotional storm had blown in from.
When I asked him what triggered his meltdown, he told me he came across a Valentine card he gave me last year on his desk. Valentine’s Day is the anniversary of the stroke.