A few weeks back, I lost Wee Girl. We were at a busy playground, a vast, sprawling place with lots of sand and things to climb on, and plenty of places for a child to get lost in. My mother was looking after Little Man, and I, ostensibly, was chasing Wee Girl around. Except that I took my eyes off her, to grab the pram and in those few moments she was gone. I had expected her to be climbing up the tower to whizz down the larger slide; it’s where she was heading, and she’s usually a creature of habit. But she wasn’t there.
I suddenly felt very cold as I raced around, searching for the flash of pink from the top she was wearing, scanning the park to see if I could spot her, because she had to be there somewhere, had to be. Only I couldn’t see her anywhere, and I began to panic, thinking that she might have left the park, and how the FUCK could I have been so stupid as to have let her out of my sight?
Of course, she was fine. She’d doubled back and gone to the swings at the other end of the park, near my mum and her little brother. But those few minutes of cold, helpless terror have stayed with me.
What if she had left the park? What if she’d got lost? A pre-verbal child cannot ask for help, cannot call her parents to tell them where she is. She has no concept of police (for all that I know), or stranger danger.
What if, what if, what if.
People talk a lot about the pain of childbirth, the exhaustion of those early sleepless nights (which, for some parents of children with autism, can go on until the child is six or more). But it seems like no one ever talks about how it opens you up to extremes of pain you would never have thought possible before.
The diagnosis you never expected to hear. The first time they fall off the sofa or out of bed. The miscarriage, with its skull-splitting headaches, which leaves you unable to do anything other than slump on the sofa, empty and numb. That split-instant in a busy playground or beach when you realise you can’t see your child.
What if. What if. What if.
We had Wee Girl’s two-year check up two days after the bleeding started and our visit to the EPU. I heard the first officical mention of autism with a calm facade plastered on my face, nodding and responding in all the right places, while all the time I had a pounding headache and my lower back was aching because I was losing my baby.
Sometimes things get better. I didn’t lose her in the playground – she was there, all the time, even if I didn’t know exactly where she was. And I no longer want to weep over the baby I might have had before Little Man, my tiny inbetweener, even if I do sometimes wonder what might have been, who that tiny bundle of cells might have turned out to be.
And most importantly, Wee Girl’s diagnosis is not the horror I thought it was at first. Being pre-verbal doesn’t stop her from being funny, or cheeky. She’s still able to show affection and make me laugh with her antics, and I wouldn’t change her for the world.
So yes, having children does open you up to worlds of unimaginable pain, but it also opens you up to moments of sheer joy and a love like you’ve never felt before.