Grace was born in the spring. She was our first. The moment she was placed into my arms and I looked into her eyes I finally understood the term 'soul mate'. For this little dark haired baby was surely mine. My heart ached when she was taken from my arms by the nurse and continues to ache to this day when we are not together. She is anxious and kind, timid and loving, sensitive and oh so smart. As she grew she would crush the milestones in the baby books. She spoke so early and so well that her father and I would often be approached by strangers who had overheard her detail her day. "My, she talks so well. How old is she?" We would beam, and answer "just two" and then we would bask in their compliments, all the while, feeling like fantastic parents. She was our star and we held her up to the world so proud and she beamed down on us, just as it should be.
Kate was born in the spring just two years after Grace. When they placed her in my arms I searched in her blue eyes awaiting the connection I had been expecting for nine months. I couldn't find it in her eyes. I looked to my husband and back to my baby. I looked to the doctors and nurses but they didn't seem to notice. She didn't snuggle in and grasp for me like her sister. I could tell she didn't know I was there and I was devasted.. I smiled and said all of the things I was supposed to say but I was terrified because my baby had not connected with me and I didn't know what to do. Soon my husband would return to work and I would be home with my two small children wondering what I had done wrong..
In those early weeks I would spend hours staring into Kate's eyes. I haven't admitted that, yet. I thought maybe she was blind, or deaf, or both. Why didn't she look at me? Why didn't she reach for me?
During these weeks, Grace, our shining star, took a back seat like no other. It would be a seat she would quickly get used to. I had to fix my baby. Grace would be fine with her 'Little People' toys and her board books while I worked to get Kate to notice me. Grace was clever and a good girl. She would be fine if I focused some attention on her sister for awhile.
"There something wrong with Kate." I would say to my husband, with tears in my eyes.
"Don't be ridiculous," he would say :you're just hormonal."
"I'm scared." I would say.
"She is perfect. I promise." He would say.
It would be years before I would know that sentence to be true. Two years in fact until we got her diagnosis of autism and two more before we really wrapped our heads around what that meant for Kate and our family. I would finally find that connection I had longed for when Kate was baby, and those bright blue eyes did not disappoint once I reached her. She is the most loving and wild little spitfire. She loves with all her might and she believes that everyone and everything is amazing.
What then, of Grace, while we spiralled into despair and fear and finally fierce protection for our child who would always struggle in a world built to overwhelm her?
Grace would become painfully shy. Her new role as 'autism sibling' would take over. She would grow anxious about many things, with her biggest worries pertaining to her sister and myself. She sits silently at countless specialist appointments twirling her hair as one professional after another says things like: "Developmental Delays" and "Communication Disorder".
She was there at Kate's first occupational therapy appointment when I cried because the weight of it can hit you at the most inopportune times.
She was there the many times when Kate lost her words and would bite my cheek, or arm or back to tell me she was angry, confused, and overwhelmed. She was there when I cried then, too. Not because it hurt, though it did, but because it made me so unbearably sad at times.
I compared the girls at every turn. Have I confessed this yet? I still compare. It one of my worst habits.
Grace was talking so early, and shows such academic promise.
Kate confuses words and their meanings and can be aggressive when she is afraid.
Grace is fearful and cautious and won't step too far from me.
Kate is fearless and strong and won't ever look back.
Grace watches Kate as I do. She watches and wonders and thinks about her even when they are not together.
Sometimes Kate gets so agitated that she gets aggressive and unreasonable. This will sometimes happen in public. This is the quickest way for Grace to go invisible.
She watches and listens and reaches for my hand every single time and she stays invisible because she feels we cannot manage much more than what is on our plate.
She stays invisible whenever her sister acts out, which was and can still be so very often.
She's become the invisible girl for her baby sister and it breaks my aching heart.
She loves this blog. She is proud of it and proud of her baby sister. We've asked if she would like to be the subject or author of her own blog and she is thinking long and hard about it. She is shy, you see and it's always been easier to let Kate take the attention.
She is still our star, you know. She aces her math tests at school and she talks of becoming a teacher some day. I cannot bear a day without her kisses and hugs and I tell her so every chance I get.
"I love you, Grace."
"I love you more, Mama."
"Not possible, Baby,"
"I know, Mama."
She is a good friend and fine student and the most lovely little daughter anyone could ever ask for.
She cries when she thinks someone is embarrassed. She cannot bear it for them. I love her tender heart so much.
She is my best friend, and my greatest comfort. She is my baby and I don't want her to feel invisible anymore.
Happy Mail to:
27 Wellington Row
Saint John, NB
Grace and Kate's mom. (Shanell)