A Mother's Story: Annie Earls

Meet Annie. A wife, a mother and a blogger with an inspiring outlook on life. She shared her thoughts on having a child with autism in Delighted's summer issue (pages 104-109) and regularly writes witty and thoughtful stories about her life on her blog Navy Chaplain: A Story. Reading about her experiences have made me more aware of the challenges (and joys!) given a family with a child who has a disability. I hope they do the same for you!

"Having a Child With a Disability is the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Us"

A quick background story: about a girl and boy who had the world at their fingertips. College sweet hearts that, from the day they met, couldn't resist one another. They loved each other blamelessly and said, "I do" to a life full of joyfully perfect memories. Once married, they would lie in bed at night and whisper sweet nothings about their future offspring to one another... "He’ll have your eyes", no, "She'll have your sweet smile". When the day came and the pregnancy test was positive, they held each other and wept for the miracle of life within her. When he would caress her stomach with all the tenderness of the soon-to-be father, it made her love him more deeply than she would have ever imagined she could. The day their little girl was born was the day their life really started. She had his face, and her eyes. She was beautiful, so they named her Bella.

Two years later, in a room full of medical professionals, the words, “Bella has autism” were uttered.  The path laid before them now was dangerously narrow. The world that was at their fingertips long ago seemed so far from within reach now. Their love was tested. Their child was...different.

I am Annie, my husband is Josh, and our daughter is Bella…she has autism, and it's the best thing that  has ever happened to us. If your child has had a similar diagnosis, it could be the best thing that has happened to you as well. Here's why…

Your child will teach you to fight for joy every day.
When your child is diagnosed with a disability, joy is hard to come by at first. When Bella was diagnosed with autism, I cried for a week straight. I had headaches from the seemingly constant weeping. I was mourning her future, a future that was so vastly different than the one I dreamed of with my husband before her birth. One day, I looked into Bella's eyes and realized that she was perfect. She was made by her Creator just the way she was meant to be. This future that I was mourning had never really existed, and that gave me a unique comfort.  From that day forward, I fought for joy every second of the day. Today, I can honestly say that I am more joyful because of Bella's disability. She may not ever speak to me the way I pictured my daughter speaking or walk down the aisle to the man she loves as I did... but, she feels the love we give her everyday, a love that is full of joy!

You will never take the “little things” in life for granted.
The moment your child is diagnosed, all the big things in life are broken up into little pieces. It's almost like looking at a beautiful painting through a kaleidoscope. All of the colors and elements are present but in such disarray, it's hard to make them out. The future, in a moment, becomes so uncertain for the parent. Will my child live with me until I die? Will I die before them? How will they take care of themselves? This list goes on and on and lies hidden deep within the parent's heart. So, the little things in life become huge. You have to celebrate first smiles, or words (if they speak), or steps (if they walk), or for some parents...the celebration is for a beating heart and functioning lungs. I tell parents who have fully functioning children to never take the “little things” in life for granted.  Not a word, a smile, a scream, a mistake…anything. While you are worrying about how "grumpy" your child is acting today, we are concerned that our child might damage their brain when they bang their head on the wall during an autistic tantrum. You might be tired of your child talking to you, while we rejoice when our child attempts to utter even a sound. It's the little things in life that make a special needs parent smile and we cherish them in our hearts.

You will be the last to cast judgment on other parents.
I remember being that mom, the one that rolled her eyes in the supermarket. The one that thought, "Wow, she needs to learn how to control her kid". Well, now that I have a child with autism, things are VERY different. Autism exhibits itself in many ways, one being through intense tantruming. When your child tantrums at home, it's exhausting but you feel somewhat in control in your safe and familiar environment.  When they do it in public, it's just plain hard. People look at you with disgust and you begin to imagine the things they must be thinking about you, "Why doesn't she spank her?", "Why is she just letting her do that?", "Look at that woman constraining her child!". I used to break out into a literal sweat as I tried to help my child through a public and very physical tantrum. The lowest point I reached was when someone told me to put a dog muzzle on Bella at a restaurant because they couldn't "hear each other speak" through her blood curdling screams. I tell you this because today, when I see a crying child, my first thought is never about how terrible the parent is…lets change our perspective today and cut each other some slack.

You will know God in a very real way!
When I decided to fight for joy, I found it in God. I clung to Psalm 139:13 in the Bible that said, "For you created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother's womb". To me, this verse speaks such truth to parents who have children with disabilities. The Creator’s hands fashion these sweet beings and place them within our wombs. I thank God he chose me for Bella. How was I so lucky? He knew my husband and I would love her despite her "perfect imperfections". It's true, we do!  It's believing in a God that never makes mistakes that helps us find joy within disability. Maybe you have a child with a disability and need a “fresh perspective” on things, or maybe you don't share this journey but can now begin to cherish the unique path set before you today. The fact remains, disability is a blessing that God gives to special families. Cherish what life has brought you; it was meant to be!

Written by Annie Earls | Photos by Kristin Salvia