Less than two months into quarantine and it’s hard for most to remember life “B.C.”- before COVID. With toilet paper now the ultimate hot ticket item, life as we know it has done a 180 for many people. And while I empathize with this adjustment for so many, I have to admit that for our family, life isn’t much different. This may be largely due to the fact that my husband and I are both still working outside the home, but I think the main reason why life doesn’t feel drastically different for us is simple: as special needs parents, we’ve learned to adjust to life’s curve balls. Being a mother to a son with a physical disability has prepared me to overcome seemingly impossible situations. Here’s several reasons why being a special needs parent helped equip me for COVID.
Adapt to situations and alter expectations
Like many first time moms, while pregnant I found myself wondering what my baby’s future would look like. When we learned we were having a boy, we automatically assumed he would be a star athlete, destined for greatness. So, you can imagine how that vision was quickly altered when we received a pre-natal diagnosis that our son would be born with a severe, rare form of dwarfism. Gone were the thoughts of collegiate football. We now desperately prayed he would survive. Our plans that his childhood would be spent chasing a soccer ball or hitting homeruns have been replaced with years of aggressive physical therapy and multiple surgeries. But, I have found that those who are able to roll with the punches- no matter how hard the blow- are the ones who are able to pick themselves back up and keep going.
With schools abruptly closed, jobs furloughed, and worst yet, lives of loved ones permanently affected or lost, we are all adapting. But as my home girl Cheryl Strayed says, “You don’t have a right to the cards you believe you should have been dealt. You have an obligation to play the hell out of the ones you’re holding.” Now is the time to adjust your sails- and expectations- to your current situation. I can vouch that life can turn out vastly different than expected, but if you play your hand right, it can be even better than you hoped for.
Social distancing isn’t a new concept
For so many people, quarantine life during a pandemic has brought about feelings of intense isolation. Being a special needs parent means isolation isn’t just limited to stay at home orders and lockdowns. Children with special needs and their parents and caregivers experience a disproportionate amount of isolation, whether from behavioral issues, medical complexities, or most commonly, lack of support. Because of my son’s many needs early on, I worked night shift for three years in order to be available for his unending therapies and doctors appointments. Compound working nights with necessary social distancing to keep us healthy enough for frequent surgical procedures and recovery times, and it often felt like life for us revolved around the hospital and work schedules. The isolation is real, and can quickly get overwhelming. Our most intense season of this occurred after my son underwent two consecutive neck surgeries across the country and spent 7 total months spent in a halo. Needless to say, visitors and play dates were few and far between those months.
If this period of social isolation has been especially different from your normal routine, consider those around you who, for whatever reason, may need to continue these practices even when we aren’t in a pandemic. Find a way to reach out and let them know they aren’t alone.
Grief and gratitude can co-exist
If the past 6 years of special needs motherhood have taught me anything, it’s that grief demands to be felt. For months, if not years, I suppressed immense grief for the life I had pictured and previously known. How could I be so sad when my son not only survived, but thrived despite his challenges, when others weren’t so fortunate? I have come to accept that grief and gratitude are not mutually exclusive. I can grieve the life I imagined while being overwhelmed with gratitude for the one I have.
You can be thankful for the opportunity to have your kids home more before college, while mourning a senior year that ended abruptly. You can grieve the loss of a job, and have gratitude for the time you now have to spend with family or pursuing other passions. You can feel hope and fear, uncertainty and optimism, grief and gratitude all together. I know this firsthand.
Special needs parents know it doesn’t take a pandemic to have life as you know it change in the blink of an eye. But, we’ve overcome seemingly impossible obstacles, and we’ll get through this too. We’re all in this together. Some of us have just had longer to prepare.