Posts tagged ‘cleft palate’

Just Like a “Call the Midwife” episode

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For some odd reason, I love the show “Call the Midwife”. Every conceivable scenario for “birthing babies” (obscure reference to “Gone with the Wind”) is explored. For this reason, I will be sharing the birth of my brother.

I got swept into the drama of childbirth at the tender age of four, an early memory that was etched into my tender brain. Several months before my mom was supposed to go to the hospital to get her new baby, my dad ushered both of us into the car, handed me a very large bag of Hershey kisses and dropped me off at my grandparents. My grandparents were not your usual huggy kissy type, but the standoffish, can’t stand kids type. So I sat there alone in their oven of their Floridian sun porch, eating Hershey kisses and watching Captain Kangaroo and Howdy Doody on their tiny tv. As the chocolate melted, it was imperative to eat them right away, which, of course, I did! Covered in melted chocolate, I was able to enjoy the taste for quite a while afterwards, licking my fingers and scooping up melted spots from my dress.

When mom came home from the hospital, I jumped up and down in excitement to see my new sibling. Mom was not her cheerful self, but managed to open the blanket to show me my new brother. I had never seen a new baby before, so I thought this one just wasn’t done yet. He certainly was tiny! His baby blue eyes were tenderly open, but in the middle of his face was a gaping hole where his nose and mouth should be. Still had to grow in, I thought in my childlike innocence. He had these huge ears that stuck straight out. He was going to be able to hear everything with those ears! He was a fine looking baby!

In my childhood innocence, and before post-partum depression was a diagnosis, it seemed odd that my mother spent all of her time in bed, crying softly. She picked Curtis up to feed him with an eyedropper, but most of the milk dribbled down the side of his mouth spot. Her tears would continue to fall, and I could tell she was upset because he didn’t seem to want to drink the milk. When she laid him down for his long daily naps, he would make mewing noises like a cat. I thought it was cute until learning later that he was crying.

My childhood was turned upside down. My loving, sweet mom changed. There were no more of her tender kisses and words of encouragement. She didn’t want to play games with me, or go for one of our walks around the block. In her place was a stranger.

I was brave and tried to take care of myself, but my heart ached at the loss of my mom. She spent all of her time in bed, sleeping or quietly crying. She continued to try to feed Curtis, but most of the time the milk spilled out and she would put him down again for a nap, where his mewing was heard constantly. Sometimes, when she was asleep, I would pull a chair next to his cradle and unwrap Curtis, letting his tiny fingers hold onto one of mine. I would sing songs my mom sang to me, and sometimes he would stop mewing. Time would go by with me sitting there, stroking his bald head and telling him the story of The Three Little Pigs and Goldilocks and the Three Bears. I would be pleased with myself if he would go to sleep and not mew. He looked so peaceful and sweet!

A few weeks after Curtis was born I was sitting in the living room eating out of a cereal box and watching “Lamb Chop”. The sound of the rocking chair in my mom’s room indicated she was again fruitlessly trying to calm Curtis as he mewed. Her room suddenly brightened, as though she had turned on a million lamps. Streams of light spewed out the door of her bedroom into the living room. It was curious and strange, but I was just a kid and saw new things every day, it was no big deal. Returning to watching my favorite lamb puppet sing and dance, I was annoyed that the streams of light made it difficult to a see the tv.

From that time on, the sleeping/crying mom was replaced with my real mom. Carrying Curtis out of her room for the first time, she came over and gave me a kiss and told me she loved me. My own heart softened, and tears started to slide down my cheeks in relief. I had been brave and tried to take care of myself, but having someone else care for me was much preferred.

Mom and I went to the hospital so she could learn how to feed Curtis better. They showed her how to thicken the formula so it would not spill out of his mouth spot. She learned to squeeze little amounts in and wait for him to swallow it. Soon, both Curtis and mom got the hang of it, and he was happily gobbling down the formula. His mewing, which we had become accustomed to, stopped. As weeks went by, he gained weight and I was sure he smiled at me. Of course, it was hard to tell because he had such a strange mouth spot, but his eyes twinkled in such a way that I could tell he was smiling. What a lovely new baby brother!

Fact #1: My brother had been born with Rubella Syndrome, and was hearing impaired, legally blind, severely developmentally delayed and had several physical deformities. He was born this way because when my mother was pregnant, she came in contact with someone who had German Measles. Thankfully, a vaccine was invented to prevent this disease, which can harm more than the carrier.

Fact #2 It was years later that my mom explained what happened that day when the bright light filtered out of her room. She had been rocking mewing Curtis, herself crying and uncharacteristically cursing her life and the life of her deformed, newborn son. Unexpectedly, she was engulfed in an unbelievably bright light that emitted the feeling of unconditional love and encouragement. It washed the sadness out of her, and seemed to tell her everything was going to be all right. She knew it to be a Divine Being, and this experience changed her life, and mine, forever.

 

 

To read the life story of Linda’s sweet brother and Divinely amazing mother, along with her own passion for caring for children with disabilities, please purchase her book; The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane. It is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

 

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“God Don’t Make Junk”

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This used to be my mom’s favorite saying. She believed it all of her life, but never as much as she did after the birth of my brother, Curtis. When she was pregnant with him, she was unknowingly exposed to German Measles, thus affecting him with Rubella Syndrome.

Curtis was unfortunate to acquire all of the accompanying diagnosis; he had a severe hearing impairment, congenital heart disease, an intellectual disability, an odd head shape (like a smooshed pear,) a cleft lip and palate, autism and was legally blind with crossed eyes that wiggled back and forth. (Additionally, when he was a teen, he developed schizophrenia, but that’s for another story…)

Because I was only 4 when he was born, I thought he was the cutest thing in the world! He was my BROTHER, after all. I delighted in feeding him formula through an eye dropper, trying to quell his kitten like hunger cries. I loved to rock him in the rocking chair, all bundled up and warm. He was a delight to me!

Curtis’s life in our family was as amazing as mine. Loving, adventurous, interesting, and accepting. Anywhere we went, I would explain to quizzical stares that he was born like that and he might look different, but inside he was the same as everyone else. In fact, he had an amazing sense of humor and would laugh at anything! He loved to eat peaches and watch Sesame Street. As I extoled my brother’s virtues, I could see their stares soften with understanding and acceptance.

The “gawking” role was reversed when I was a parent, and this moment is etched into my mind. Francis and I were at the zoo. He must have been about four years old because I remember pushing his sister, Dinora, in a stroller. Nearing a pen of vastly ugly pigs snorting mud, Francis exclaimed, “Look, mom! One of the animals got out of the cage.” I looked over and saw a horrified mother with a toddler in a stroller. A disfigured toddler, with a gaping mouth like Curtis used to have. And the child was snorting bubbles and drool. Taken aback and horrified by what Francis said, I took his hand and we walked over to the stroller. I smiled at the mom and told her what beautiful eyes her child had! I asked her if it would be okay if we touched him, and Francis and I leaned over and gently rubbed the child’s chubby little hands, which opened and closed in excitement. “He really seems to be enjoying the zoo!” I said, as we parted, smiling knowing little smiles at each other.

I then took Francis aside and explained that God makes all types of children, and “God don’t make junk!” His observational comment was an innocent one, (especially because he is legally blind,) but it provided an opportunity for a valuable lesson.

Every mother wants to be proud of her child, and to have others share in her positive feelings. Every child is a joy! Imagine yourself in the mother of a disabled child’s shoes. Have empathy for that mom. Join in her admiration of her child, and maybe you will also internalize the concept that “God don’t make junk!”

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For more stories about Curtis’ childhood and our adventurous family, please, read my book. Here is a link:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-apple-tree/id538572206?mt=11

The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!

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(warning: contains disturbing, graphic content)

My brother was born in the 1960s at a time when children with disabilities as extensive as my brother’s (Rubella Syndrome, cleft palate, severely developmentally delayed, legally blind, hearing impaired, heart condition, etc.) were placed in institutions at the “suggestion” of their doctors. Without knowing the specifics, all I knew was that my mother was devastated and took to her bed sobbing, my father very angry and was rarely home, and my brother cried all of the time because he could not eat through the gaping hole which was supposed to be his mouth.

My mom chose not to follow the doctor’s “orders”, which was highly unusual for her because she was a person who NEVER disobeyed authorities. Yet, she knew in her broken, sad heart that “putting him away” was not the right thing to do. Even if her life was changed forever, Curtis would remain at home. She slowly got over her devastation, and my father was home more often and Curtis was fed with an eye dropper. I loved feeing him as he gently gurgled and mewed like a baby kitten. My brother was a part of our family, and went on to live a full and exciting life as a member of our vagabond family.

My dad loved to drive and my brother loved to ride. He especially LOVED tunnels. Dad would go out of his way during our travels to go through them, such as the toll tunnels in Pennsylvania. Riding through the darkness, hearing the swoosh of the engine motor and the echoes of the other cars would send my brother into fits of giggles. Curtis also loved the excitement of paying tolls. Hand over hand, I would help him lean out the passenger window to drop the coins into the basket, and he’d clap his hands with delight. Life was great, and Curtis was always a full, participating member of our family and our community. Our life was “normal” to me.

It wasn’t until I went for my first job interview as a rehabilitation professional at a state institution that I learned what my brother’s fate would have been had my mom decided to do as her doctor advised. The first and LAST ward I toured scarred me for life. The “dorm” was rows, 20 deep, of metal beds bracketed to the floor. Most had some semblance of a sheet on them, some not. “Blankets”, or what USED to be blankets before they became worn and dirty,were randomly thrown on the bed. Many were stained with a dark brown substance that I assumed was NOT dirt. In the “kitchen”, rows of large baby bottles filled with a mushy substance substituted for a lunch.

It wasn’t until I went into the “day room” that I became physically ill. The smell of vomit, feces and urine attacked my nose so I wanted to hold my breath. In the large, tile room, with no windows to even indicate it was day outside, sat about twenty-five people, looking more like wild creatures. All ages, men and women, young and old, sat and rocked their bodies, flailed about and screeched. Hair dirty and tangled and disgusting. Eyes either glaringly wild or no emotion at all. Most naked or with minimal clothing. There was a large drain in the middle of the floor where human waste congregated; feces, vomit, urine. (Apparently, a large hose was used to “clean” individuals and it was all shoved into the middle of the floor, hopefully to go down the drain.) No attempt at programming. No attempt at socialization. No furniture because, I was told, they would either throw it, break it or try to eat it. Most of the residents, I was told had never see life outside of the institution, coming to the institution as infants. (Thoughts of my beloved brother flashed through my mind.)

It was obvious abuse was rampart on the part of the residents, swatting and clawing at each other as I stood there. A few residents, deemed the most violent, were in shackles. The two ward attendants were obviously immune to the sight because that would be the only way possible for a human being to do their job.

I left the tour, vomited and cried all the way home. The scene still haunts me.

FORTUNATELY, this was during a time when family members and professionals started to come together in outrage to demand better treatment. To demand actual services and activities and better living situations. FORTUNATELY, these groups sued the state to hold them accountable for these horrendous living situations.

The passage of even more legislation allowed four unrelated individuals to live together in a house without having to get zoning variance. Group homes were born and life changed forever for individuals with developmental disabilities!

Thank God that the pendulum has swung the other way. Now, individuals with developmental disabilities are recognized to be individuals of equal value and respect. They can choose their own clothing, what they want to eat, where they want to go, and what they want to do. You can see them out bowling, delivering Meals on Wheels, and eating at local restaurants. They are shopping for food at the grocery stores, attending churches of their choosing, and going on cruises. They can go rock climbing, paragliding, and ice fishing. They can order sandwiches just the way they like them, and drink frozen strawberry Daiquiris. They are living life to the fullest, with staff no longer concerned with cleanliness, but with focusing on dignity, free will and respect. Next time you see a person with a developmental disability in the community, smile at them. They will probably smile back, at last!

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To read more about my life with my brother, please read my book. Here is a link:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-apple-tree/id538572206?mt=11

The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

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