On April 20, 2004 I became a mom for the very first time. I remember this day like it was yesterday. The drive to the hospital, checking in, and waiting for the doctor to begin my scheduled induction. It was a long day but the outcome was worth it. I had a beautifu,l 7lb 12oz, and a full head of hair baby girl!
Ella was a pretty easy baby but from the very beginning change always had some sort of affect on her. She slept through the night by 5 weeks old. She was up by 5:30am most days. I got to know Playhouse Disney Shows very early on and have many fond memories of Bear in the Big Blue House, JoJo’s Circus, Rollie Pollie Ollie, and the Wiggles. Funny my youngest has no clue about any of these shows~a little sad! She didn’t like to nap in her crib. She would nap as I held her or my husband. I remember how I lost the baby weight so quickly~I would take her for a walk in her stroller 2x’s a day so she would sleep and yes (gasp) I let her sleep in her stroller and yes (gasp) there is a funny story of her falling out of her stroller onto the floor! I am laughing right now as I think back to that morning!
From the very beginning Ella developed a very close bond with my husband and I. And much to the dislike of some family, she needed time to warm up to anyone before she would be her and leave our side. I hated the comments they would make to her: “It’s OK your mommy is right there.”, “OK I will wait until you are ready to leave mommy/daddy.”, “Oh Ella c’mon you see them all the time!”, etc. The comments to my husband and I were just as annoying: “Just leave, don’t say good-bye. She’ll be fine.”, “You need to get her in preschool sooner.” It was so hard to understand why they couldn’t accept Ella for who she was.
So when our world was turned upside down, Ella was the one who I worried about and still worry about the most. Unfortunately many overlooked her. Everyone seemed to be focused on Hunter because he was a boy and wouldn’t have a male figure in his life. Then the focus was on Gracie because she was the baby. I knew it wasn’t because they loved them more and Ella less. And I honestly think it wasn’t intentional. But to Ella this just made her become more withdrawn and more quiet. She struggled and still struggles on a daily basis with trying to understand why all of this happened. Ella is a very intelligent girl. She hears things and remember things that many do not think she knows. I knew I had to be her voice. I knew I had to make sure she knew she was not alone.
I got her into play therapy when she was in first grade. She liked going because her therapist had a dog. Ella loves animals. We did this for about 6 months. It was not helping nor was Ella ever discussing the issues I was seeing and sharing with the therapist. Things seemed to be “normal” for a good amount of time especially during the summer months. The beginning of second grade came and slowly Ella started to lose interest in things. She refused to play soccer or tennis which were activities she enjoyed and loved to do. She was taking REP Classes through our church. She ended up begging to stop. Then after the Christmas break that year, she began not wanting to go to school which intensified when her teacher became ill and had to take a leave of absence. This is when I knew my little girl was in pain~ a tremendous amount of pain.
The struggle to go to school wasn’t all the time. It usually would happen if she was off for a long weekend or she was home sick and missed more than one day. I would confide in family and a few friends. I got the school involved, found another wonderful therapist for her. But what all of these people weren’t seeing was the pain. The pain I saw in her eyes. The pain that she would only let me see. They didn’t know what it was like to have their child in fetal position hysterically crying, begging you to let her stay home, or to drive her to school. They didn’t feel the pain of dragging your child out of your van and pushing her through the doors of the school building into the guidance counselor’s arms and driving away. This continued on and off through 3rd grade. But by the end of 3rd grade she was enjoying school and seemed to be handling things better.
Then came this school year. We started off well. Yes I could still see something was not right~ not really interacting with the other kids at the bus stop or walking onto the bus and out of school slumped over and her head down. She was excited to be in the “high math class”. She didn’t get her math skills from me! She decided to add to dance and to try out for their competition company~whoa! Who was this child? I was feeling fantastic about this school year. Then out of the blue, no long weekend, no sick day, no major event, nothing….the pain returned. Once again I was looking at my daughter in fetal position on the floor of the van, hysterically crying and begging me to let her stay home. I drove her to school that morning and I had done it before so many times, pushing her out of the van and making her walk to the door. But this time as I watched her compose herself and one of her friends attempt to help calm her down and compose herself as they walked to the door, my heart broke. Ella looked back at me and this time the pain in her eyes was different. She was crying for help. She began to beg me to homeschool her. She pleaded. She said she just wanted to be home with me. I knew I needed to get her to agree to go back to therapy and I knew she had to face the pain she has been keeping in for so long and she finally admitted she was sad all the time. No mother is prepared to hear those words from their child.
I asked for recommendations of child counselors and I researched homeschooling, cyber schools, and other schools in our area. I had some people once again voice opinions that angered me like it did when she was a baby. I had one person say to me, “She does realize this is how it is. She needs to deal with it.”. I had another tell me I was projecting my emotions onto her and I was spiraling out of control. I had someone tell me that as a former teacher I should know that there is nothing better than public school for her. I knew ALL of this. I knew I needed to be her voice. I knew I needed to be there for her. Again only a few people saw my daughter for who she was at that moment in time.
I was fortunate to find (FINALLY) a perfect match for Ella. She loves going to see her therapist and asks to go. She has started to talk more about her feelings to her and to me. Ella suffers from social anxiety. She gets very anxious when she doesn’t know what to expect and a lot of times she puts pressure on herself to be “perfect” at things. Her therapist said that despite her loss, Ella has said she likes to talk to me about it and write things down. She feels Ella has moments of depression but the social anxiety is where we need to focus on along with her self-confidence.
Ella still has days where she doesn’t want to go to school. Ella still has moments where the pain is hard for her to handle. But Ella is learning tools to help. She is more open to it. She knows no matter what, she has one person in her life (actually many people in her life) that accept her for who she is at any given moment. She knows I will be her voice when she can’t speak. She knows I know her pain. She knows I am not going anywhere. She knows we can get through anything.