I have read so many articles that start the same way ‘I never expected it to be so hard’, or ‘parenthood isn’t easy’ or even ‘why wasn’t I warned’ – but the truth of the matter is, no matter how many times you read those sentences, nothing, absolutely nothing can prepare you for just how difficult parenthood is. Ask any mother. It doesn’t matter if you had the perfect pregnancy or indeed the most serene labour, every mother will tell you the same. Nothing can prepare you fully for the life-time career that you are about to embark on. Mentally and emotionally your life turns upside down.
Don’t get me wrong, having Isaac has been the best thing to have happened to me. I strongly believed he came to save me in many ways to lead me down the road my life was destined for. But there are days I wonder why that path had to be so rocky and treacherous. I am sure each mother will have their own stories explaining why they agree with that statement. This, is mine. Life hadn’t been easy for a while, but I was muddling through. I had escaped a marriage that had been mentally abusive and was going through a really messy divorce. I had just set up on my own with Isaac who was 3 years old at the time in our new flat. We were starting our new life. As happens so often in life, it never rains but it pours. My marriage had ended, and although mentally I felt free I can’t deny that there was obvious pain there. Then my parents family dog passed away, followed closely by my grandparents passeing away within weeks of each other. We were a close family, so loosing them was tough, not only for me but for my Isaac, who at 3 years old was having to deal with more than any three year old should have to. So if you can picture the setting of emotions that where whirling round our life at this point. Not everything was doom and gloom though. As if by some miracle, I had been sent my knight in shining armour, I had no doubt that he had been sent to rescue me. Despite all the upheaval, life carrys on right?
Isaac was set to leave nursery and start pre-school. Yet another large transition. This is when the next hurdle in our journey would present itself. Isaac wasn’t settling in at all. He was being disruptive, aggressive and had taken to hiding under tables. The list of concerns from the school was endless. I spoke with administation and explained everything what had been going on at home, hoping that his change in behaviour was just down to an unsettled period. Surely this would all calm down. Their response wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Instead of understanding and help, they told me he was just being a naughty boy and the issues at home couldn’t be the cause of his behaviour as children are quite resilient.
Those in higher positions are always right aren’t they? They know best – so we are told. They must, that’s why they are put in these positions. So I did what I think any mother in my position would do. I believed them. Weeks and months went by but instead of improving, things just seemed to be getting worse. I was having to collect Isaac from school almost everyday as they couldn’t cope, which meant leaving work and losing pay. My own emotions were taking a nosedive. I was blaming myself thinking maybe I was a bad parent and this is why Isaac is behaving this way. I even began to wonder if I had caused all this just by leaving his dad. I was screaming on the inside and was desperate for help but I didn’t speak to anyone about how I felt. I felt like a failure and just had no where to turn. On the outside I was the strong, dependable Heather that everyone expected, but inside I was an entirely different person.
There came a point where I started to question the situation. This wasn’t my son, I knew it wasn’t just bad behaviour or an emotional reaction. I knew my son and something wasn’t right. A mothers intuition. We continued to battle on all the way through pre-school and reception but by the time we got to the start year 1 I was fighting with school everyday. I was determined to get Isaac help. Eventually they offered Isaac 1on1 support and opportunities to leave the class at times of high stress to calm down to a so called ‘sensory room’.
Every single day was like running the gauntlet, even just to get him into the class, most mornings parents and teachers would watch as I chased him around the playground trying to calm him down. I continued to take time out of work for constant meetings with school staff, fighting for them to help. They continued to insist he was simply a naughty boy, as there was ‘nothing wrong.’ It was even suggested that maybe it was me needed parenting courses. Now, I can assure you, every mother feels like a failure sometimes. But when you are fighting every day and feel like you are hanging on by the bitten edges of your nails, to be told that maybe you are the problem is a punch in the gut that NO mother deserves. Then the straw that would break the camels back was finally dealt.
I got the dreaded phone call yet again, I was asked to come to school as they simply couldn’t control him.
I arrived at school and when I got to Isaac he was traumatised. I had never seen him in this state. Every parent send their children to school each morning hoping that the school will keep them safe and happy while out of our sights. No parent ever wants to turn up to school and see their child in the condition I found Isaac in. I ended up sitting in the middle of the corridor in the high school for an entire hour rocking my son in my arms to calm him down and tell him that everything would be ok. Even writing this now, I am crying remembering the furious beating of his heart rate and the tears that streamed down our cheeks. I will never forget it, but neither will Isaac. That day will never leave him.
The whole situation was heartbreaking enough without the judegmental stares from teachers who believe this is entirely your fault as a terrible mother. I was destroyed. I was taken to the ‘sensory room’ with Isaac to collect his things. I was expecting to see this nice calming space – at least that is what they had described to me. What faced me however left me speechless. I honestly wondered if it was some kind of cruel joke. They had been stuffing my traumatised son in a room that could only be described as a cupboard with a single beanbag and a bright light. It was a storage cupboard. They had been stuffing my son in a storage cupboard and hoping he would calm himself down!
That day, I walked out of those school gates and vowed never to return. They had forced him to endure almost 2 years of this and our lives would never be the same again. My mother bear instincts took over and I was determined to protect him from a similar situation ever happening again. We found him a much smaller school with a headteacher who was much more sympathetic, understood our situation and actually wanted to help. The new school did everything they possibly could to help Isaac. He was offered additional support, they paid for 1 to 1 teachers to be with him and started the procedure of getting the educational support services involved. For the first time, someone agreed with me that Isaac was not a naughty boy and that infact he was showing obvious signs of ADHD and indicators of being on the Autistic spectrum. It wasn’t all smooth sailing. Changing schools wouldn’t fix everything instantly. Isaac struggled with the change and did not settle well. He was aggressive, violent and couldn’t cope with the environment, people or noises. At home he was the same, it was rocking our world upside down. But at least I felt like we were getting help from somewhere.
I was so lucky to have Barry (my knight in shining armour) but to this day I don’t know how he has stayed with us. Taking on someone else’s child is a massive deal for anyone but to accept on a child with additional needs is even harder.Every day was a battle. I would cry myself to sleep in Barry’s arms each night – I never knew what I was doing. I had no idea if I was doing the right thing. I worried about what the next day would bring. It wasn’t unusual for Isaac to lash out – he would punch me, throw things, turn the house upside down, smash things and nothing we could do and say would stop it. I would spend hours restraining him and then rocking him untill he was calm. It was heart-breaking. Every social event was a disaster, people stopped inviting Isaac to parties, he had a complete meltdown at our engagement party and wedding. I was at breaking point, I didn’t know how to help my little boy. As good as the new school was, it got to the point when they had tried everything they could, and he was being sent to a behaviour centre while we continued to fight with powers above to get the right help for Isaac and a diagnosis.
Four years down the line and we were still waiting and being told that we could be waiting a long time yet for any kind of real help due to underfunding and a lack of resources. Enough was enough, mentally and emotionally I just couldn’t take any more. I was almost about to lose my job due to the sheer amount of time I had taken off to fight for my son. The stress on my relationship with Barry and more to the point watching your child stressed and emotionally out of control is just destroying. So, myself and his dad took the headteachers advice and paid go private. Financially this was tough, we had to borrow the money. I was angry as this isn’t the way it should be, you shouldn’t have to pay to get help for a child’s mental wellbeing, their shouldn’t be a 5 years waiting list to be seen by the NHS, but we had no choice and to be honest I would have sold everything I owned if it meant finally getting answers and help.
After a few short sessions Isaac was finally officially diagnosed with ADHD and he was indeed on the Autistic spectrum.
Getting the results was emotional. I just sobbed. A mixture of emotions rolled up into one. I was sad that my son had now a ‘label’ but also I also felt a huge relief that someone could see what I had seen. He wasn’t just naughty for naughtys sake.
My son has a medical condition that effects his brain. He can no more control that than the colour of his skin, or colour of his eyes. Isaac was put onto medication and things started slowly getting better. Now that we have a diagnosis the government and NHS have to listen. He was accepted straight into to be seen by the children’s mental health team and was approved (eventually) for funding to go to a special needs school.
Isaac is now doing amazing its like living with a different child. Don’t get me wrong we still have times where its difficult. He still has meltdowns, still has difficult times at school, but now we have teachers that understand and want to help.
We are now living life rather than struggling through each and every day worn and exhausted. There are days when I feel like 4 years of our lives were taken away from us. But over the last 12 months I have also seen Isaac improve and over this time I have grown stronger and done lots of work on myself. 18 months ago, Isaac was really struggling. He was suffering with low confidence, self-love, low self-esteem and was saying he didn’t want to be here in this world anymore. For a mother to hear these words is heart breaking. He couldn’t cope anymore and I knew I had to change this. I did lots of work with him starting with positive affirmations and it really turned his life around. We were even invited onto BBC Radio Lancashire to tell our story, and Isaac had the confidence to share his views live on radio.
Instead of dwelling on what time we lost and the pain we endured, I have used this experience to better myself and my family and now offer coaching to other parents in similar situations. I hope that by telling my story that if there is just one mother reading this that feels they are going through a similar situation – don’t stop fighting. Ever. There is light at the end of the tunnel. You might not see it now, but I promise you it is there. Don’t be brain washed by others, don’t let anyone tell you that you are wrong, or that it’s your fault.
Believe your mothers instinct and fight for what you believe. Our children need US to be their voices when they cannot find their own. So, put on your Supermum (or Superdad!) cape on and fight. The reward will be more than you can ever imagine.
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