Twenty years ago, at six am on All Saints Day, I woke up to the feeling of wetness on my skin. I was hugely pregnant and bloated on my 37th week, but my delivery date, which was supposed to be a scheduled repeat Caesarean section, was still more than two weeks away. On that morning, however, as I dragged myself to the bathroom with fluid leaking between my legs, I knew that this baby was not going to wait two more weeks.
Less than two hours later, I was in the labor room and my contractions were coming steady, strong, and in increasingly shorter intervals as the hours wore on. I never went into labor with my first son, so it was a novel experience, albeit an excruciating one. I remember looking at the clock very often, counting the minutes and hours till they could wheel me out to the delivery room, and trying to distract myself from screaming through the pain by watching television through squinted eyes. (I had no eyeglasses and the nurses made me take off my contact lenses; I was almost blind.)
At four in the afternoon, my labor was suddenly halted by tocolytics injected in my intravenous line. November 1 would not be my delivery date, my obstetrician had instructed in a phone call. My repeat C-section would take place two days later, on November 3.
And this was how Alphonse came into this world, two weeks early but also two days late. That his earliest days were marked by indecision and confusion seemed eerily appropriate as it foretold a lifetime of straddling worlds- his and ours.
Today, Alphonse turns twenty. This year is especially significant as he chucks off the last physical vestiges of childhood and adolescence and steps into adulthood. True, his cognition is still that of a young child, but the world sees him as a full-grown man now, and were he any other young man at the cusp of his life, we would be planning careers instead of carers.
Twenty years of Alphonse and twenty years of autism. That one cannot exist without the other is no longer a source of our grief or shame. We have moved beyond the sorrow, the guilt, and the blame, to a point where only Love exists. We have made peace with the fact that autism will be our constant companion for the rest of our days. While it has made our son’s life- and ours- difficult, it has also woven and bonded our family into a formidable force that protects and loves Alphonse unconditionally.
Indeed, we have lived through much. But our joys have also far exceeded our sorrows. We have learned to appreciate life more keenly, to value the seconds and treasure them as if they were our last. We have learned to be grateful for every little smile of our often long and tiring days. We have learned to work together, to trust and support each other, even when other families have been torn apart. And we have learned to accept and love each other for all our weaknesses and frailties, knowing that our strength as a family trumps any of our individual failings.
Today, on Alphonse’s 20th birthday, I must admit we still have many of the same questions we had when we first started our journey with him. Who is he? What does he really want? How will he be ten, twenty years, from now? The truth is, we don’t know the answers to these still. Just like any other child, his is an unwritten future and we can only guess at them for now.
The only difference between then and now is this: the certainty that whatever happens, we will go through them together. Alphonse will never walk alone.
Happy birthday, dearest one! Mama, Papa and Kuya love you always!