MY FIRST SON EZRA, was born two weeks late, after four days of backbreaking labor. I had him in 2003 at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) under the influence of Pitocin and an epidural, neither of which was part of the plan. I had been scheduled for a natural water birth. I had taken a Birthing from Within class. I had hired a doula. But, in the end, none of this brought my son into the world the way I expected. And so it was that, in his first moments of life, Ezra began to loosen my grasp on everything I thought I knew.
He was a difficult newborn—crying, never sleeping more than a couple of hours at a time, nursing constantly. I waited eagerly for every development, like all new mothers do, and everything came when the doctors said it should, though just on the late side of normal. Everything, that is, but talking. At eighteen months, Ezra remained silent.
At two, Ezra recognized all the letters of the alphabet. And without using words, he showed us that he understood numbers—in our yard he counted three dandelions with three stomps of his feet. He engaged with the world, just in his own way.
But he still wasn’t talking. Although this concerned me, the worries of others concerned me even more. I took him to OHSU for testing, and evaluators came back with words such as “lowest,” “below,” “behind,” and, finally, “Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified,” or PDD-NOS–a term for the autistic spectrum.
My only knowledge of autism came from a video I’d seen during my student days in a counseling program at Pacific University. The images were devastating: an animal-like child who screeched and banged his head. And now here was my son, diagnosed with PDD-NOS. I couldn’t make sense of it.
In the days that followed Ezra’s diagnosis, my husband, Michael, and I viewed everything through the hazy lens of this new life as a special-needs family. We grasped for solutions. Should we stay home with Ezra? Move to the suburbs? To a deserted island? Although we had bought and lovingly restored a house in the Concordia neighborhood, we decided to move back East. Both Michael and I were from there (from opposite sides of the Hudson River: Long Island and New Jersey), but in some ways the idea of returning felt less like a homecoming and more like an attempt to escape our crisis.
After Michael found a new job, as an urban planner, we sold our house in just a week, then moved, hoping that if the outside world looked more familiar, our new thoughts and feelings about Ezra would become familiar, too.