Right now I am in Lyra’s room, rocking her back to sleep, feeling a bit defeated. This is not a night where Lyra won’t settle. She is one tired little kiddo (thank you swimming). No, Lyra was sound asleep and puked all over her bed. This has been part of her life basically all her life and at times it is devastating as her mama. She just looks so sad when she vomits and she frequently has trouble catching her breath afterwards. Despite working with an amazing team of doctors, nurses and other professionals, no one has any answers or solutions. This is part of raising a child with a rare condition.
Tomorrow is Rare Disease Day. While I tend to try to focus more on the positive than the negative with Lyra, I want people to understand what it feels like to raise a child with a rare condition. Don’t get me wrong. My days are filled with love and joy. Lyra and I laugh a lot together, but there is a side I don’t like to talk about.
Raising a child with a rare condition is isolating, frustrating, and terrifying.
I am one of the lucky ones in that I have a lot of family support. It makes a huge difference. However, I often feel isolated. My experience of becoming and being a parent is so vastly different than anyone else I know. When Lyra was born I didn’t have that special moment of her being placed on my chest and sharing a little bonding moment. The nurses did place her on my chest, but it was with the hope that the skin on skin contact would trigger her instinct to breath. I sat there, dazed, as everyone kept saying in tensely calm voices, “breath baby, breath.” Then she was whisked away. From that point on, hospital life gradually became more normal to me. While a hospital stay has been an understandably stressful and scary experience for other parents I know, for me it has become a norm. Inconvenient, yes, but as much a part of life as a trip to the pediatrician.
One of the most isolating things, for me, is that none of the information out there applies to her, or our situation. Keep in mind, Lyra is the first documented case to have both 9p trisomy and 16p deletion. Also, doctors have never seen her neurological abnormalities present the way her have. This means that there is little to no relevant information what to expect, or how to handle any potential complications. It also means that there is no community for us. There is no support group for parents like me. There isn’t another child I can introduce Lyra to and definitively say, “you are not alone.” As of right now, we are an island in the rare condition community.
This leads nicely into frustration. We have no answers. We have no solutions. The best example I have of this is feeding Lyra. We have come to the realization that Lyra doesn’t feel hungry (likely due to her brain abnormalities). This means that we will be using the tube for a very long time. Perhaps for her whole life. To be honest, I am okay with that. What I find frustrating is that we can’t find a way to get her to keep food down. She throws up at least once a day for no apparent reason. We have literally. tried. everything. Trust me, we have a great team working with us on this. It is so frustrating to me that in 21 months of trying to find a solution, I feel like I am no closer to figuring out what works for her. It makes me so sad to see her puke. Her stomach heaves, her eyes bulge, and she sounds so congested afterwards. The worst it when it happens when she is sleeping, like tonight. She gets so sad and upset. She just wants to sleep. I get so frustrated that I can’t help her.
I also get frustrated with how long it can take to see progress with her. This is why I celebrate milestones that she does reach with so much enthusiasm. Although we work with occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy weekly (yes, that is 3 appointments every week), every skill Lyra learns is hard won. It took until she was almost a year to get her to roll from her back to her stomach. She was at least 18 months old before she crawled. She still just babbles and only signs when she wants to be picked up. And eating…. well…. if she is motivated she will eat a bit. However, if she isn’t in the mood there is a better chance of it snowing in Hawaii than there is of getting her to eat.
This is the piece that I rarely, if ever, talk about. Death is a more pronounced presence in my community, and I live with the fear of losing Lyra. Most days that feeling is so small that I don’t even notice it, but it is always there. The simple fact of the matter is that Lyra is compromised. Many of her internal systems did not form quite correctly. What an average person would likely recover from, she may not. Also, since she is the first documented case of someone with both her genetic disorders, there could be complications down the road that we can’t anticipate. My biggest fear is that I don’t know how long I get to keep her. I want to keep my loving and joyful little girl forever, but that may simply not be in the cards. When I have asked doctors about it, they get very quiet. They simply don’t know what to anticipate and they cannot tell me that everything will be okay. So the fear is always there, normally hiding in a little corner.
Now, is this a complete picture of what it’s like to raise a child with a rare condition? Obviously not. Anyone who knows me, or is linked to me on social media, knows that this is not the whole picture of our lives. But it is an important part, and a part that many aren’t comfortable sharing.