“Just the other day, I found myself admitting to another mom that I’m not sure we would have chosen to have more kids had we known of the diagnosis before getting pregnant. The second the words came out of my mouth, I regretted it. But, as much as I regretted it, it was the truth. And that truth breaks my heart because I cannot imagine our life without this little neurotypical nugget. As I continue to work with parents of children on the spectrum, I think this share is important because adding siblings can be such a crucial transition and dynamic for a family, and a particularly different one for families with ‘differently wired’ children.
Alex was our ‘bow baby,’ meaning she tied our family with a bow of completion. When we did IVF for the twins, we were so fortunate to have 11 eggs make it to day 5 of the process. We used the two for the twins and were in amazing shape with 9 frozen embryos to consider the future of our family, providing the twins’ siblings.
When the twins were a year-and-a-half, we felt like we were finally getting some sleep, and ready to try again. We had this SILLY concept that we wanted to get all the ‘hard’ out of the way while it was ‘still hard’ before we forgot what ‘hard’ felt like. Yeah. I know all the parents and caregivers are laughing at that one. But you don’t know what you don’t know, right?
The first attempt at IVF was successful, but I was traveling for work, working nearly 80 hours in a four-day time period for one of our biggest events, and lost that pregnancy at nine weeks. It was a very hard loss to swallow. I knew it was my fault. I traveled across the country, barely slept, and worked on my feet for an ungodly amount of time during weeks 7 and 8. Not the smartest move on my part, but it was my job and I was ‘doing what I had to do.’ It was a loss and something that was very different than the 3 years and 11 IUIs that simply never took when trying to have the boys. It was a loss that many do not talk about, because of the embarrassment, shame, sadness, and feelings of failure tied to it. But oh, the collateral beauty that came from that loss has forever shaped our lives in such an important domino effect.
When we were finally pregnant with the twins, my wife admitted she was curious to know what that ‘surprise’ feels like for spouses (yes, typically the males in the relationship) when the wife gets to surprise them with the news they are about to be parents. I had concocted this plan in my head that for the second pregnancy, I’d surprise her. Now, with IVF, it’s not that easy. The doctors need legal consent from both parents of the embryos, so she needed to sign documentation, but I knew if we could just ‘start the process,’ I could work out the shots and appointments on my own. I had even convinced our dear friend, Ashlee Rollins, to help me with the surprise. She was excited to be my partner in crime.
But life has different plans. One week Ash and I were secretly planning to expand my family, and the next, she was undergoing chemo treatments for a wretched diagnosis of cancer. During a time I thought I’d be sneaking away for ‘coffee with Ashlee’ to get the implementation of an embryo, I was going to a hospital to hold her hand and listen to a doctor tell her she needed to understand the severity of her diagnosis, as treatment was no longer working, and it was time to accept what was ahead. Within six months of first learning of the diagnosis, we lost our young, vibrant, care-free, dependable, loyal, and irreplaceable friend, only two days after she celebrated her 24th birthday.
After she passed, I gave up thinking I could surprise Steph. When I lost the first baby after the twins, I think part of me was just too bitter about everything to believe happiness could come from that pregnancy. That’s a truly wretched thing to say, but it’s the truth. We were heartbroken. A baby coming into this world deserves parents with mended hearts, full of love and ready to be actively present for their children.
After a time, I felt like I could handle trying again. Steph and I went for the second round of IVF. We were truly fortunate, as that one took, and our family would begin to grow. The irony was that this baby’s due date would be June 7… Ashlee’s birthday was June 11, and we lost her on June 13. Yes, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit part of me prayed the baby would be late and tied astrologically to our friend in some way.
That’s the thing about destiny though. This incredible little human’s fate was to be born in June, but she intended to be ‘ready when she was ready,’ and couldn’t wait a day longer. Little Miss Alex (Alli) Rollins Young was born to us on June 4, 2018, at 11:59 a.m., weighing in at 9 pounds 12 ounces. Girlfriend took ALL the room those twins left behind and then some. The whole family fell in love with her immediately.
During the first year Alli was with us, it was so interesting to see how each twin took to her. Luca was trepidatious, always preceding with caution. Jack, however, constantly referring to her as ‘my baby,’ was Mommy’s little helper, always grateful for a sibling who wanted this attention. Their bond was heartwarming beyond belief. As soon as Alex could crawl, she’d follow Jack everywhere. She knew to give Luca space, but any time Jack looked for her, she’d rush to be by his side, full of giggles that seem to be endless.
These days, we can find Alex and Jack playing hide-and-seek behind the curtains or racing through the living room chasing each other. Their bond continuing to grow with such adoration. Equally, however, they each fight for my attention, as Alli tends to observe all of Jack’s behaviors, repeating any she seems to deem worthy. They snuggle on the couch when they both first wake up, more mornings then I can count, and Alli will work every charming smile she can to snuggle beside him for a book before bed at night. There are days I look at them and think to myself, ‘Oh to be loved like that, how that must feel for each of them.’ And for a while, this thought would make my heart smile, and hurt in tandem, as I watched our other child watch the experience happen for his siblings, but not for himself.
Recently, however, Luca has let her play. Even when working his lines and in his calm little world, he will allow her in. You’ll see her barrel her way toward him, anxious to see what he is so fixated on. Had she been Jack, looking to play with anything he’s playing with, we would immediately redirect Jack away to something ‘more exciting,’ but with Alex, we let her use her magic as far as Luca will let her before it upsets him. We know when Luca isn’t interested in her touching, as he’ll yell ‘buh-bye, see you later!’ or ‘help,’ meaning he’s heartedly focused and cannot allow her disruption. But often, he’ll even let her disrupt his lines, holding back his frustration and the pain it’s causing him, just to be patient with her and let her explore. It’s like he is showing her his love for her by letting her in his bubble, despite how painful it is for him.
And then, just a few weeks ago, Luca began to seek her out when she entered a room, to say ‘Hi!’ If he was awake before she was, he’d rush to the entry gate and make direct eye contact (big deal for us) and yell ‘HI!’ waving his hands at her, before turning to go back to whatever he was doing. Every night since it began, when she comes home with Mama from her day at school, he rushes to the garage door with a ‘Hi, how are you,’ automatic response, connecting eyes. He’s even let her lay beside him in bed during storytime, a few nights when Jack has fallen asleep before his siblings, and Alex is desperate to hang in her big brothers’ room before going to her room where no other companions sleep. And lately, when we tell Alli to give everyone ‘love’ before nap, he’ll hear the reference, and look for his sister to make sure he’s included in the rounds of kisses and snuggles she intentionally spreads around the room. His arms may not make it around her, but he will allow her to hug him, which in itself is such an area of growth.
This may seem insignificant compared to the clearly connected images you see between Jack and Alli, but this is simply incredible.
This pure joy she gives him is something no one else could, and something he was desperately wishing for from Luca. He has someone who is looking up to him, following his lead, naturally letting him help her and love her and need her for the rest of his life. She hugs him regularly and gives him kisses every night before bed. She squeals elatedly when he enters a room unexpectedly, looking just for her. Their love for one another is like two pieces to a puzzle that could not function without another. It’s truly adorable.
Luca is smiling too. Maybe he won’t pose for a photo at the moment. Maybe he won’t wrestle her, or cuddle her on the couch, or even give her the kisses Jack so sweetly will when she’s fallen and hurt herself. Luca looking for eye contact and wanting to greet her when she enters a room — to me, this is his heart smiling. She’s pulling out his need to be needed by her and his want to be important to her.
Naturally an introvert, we often try to not bother him, but what we’ve seen lately makes us realize maybe he doesn’t actually want to be an introvert. Maybe he just needs to practice the interaction to determine if he likes, wants, or needs it. His teachers have noticed he’s even begun to demonstrate a similar behavior with classmates. Looking to comfort a friend when they are in pain, make eye contact with a warm greeting when he sees them, and even play with particularly chosen mates on the playground each day at recess. Something has awakened inside of him where he wants to be noticed and isn’t afraid to be known. I think this has stemmed from the little girl who is slowly stealing his heart, because she isn’t going anywhere, and he was forced to fall in love with her fearless need to simply be part of his world.
One key thing our kids have taught me this year, watching them accept and enjoy their siblings, is there is a special power being brought into this world with other humans who are allowed to love you before they know any better – during all your innocence and learning. Yes, all relationships are different and require effort, a give-and-take, and real work. But the sibling relationship is how you learn how to be something to someone. They aren’t your parents or an adult who requires your attention, respect, and obedience. They are your equal, your friend, your fellow ‘little.’ They are whatever you let them be. And like all great relationships, yes, some people are in your life simply for what you need them to be in that moment, but some people become those who define who you were, who you are, and who you will become.
Luca might be learning from Alex, things he was never open to learning from Jack, but Alex will learn things from Luca she could never learn from Jack, as well. She’ll learn things from both of her brothers about the power of kindness, patience, understanding diversity, and loyalty. The life lessons they will each learn from each other, they would not be able to learn in such magnitude from anyone else.
It’s true I’m not sure we would have had more kids had we known about the diagnosis prior to getting pregnant because as parents, we are beyond committed to our children. I could not be more grateful for the timing of our family bow, because I cannot imagine our life without her in it. If you’re parenting autism and questioning how siblings may feed new or additional challenges into the mix, or even just wondering if your neurotypical children who are so easy as a singleton would benefit from having a sibling, my only advice is to listen to your heart and let fate do its thing. Even on our hardest days juggling all three kids under the age of five, I still wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Christina Young. You can follow their journey on Instagram and their website. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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