The Birth of an Unplanned Life

My daughter on the day she was born.

My daughter on the day she was born.

Back in high school I’d curl up and read John Muir. I wanted to be like him, but with better food and a tent. I wanted to tramp in the wilderness and call it a job. I wanted to speak for things that couldn’t talk. I’d stare out the window at fragile clouds, filled with dreams of saving the world.

I had other dreams—or perhaps not so much dreams as expectations. I expected to marry a man who was tall, dark, and handy. I expected to have one dog, two cats, and three children. I expected to live a predictable middle-class life.

I’m not sure when those dreams and expectations began to unravel. Was it when I married my tall, handy, but gray-haired husband? When I decided to stop practicing law six years after graduation? The moment I realized I would never get pregnant? Or the day I met my daughter’s birthparents?

Katie was born at 1 a.m. in a torrential downpour. In a haze of fear, excitement, and sleep-deprivation, Michael and I stood in the hospital and studied her tiny, clenched fists. The rain washed away everything that might have been, leaving only her. We called the adoption agency and said yes. I was two months shy of my 40th birthday, and once again I was filled with dreams.

Those dreams were short-lived. Katie was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at 32 months. Michael was away on business, and when he returned, we had a single conversation. Three weeks later he was gone. “This isn’t what I signed up for,” he said as he threw shoes into a cardboard box.

For months I considered his apartment a temporary arrangement. How could he walk out on a marriage and a child? The roof leaked, I lost my job, the sewer line ruptured. The dog developed bone cancer; the cat’s kidneys failed. In a year my well-ordered life imploded.

When it became clear Michael wouldn’t (or couldn’t) return, I filed for divorce and began the process of dividing our former life. I lost my bedroom furniture, the kitchen table, and half my pots and pans. I lost a sofa, two cars, and most of the camping gear. The more I lost, the freer I became.

I hired a life coach to help me prioritize tasks. My to-do list ran twelve pages long. For the first time I stopped wondering what other people thought and asked what I wanted. I began treating time as a precious resource.

I gave clothes and baby gear to charity, sold items on e-bay. As I cleared away years of possessions, my new life took shape. When the dog died, I adopted another. Later I rescued a cat. I bought new furniture, made new friends. One of them started an adaptive horseback riding program. Ten minutes into her initial lesson Katie said her first word: go. As in, go horse, go. Barbara grinned and said, “I think it’s going to be fine,” and for the first time in a long time, I thought she might be right.

Five years later, I know she was. Welcome to my unexpected, unconventional, and totally unplanned life.

Until next time,
Cynthia Patton

About Cynthia J. Patton

Writer, Editor, Advocate, Speaker, Special Needs Attorney, and Autism Mom. Also the Founder and Chairperson of Autism A to Z, a nonprofit providing resources and solutions for life on the spectrum.
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One Response to The Birth of an Unplanned Life

  1. Jim Helfinstine says:

    Your determination not to fold
    in spite of what we’ve both been told
    may reflect a lousy hand
    Only goes to show that there’s still an ace or two
    for those of us who see it through
    to win it once again

    Ask me about my Alaskan Dreams…..and other things. Jim

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