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Do What You Can

CHAPTER ONE – LABELS

Labels have enabled me to clearly communicate my identity to myself and others. The first label was thrust upon me at birth. I am the middle daughter of Jim and Pam Valvano. I became a Mrs. when I married my high school boyfriend. Mr. and Mrs. would then evolve into Mom and Dad. Motherhood provided the roots needed to truly feel grounded. Pouring my heart and soul into the upbringing of two tiny humans was the ultimate role for me.

The beginnings of my family are accompanied with blinding, breathtaking, brilliant newness. Every single day brought cause for celebration. The sound of a healthy heartbeat, images captured in an ultrasound, my ever-changing body, and creating a nursery filled with items for my angel were but a few of the constantly unfolding blessings. Some nights, sleep would prove elusive, and I would find myself slowly
rocking on the newly purchased glider reading Good Night Moon to my belly. My pregnancy was uneventful except for the horrific fact that I managed to gain 75 pounds. By January, I was unable to fit into any of my XL maternity clothes. My swollen feet were so large that I simply shuffled around in a pair of fluffy bedroom slippers. Judging by the size of my belly, we were all convinced this was going to be an enormous newborn.

We made our way to the hospital in the early light of February 8, 2000. I pushed for hours, but was informed my son was stuck behind some bones that refused to bend. This would be the first grandchild born, and the hospital waiting room was overflowing with loved ones. Being raised in an Italian family, it was certainly not a surprise to hear that appetizers had been brought from a local restaurant in order to feed the guests during the long wait. My sister would later inform me that after witnessing my painful screams, she had made the decision to not have children. Ironically, she was already pregnant with my nephew, so thankfully she would be unable to honor that resolution.

The nurse on duty brought a level of absurdity to an already tense situation. She was a sweet natured southern gal and a huge North Carolina State fan. Although she completed her shift prior to Jake’s birth, she informed me “I am going to deliver Jim Valvano’s grandson.” At one point, she shouted with such conviction, “Come on, Jamie. Just like in ’83…you can do this!” Was she actually referring to a basketball game, albeit the National Championship, to inspire me to push harder? Finally, the doctor decided it was best to perform a C-section. Moments later, as I held my son in my arms, a precious upturn of his lips revealed he had inherited his father’s dimples. A contented sigh reflected the total acceptance of my newly appointed position as a Mom.

The first 12 months of Jake’s life contain many of my most precious memories. Our days were filled with story time, gym classes, play dates at the park, and cuddling during daily naps. I grew overly confident in my ability to raise a perfect child as Jake reached every milestone. In the core of my being, I knew that this was who I was created to be. I embraced the reflection I saw in the mirror, and for the very first time during my journey I was comfortable in my own skin. Laughter came easily and troubles were few. The pain of losing my Dad at the age of 20, would never diminish. However, I was indeed healing as I witnessed Jake flourish.

My husband and I were beyond thrilled to discover we were expecting again. Enjoying a close relationship with my Mom, allowed me to envision raising my own little girl. My youth and ignorance led me to believe that I was the author of my story. Learning that I was pregnant with another boy, was perhaps the first inkling that there would be revisions to my script. Mental snapshots of pigtails and pink tutus, were replaced with ones of my handsome husband and our two boys playing catch in the front yard.

Grant Matthew entered my world on October 30, 2002. He had a shockingly full head of black hair and eyes so dark that the pupils were indiscernible. His cries were strong, and his skin glowed a healthy pink. Jake instantly adored his brother, and once home we settled into a natural routine. Grant had a laid-back disposition and was always easy to soothe. Within the first months, concerns surrounding his health surfaced. His head was perpetually turned to one side, his eyes stayed in one position, and he was unable to focus and track an object. Comforting words spoken by the pediatrician relating to the differing rates of development in babies did little to calm my fears.

Specialists were consulted. Tests were performed. Utero intracerebral hemorrhage, cerebral palsy, left hemiplegia, visually impaired, and developmental delay were some of the foreign words used to describe my precious son. Instantly, days at the park were replaced by occupational, physical, and speech therapy. I grew more discouraged with each passing month as Grant failed to perform the tasks that had come effortlessly to his older brother. Fear and bitterness were my constant companions. I struggled under the weight of my new unwanted label…I was now a mother of a child with special needs.

I wish I could tell you that I summoned the strength to fight beside my courageous boy. But in all honesty, the realities of raising Grant would play a crucial part in my destruction…and then become one of the main reasons I would survive.