I want to tell you a story.
It’s not my story, but it kind of still really is my story.
Let me explain. In the most intimate ways, this story belongs to someone else; it has been her life and her stubborn brilliance that made these things happen.
But! I’ve been walking along beside her life for a while now, and I’ve been lucky enough to be taught the most brilliant lessons about life from her. This story is about one of those lessons, and in that way it is my story.
She’s my daughter, and she’s one of the wisest people I’ve ever met.
Ok, so I talk about my kids. A lot.
Most moms do, and sometimes it can get…irritating, but we can’t help ourselves. It’s like a compulsion. My children have conspired to make me so much more than the sum of my parts: they have – in their completely different and individual ways – created a new person where once I was only Me.
I can’t help talking about that, right? It’s kind of a big deal to me, so I feel compelled to share it with you.
For the record, I totally asked them if it was ok to tell stories about them on here, and they’re cool with it.
This Story is one of my favourites. It really explains why I’m obsessed with helping you find your own genuine Voice, and it’s beautiful.
When Bailey was born, I had no idea what to expect. No new mom really does, right? We read and we talk to our moms and we watch TV shows or blog videos by other young moms, but really all we can do is cross our fingers and hope. Because it’s one of those things we can never be prepared for.
It’s a game changer.
When Bailey was 2 days old, I had this visceral moment of realization that the tiny little girl I was holding (who is now taller than me, by the way) was simply born in a state of trusting me with her whole heart – to keep her safe, to help her grow and learn and experience the world in a way that would give her a life of beauty and strength and love.
That’s some trust.
It’s some responsibility too.
I was terrified.
I was honoured and filled with a love that doesn’t even make sense in its enormity – but I was terrified. I was SO young and inexperienced, and I only in that moment realized what it all really meant…but I still had no idea what it all really meant for Bailey and I.
She struggled. She struggled hard for every single thing, but “babies have to learn how to eat too”, and “breastfeeding is hard for everyone”, and “every baby is different”, and I was only a “young mother”, and “don’t compare your baby to other babies”, and then…
“Your daughter has Cerebral Palsy and she will never speak.”
Yeah. Bailey was finally diagnosed with Hemi-palegic Cerebral Palsy when she was 3 years old, and the game changed again – as the game is wont to do.
We met with specialist after specialist and were given homework after homework to try in order to help her do things that every other baby just did. Some things worked really well, others only after hours of therapy and homework, and some things just never did. It was a hard time for us.
I was furious.
I was mad at everyone: doctors who put me off for so long, other moms who didn’t have to know and do all of the things I had to know and do, lactation consultants who made me feel like a failure for giving Bailey a bottle when she was starving because she couldn’t work her mouth, random people who pointed out innocuous things she “should” be doing. I was even mad at other babies for a while.
Seriously. I was mad at BABIES!
It took some time for me to go through the grieving process and find myself ok and on the other side – with Bailey smiling her giant smile at me, and her little sister Briana watching me with her giant eyes. It was a process, and it wasn’t a neat or clear little step-by-step now-I’m-all-better kind of a thing. It was messy and difficult.
And totally worth it.
One thing that is clear is this: she’s the one who taught me to get over it and embrace the whole package of life. Bailey and her sister just lived it thoroughly and completely, because it was there to be lived. They’re the best teachers I’ve ever met – and I’ve met quite a few.
So this is the story about how Bailey taught me that your own Voice belongs to you and is perfectly suited to tell your story.
Bailey couldn’t speak.
At 2 she was still unable to utter a single clear word. She babbled and giggled and laughed and smiled and communicated in her own way, so we got by, but she couldn’t speak a clear word to save her life. She still can’t.
We did a whole pile of Speech Language Pathology tests and assessments, and the professionals started Bailey using a system of velcro picture-cards in a colour coded binder to communicate her needs.
It’s a system that was developed for people on the autism spectrum who cannot functionally communicate – and it is the standard way to deal with kids who can’t speak for any reason at all. Apparently.
I mean – it works for the people it was developed for. It is a great survival communication tool that is easy for other people to understand and takes out the often difficult face-to-face or intimate parts of communication that can be too overwhelming for some kids and adults who can’t communicate verbally.
Bailey hated it.
The binder was nearly as big as her and she struggled with these plastic coated picture cards and their velcro swatches that were nearly impossible for her palsied fine motor skills. She just hated them, so she had NO desire to work her little hands around the cards, pull them out and then put them together into a sentence on another velcro swatch.
It was also really easy for her to communicate her needs and manipulate people with grins and sparkles, so we were all running around doing her bidding without even realizing that she wasn’t using her binder to tell us what she wanted.
We got in trouble.
Her speech language pathologists were furious with us. We weren’t doing our homework right, and we weren’t embracing their system the way they wanted us to.
We were taking Bailey hiking and camping and gardening (her physiotherapist LOVED us, incidentally), but we left the bulky binder in the car or at home. We were laughing and playing with her instead of setting up timed and rigid communication sessions wherein we were supposed to force her to tell us what she wanted with the binder and pictures, and ignore her other ways of showing us.
We were (and this one was the worst) helping her when she asked us to in her own way – without forcing her to use the system to tell us stuff we already knew.
We sucked at using that binder. It could have worked better, but it wasn’t something that fit in our life, and we didn’t work hard enough to fit it in.
We already knew when she wanted a drink of water or to go to the bathroom, because she was really good at making it clear what she needed or wanted (still is!). What we really longed for was a way to hear the other things – the human parts of life that we all say to those we love.
We needed to know when she was afraid, sad, confused or happy.
We needed to hear all about what happened when she went to visit her grandparents at the beach, or at the Cape: when she made a cake for Grampie Harris’s birthday or played with Sam the german shepherd she loved at Grammie Donna’s. That stuff didn’t fit in the binder.
That wasn’t a priority in the system we were given, and it went without saying, I guess, that we shouldn’t expect to get that stuff from Bailey ever. I brought it up with the therapists and their response was basically that my expectations were inappropriate and that I wasn’t working hard enough on the binder, so I should just focus on that and “Wait and see”.
It was, in their mind, the right way to teach her to communicate.
It was what the professional standard was for kids with communication disorders – BUT Bailey doesn’t have a “Communication Disorder”; she can’t move her mouth.
That’s not a disorder; it’s a disability, and those are two very different things. She has always had the inclination to connect with people, and to communicate. That was never her problem, but the solution on tap was one-size fits all, so she got it.
It just wasn’t right for her problem, and we didn’t work hard enough to force it, so that binder never quite got off the ground at our house.
We found her Voice by accident – and it’s beautiful.
At a different specialist’s appointment – with her Occupational Therapist – Bailey was playing a game of Feather Race (she had to use a straw to blow air at her feather and get it across the finish line), and we had a breakthrough.
The OT was getting Bailey to use signals to engage in the game, and showed her the sign for “more” in American Sign Language. She asked, “Do you want to play more?”
Bailey certainly wanted to play more, so she parroted the sign back with her tiny hands, and they played more.
Magic! For the next week, everything was “More”.
“More” by the fridge = I want a snack.
“More” at bedtime = I want to cuddle.
“More” at the door = I want to go outside and play.
She found a voice that lived in her own body, and she LOVED it!
She just didn’t know yet that there was more than one note to sing. My mom – ever the teacher – grabbed an ASL-for-kids book from the local library and Bailey ate it up like a banana split. She picked up more vocabulary that week, than I could have imagined. We were all freaking out.
When I signed up for my first ASL course, there were only 2 people in the class who weren’t there for Bailey. It was amazing.
In the long run, it wasn’t easy.
We all had to learn a lot to make it work, and the professionals told us that Bailey would never speak if we taught her Sign – that it would be all our fault (never mind the fact that her mouth would never speak, regardless of what we did – or the fact that learning one language doesn’t actually destroy the ability to learn another, but I digress).
When Bailey went in for a routine hearing test, and we found out that she is profoundly deaf in one ear, we suddenly had the support of an amazing Atlantic organization called APSEA, and she had a group of people who believed that her language was valuable and legitimate and real!
She had a Voice!
And it matched her personality so perfectly, guys. She tells stories with her whole body and her face – her beautiful face – tells you everything you need to know. She can express her whole self, genuinely and naturally.
The first time I realized that having her own voice was totally necessary was in the middle of the night one night, when she woke up screaming, as kids do.
Babies and young kids do this all the time, and Bailey was no different, but she could never tell me what was wrong before; she simply cried harder out of frustration because I didn’t understand her.
That night though, she looked up at me with big tears on the brink of her eyelids, and signed “scared” “dream” “bad dream” “I’m scared”.
“You had a scary dream?” I said, and then I knew what she needed. She needed to be heard and then comforted and loved.
The look in her eyes and her little head bobbing up and down in agreement when she realized that I understood her. Oh man! It beat the binder’s cards by a landslide, and there was no turning back.
Bailey and her little sister tell each other secrets now, like sisters do. She can talk to me about boys and bullies and the job she wants to have someday. She can get mad at me and tell me that I’m not being fair because…she’s 14. She can share her dreams and her fears, and it is all real and valid and beautiful.
So you want to know why I am obsessed with helping you find your own Voice?
Because everybody has a voice that is valid and real and genuinely theirs.
I believe so strongly that women in business have amazing stories to tell, and their genuine voice is the only one that should do the telling.
We silence own voices, or we don’t trust the validity of our own stories and messages, and it breaks my freaking heart.
Now, believe me when I tell you that your voice is the key ingredient to make your story completely genuine and sincere. It shouldn’t sound like a “Marketer” made it up or wrote it in “Business Language”. It should sound like it’s yours, and it should reflect who you truly are.
It should be in your own Voice.
I know it’s not easy to find and trust your own Voice.
We worked hard – for a long time – to help Bailey learn and share her voice. It was worth it – it is always worth it.
Then, I taught kids and adults how to find their writing voice when their own learning disabilities made it nearly painful to do so.
It was hard, but we tackled it together – and it was worth it.
While teaching, I put together a step-by-step method for my writing students to attack The Writing Process, and I use that to help my small business marketing clients to put their voices on paper (or website, when we work together one-on-one to share their sincere message in their own voice.
It takes work, kitten, and it’s worth every ounce of it.
This topic is really near and dear to my heart and is a big part of why I do what I do. Whatever you do, remember this:
UPDATE – the Moncton workshop was amazing. I really love being in a room filled with people who are ready to learn and excited to share their Voices. I have since started to create and offer courses online as well, so that you can learn from me no matter where you live!
I am soon to launch a Patreon community where you can join at a tier appropriate to you, if you want to learn about Writing Skills, Practice and Processes.
Or you can Contact Me directly to see how a Writing Coach or a developmental editor can help you share yours in amazing ways.
You mad? Excited? Have a perspective to share? Please do!
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