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|The following excerpt is from the first chapter of Anne Ford’s book, Laughing Allegra: The Inspiring Story of a Mother's Struggle and Triumph Raising a Daughter with Learning Disabilities.|
Chapter 1: Baby Girl UzielliWhen [my son] Alessandro was born, I had the usual apprehensions of a new mother. I questioned my abilities and wondered if I would know what to do if he cried or was sick, but that is common among first-time mothers. I was not a major worrier with Alessandro, and had no reason to become one with Allegra. But soon after she was born, I did something I had never done with my son. Late one night, very late, at maybe two or three o'clock in the morning, I woke up from a deep sleep. The only sound from the monitor on my bedside table was Allegra's steady breathing, telling me she was asleep. I lay in bed for a moment, listening for — I still don't know what. For reasons I did not understand, I suddenly felt the need to be beside her. I reached into a drawer and pulled out a flashlight.
Down the dark corridor I went on tiptoe, careful not to make a sound. I reached the door to Allegra's room and touched the handle. I stopped for a moment, surprised to find that my heart was racing and I could barely breathe. I opened the door and aimed the flashlight into her crib and there she was, sleeping peacefully. Nothing wrong. Nothing out of place.
My heart calmed down at once. I stood there for a long time, watching her sleep and wondering what on earth had compelled me to check up on her like that. And why was I so alarmed? My pulse had been racing as if I was having a minor anxiety attack. But why? She had not been crying, she had not made a sound.
I dismissed it with a laugh — one of those mood swings after giving birth, I guess, and I leaned over and kissed her lightly on her silky head, then went back to my room.
The next night I did it again. Awakened in the early hours, the flashlight, the fluttering heart, the walk down the hall to check up on her night after night I did that, all the time wondering why. I never did this with Alessandro. So what was it about my daughter? Was there a fragility there, sensed at a level deeper than the five senses? Did some form of mother's instinct, primal and subconscious, know there was something more than the usual childhood complaints in her future and that the nagging anxiety that began to grow within me would someday be justified?
We project so much future happiness on such small helpless children. I used to sit in a chair beside her crib with the flashlight off, and my mind would wander far ahead. I imagined her as a toddler, and wondered what color her hair would be and if it would be straight and dark like Alessandro's or maybe wavy like mine was when I was a child? I saw her as a schoolgirl in one of the nearby schools, dressed in a cute little uniform and giggling over boys with her friends. And later, in college, I saw her poised to enter the world as a professional of some sort, confident and enthusiastic about her future. Oh, those were wonderful dreams, and there was no excuse for even a single one of them not to come true.
There were a few hints, but to me they were simply manifestations of Allegra's unique personality and did not give me cause for concern. Now, with years behind me and far more awareness about learning disabilities, I realize that those hints may have been early warning signs.
The first one I remember came when Allegra was two years old, and my sister Charlotte and her husband Tony invited us over for a family dinner. By this time, Allegra had already answered some of my earliest questions about her future: her hair was not straight and dark like Alessandro's, but was red and curly, and her personality was shaping up to being that of an extrovert, wildly happy and vivacious and filled with laughter.