I cannot believe that Jack Jack will be three years old in just one week. Jack Clifford Trotter, the medical mystery of a baby who wasn’t supposed to live past infancy, is living AND thriving in a world that was not made for him. This kid’s past three years of life has lit a fire inside me that will burn until the world is accessible and accepting by nature and not as an afterthought. HOWEVER, for a very long time in the beginning of this wild rare disease ride, I was not ready to advocate outside of Jack’s hospital room or connect with other families experiencing similar situations. I was devastated, heartbroken, and just plain pissed off. Why my family and why does my baby have to suffer and die? It’s okay to be angry, upset, and sad. I am here today to speak to all, but especially those who have felt this way or are feeling it now. IT IS OKAY TO NOT BE READY!!!!!!!!! One thing that I have learned is that I can come on strong. Thus, if you are new to our journey then it may seem like I am this hardcore advocate full of confidence and vigor. You could not describe me this way 3 year ago. I was just —thrown into a situation that I had no idea how to navigate or understand.
I have been waiting for 3 long years to view the photos that my mom took of Jack’s delivery and first few weeks of life. My mom is a lifelong photographer by hobby & talent and I really wanted some special photos in the delivery room when Jack was born because he is my second and I desperately wanted a much different experience than I had when my daughter was born. Rowan, Jack’s older sister, was whisked away to NICU immediately after birth because she aspirated meconium and was experiencing respiratory distress. You know how they say be careful what you wish for? All I wished for (aloud and in silence) was a “normal” birth experience with my new baby in my hospital room, nursing him and laying him in that clear bassinet all hospitals use. I got that experience, but three days later Jack was in a helicopter being life-flighted and having uncontrollable seizures.
As many already know, Jack was born seemingly healthy. I cannot place enough emphasis on the word SEEMINGLY because as I look at the photos I am sharing here, I can see the facial pulling to one side that soon became the signature of Jack’s seizures. To this day, if Jack is staring hard to one side or off into space then he is experiencing a seizure. The naivete I have cursed since the day Jack was born, I can finally be grateful for as I look as these photos. We were so happy. I can see a newborn not as focused as he should be and I can see seizure activity, BUT I can also see a family (two parents, a big sister, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and great-grandparents) completely smitten and in love with the new life in their presence. For a brief moment, time stood still and life was as it should be. Everyone was in awe and full of love, the true essence of life. These photos are proof of that and proof of how loved Jack has been since the day he entered the world.
As I mentioned, Jack was very sick very soon after his birth. We had three beautifully blissful days with our new son before the rug was pulled out from under us. This meant a lot of things, but one of them is that I was never able to view the photos of Jack’s birth before we received his devastating MISdiagnosis. I remember so clearly (as I was still so angry and confused) when my mom gave me a disc full of Jack’s birth photos and I told her that she might as well throw it away because I would never be able to look at those joyous after my son died. And I have never viewed them because the thought of them has always caused me pain. That is, until today when I took the disc from where I had it hidden and popped it into my computer because I was finally ready.
I see so much when I look at these photos. I see love, joy, excitement, exhaustion, apprehension, and above all else I see a family. I also see a strong mom; she is exhausted, but relieved because she thinks the hard part is over. She is me and she is not me. I have hated myself for so long for doing this to Jack, for giving him a rare genetic disorder that makes him have seizures, developmental delays, painful tests/medications, and strict restrictions. Today is the first time I have ever wanted to revisit the day that our lives changed forever. This has taken me three full years of learning, growing, and grieving. I want all caregivers, patients, and advocates to know that it is 100% OKAY if you are not ready to put yourselves out there. I had no idea what to do, where to turn, and how to survive in this world of rare disease and disability in the beginning. I still don’t , really. I still take it day by day, but I also really feel like I have found my calling now with rare disease advocacy.
I hope that each person reading this just knows that YOU are not alone. I did feel alone for a long time, but I also wasn’t ready to embrace the reality of my son’s rare disease and what that would mean our for our family. It’s all okay, no matter what you feel. I get so many messages from people asking, “how do you do it,” and the absolute truth is that I didn’t do anything until I was ready. I started so slow with sharing our journey and trying to learn more; the advocacy work you see me doing now is new. I only started feeling ready to get out there, advocate, and learn more earlier this year. I had no clue my passion would lead me down the road it has, but I’m so glad that it has. However, as I listen to our community and hear what you all are expressing, I also feel that is important to circle back to the beginning and remind everyone that it is OKAY TO NOT BE READY!!
I want to share these raw and incredibly special photos with you all because I am finally ready. This is the first time I am viewing them and experiencing the miracle of my son all over again. Happy 3 years to my amazing boy, Jack Jack!!! You will move mountains, my man. FAIR WARNING: some of these are quite literally birth photos, but no body parts exposed. ❤