"Our first child was born pale and fragile. A little bird."

Emily Writes: A love letter to the people that keep our houses standing

To the early intervention therapists, to the teachers, to the speech therapists, the occupational therapists, music therapists, diabetes nurses and all: you change the world.

When I was married almost a decade ago we had the following reading at our wedding:

You are holding up a ceiling
with both arms. It is very heavy,
but you must hold it up, or else
it will fall down on you. Your arms
are tired, terribly tired,
and, as the day goes on, it feels
as if either your arms or the ceiling
will soon collapse.
But then,
something wonderful happens:
a man or a woman,
walks into the room
and holds their arms up
to the ceiling beside you.
So you finally get
to take down your arms.
You feel the relief of respite,
the blood flowing back
to your fingers and arms.
And when your partner’s arms tire,
you hold up your own
to relieve him again.
And it can go on like this
for many years
without the house falling.

This reading felt perfect at the time. My husband and I had been through a lot together, but the constant we each had was each other. We were a team and believed it was not us against the world but maybe the world and then us.

We felt that our house was built on solid foundations. We were in it together – building this dwelling together. Our greatest hope was to add children to our house to make it a home.

We were lucky enough to be able to create and help two lives grow. Two little boys, one after another close together.

But over time, our reading made less sense.

Our first child was born pale and fragile. A little bird. Within months our tiny baby was in surgery. More surgery. Our little one couldn’t breathe and we were his lungs for a long time – monitoring, keeping him safe.

Our arms were so tired. We would help each other hold up our ceiling and help the house from falling. But relief was harder, to see your partner struggle under the weight.

And then little by little with treatment he started to recover.

Soon after our second baby was born – robust, pink, screaming. We were so relieved. He was so healthy. He weighed almost twice that of our first born.

And then he started to face challenges. Challenges that exhausted him and us – he screamed in his sleep, could not speak, never seemed to feel comfortable unless he was in our arms. While trying to keep our house from falling we could barely focus on anything else. We wanted to reach each other – find relief in each other’s arms. But we couldn’t. It felt like a full-time job for us keeping up our ceiling.

This was not working any more. This was too much. How do we enjoy our home when we are so focused on keeping our house from falling?

And then, just like in the story – something wonderful happened.

You came along.

Maybe not you personally, but the you that represents the first GP who truly listened to us. The first paediatrician who heard our concerns. The health professionals who understood, let us speak about this home we knew so well – the reprieve came, with a referral.

The referrals for speech therapy, music therapy, physiotherapy, cognitive therapy, early intervention therapy began. And we could see a way forward.

All of those who dedicate their working lives, indeed their lives, to helping families remain standing in the homes they created prove that a home is made not of two, or even four, but many.

A marriage is a partnership and it is profound and sacred. So too is that of a child and the adult who believes in them enough to help them find the words they need. The child who is helped to walk, who might learn to dance – because of the care and skill of another adult.

Unrelated by blood but connected always in a conscious choice to help each family be all that they have ever hoped or inspired to be.

This work, this calling, is a gift given not just to a child, but to that child’s parents, to their family – to the community and to the world. A child that has been nurtured, been allowed to grow, been able to thrive and live in the shelter of a home that is held up by the mahi of people who are teachers, speech therapists, early intervention therapists, occupational therapists, music therapists, diabetes nurses …

You can change the world. And you do.

What untold contributions for good might these children you have helped to grow have? This is your legacy.

The role of an early intervention therapist isn’t just to help a child reach their potential, it’s to help a family reach theirs too.

The pain of seeing your child struggle, the pride of seeing them face these with determination and mana – it’s hard to explain. The push and pull of joy and sadness and delight and fear – it is the magic and mess of motherhood writ large.

Rebuilding is beautiful. You get a new beginning. And for many parents – you symbolise the first step toward a new beginning.

Our youngest son will soon “graduate” from the Wellington Early Intervention Trust. When we first went there we had no idea what we were facing. We simply had hope. We could never have known just how much this journey would help our whole family. Our son is now thriving under the love and support of his teachers there and at his kindy, and we have learned so much too. We have learned that it takes many to keep a house from falling.

That when you open your world to many, wonderful things happen. You can learn together, grow together and you are not alone. The isolation of having a child with health challenges can be immense. Parents have said it feels as if their only friends are their child’s health and development team.

To no longer feel alone can change lives. In places like this one, we are able to connect these families with each other, communities are born. A little subdivision of kindness is built from the ground-up.

So today, I would like to say thank you to the nurses and therapists and teachers and doctors who are builders, who are architects, who are labourers of love, thank you for your work. I hope there are times when you can stop and see the homes you have helped to keep standing. The village of families who will forever be changed by your kind hand. By your skill and your efforts.

It is because of you that these houses are standing.

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