LOS ANGELES -- The shift is slight, and no one else notices but me. My shoulders tense up, and my eyes show a hint of tears -- or is it dread? I know where this line of questioning is heading.
"Oh, you're a mom?" -- Yes, I have a daughter.
"How old is she?" -- She's one and a half.
"Is she walking yet?" -- Do you want the long or short version?
My baby is developmentally delayed. She is 17 months old, and she doesn't roll over, which babies usually do at 4 months. She also can't sit up by herself, which most babies do around 4-6 months. So no, she can't walk, let alone sit without support or stand.
"Shaming" is so common these days - the term has almost become trendy. There's body shaming, age shaming, and most recently, fertility shaming. Is there such a thing as baby shaming?
I don't believe the person asking the questions means to be malicious or offensive. But the result is still painful.
The thing I've noticed about developmental delays is - no one really talks about it. When I was pregnant, I read books, magazines, blogs, took classes -- all to equip myself for motherhood. There was no mention of possible delays. I just assumed my child would march right along the neatly laminated timeline of milestones I received in one of my parenting courses.
On the rare instances I went out on a limb and opened up to someone about our struggles, I was pleasantly surprised to hear stories of empathy from people who've gone through the exact same thing. They just never talked about it either.
But why? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in six children in the U.S. have a developmental disability, which includes a range of conditions like autism, cerebral palsy, developmental delays and others.
After an MRI, multiple genetic screenings and neurology appointments, there is no official diagnosis. Her latest score on the standard developmental assessment, the DAYC-2, put her at the 4-month-old level. Her delays could be a symptom of a serious disease that has yet to be detected, or on the flip side, she could just be a "late bloomer" and grow out of it all in a few years. Either way, we can't brush it off.
What I do want to brush off are those questions. They just roll off people's tongues so easily, and the answer is everything but easy.
I encounter these questions so often that I've developed a pretty good poker face. I give a brief packaged answer, followed by my best "no big deal" smile, and transition to a different topic with a shrug. I've got it down pat.
But behind the poker face, I'm a wreck. These types of questions cut me to the core and shred my insides. My daughter's struggles are always on my mind. These questions feel like stacking yet another brick on top of the already heavy pile teetering on my shoulders.
It goes without saying, I love my child - delays and all. She fills our little family with joy. Her squeals and laughter brighten my most challenging days. Her tiny hand on my cheek reminds me that I'm a mother of a loving, thoughtful, beautiful human being. My love for her has grown every day since the moment I found out I was pregnant.
The dreaded questions serve as a reminder that these delays could have a lasting impact on my daughter's future - the last thing any parent wants are limits to what their kids can accomplish in their lives.
Is she walking yet? No. In fact, I have no way of knowing if she will ever climb a tree or run through a field of flowers, hang off monkey bars with her friends. It's hard to imagine her doing any of these things, as she struggles though the myriad of pediatric physical and occupational therapy sessions I schedule every day.
If I learned anything from all of this, opening up and sharing my experience will only help, not hurt, however difficult that may be. Maybe this will help another struggling parent -- or cause others to think twice or at least tread carefully before casually asking a parent whether their child is walking yet.
In the meantime, my husband and I continue to do whatever we can to help our daughter reach her goals - one baby step at a time.