The journey has been long and twisted. Quick at times, and slow at others. Overpowering loudness and heartbreaking silence. But a constant thread of love has been there from day one. And maybe that’s made all the difference.

It was 1:30 in the morning on Monday, September 13, 1993 when I was awakened by my cat pacing back and forth across the bottom of my bed. My (then) husband was working nights and I was home alone with my three children. I was tired and cranky and at first very put off that my cat had awakened me. And then I realized, in a trick of my brain to focus on memories of nearly six years prior, my cat was telling me I was in labor. I had no pains at all. But I knew I had to get to the hospital.

I called and woke up my sister who lived five miles away. Fifteen minutes later I crawled into the back seat of the car her husband was driving and began to do the breathing exercises to control labor. We started out with my contractions at 10 minutes apart, but the physical exertion of having gotten dressed and into the back seat sped things up a bit. One mile down the road, my contractions were more labored and closer together. In just minutes, they were so intense I couldn’t talk through them.

When we arrived at the hospital’s ER entrance about twenty minutes later, my contractions were less than two minutes apart. We were met at the car with a gurney and in between contractions I climbed on it, then held on as the nurses ran at full speed through the hallways down to the birthing center while I went through another contraction. We entered my room perfectly in time between contractions so I jumped off the gurney, ripped off my clothes, climbed in the bed, and got slammed with the urge to push.

Five minutes after our arrival was recorded at the ER driveway, baby Brianna was born.

She is my fourth daughter, and strangely enough, I am a fourth daughter. She is the baby in our family, and so am I in mine. Whether all that means anything, I cannot say for certain. (By the way, do you believe in coincidences?)

We welcomed Brianna with love, and someone was always with her, day or night, every day of her life. I guess that would be expected of a large family. Because she was never alone, it’s difficult to know if she dealt with anxiety from day one or if it developed over time. Nature versus nurture. We didn’t have a clue. Like Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence, her anxiety was silent, like a cancer grows. We didn’t know it existed.

Fast forward to age fourteen when Brianna began her tumultuous journey through adolescence. Suddenly we no longer spoke the same language. At times it seemed we didn’t see the same sky or breathe the same air. She was as foreign to me as an alien. Anger and anxiety ruled her life, reckless and irresponsible behaviors were the norm. Her sisters grew so angry with me, telling me I was parenting Brianna all wrong. Try this or that or some other thing, they would tell me. You’re not punishing her enough. Take away all her privileges.

I did take away her phone, but she snuck my husband’s. He didn’t have a text plan on his phone. Less than twelve hours later she had racked up $250 in text fees. We did take away the car, but then she snuck out in the middle of the night with our other car. We set the house alarm to keep her in, but she found a window that wasn’t hooked into the system and set herself free. She stole our debit cards and our cash. Later she wrote down our credit card details and charged things over the internet. We tried to stay a step ahead of her, but it was all new to us. We were learning as we went.

There was no doubt in anyone’s mind at all that Brianna was smart. We just didn’t understand her. Truth is, none of us understood what Brianna was dealing with, not even Brianna. We saw therapists and psychiatrists, clergy, and a whole slew of school administrative professionals. No one had an answer for us. No one could tell us the words that would seep through to Brianna’s heart and mind, to tell her we loved her, to ask her how we could help. All we could do was strap ourselves down tight and hold on for the ride, praying we’d all be alive when it was through.

About a year ago, in an unusual moment of peace and tranquility, it dawned on me that I hadn’t yelled at Brianna in a while. I started thinking more seriously and realized how far she had come. I hesitated to say it out loud for fear it would jinx her progress.

One foot in front of the other, one small step at a time, Brianna forged her way back to a straight and healthy path. All on her own she registered to take her GED tests and she passed each one with flying colors. Then she started talking about going to college. We didn’t know if we should believe in her dream or not. Then she applied for student loans, and went to orientation, and registered for classes. Now, two weeks into the semester, she has aced all of her assignments and quizzes and tests in all of her classes. She has stopped smoking. She has slowly weaned herself off (under a doctor’s direction) all but one of her meds. And she has held a healthy weight for more than a year. (Oh how it broke my heart when she looked like a skeleton.)

With all my heart I believe the worst of Brianna’s journey is behind us. I’m smart enough to know not all days in the future will be good ones, but I do believe the better days will outweigh the bad ones by far. It brings such joy to my heart and soul to be able to see Brianna believe in herself, to advocate for herself, to dream dreams. I am so proud of her for rising above the madness, and returning to the beautiful woman I knew was there all along.

So, happy twenty-first birthday to my baby. Bravo! You did it, kid. (And so did I.)


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