"I'm just so worried about him," Mia whispers. Her emerald green eyes are glued to her three-year-old son, who is tucked away into end of the playroom, far away from the chirpy and energetic children. He appears to be intensely focused with his own activity of building blocks.
"He hasn't even said his first word yet," she continues solemnly. "At this age, kids should be speaking their mind and asking a bunch of questions because they're so curious about everything. But my baby isn't like that. He's just so quiet that sometimes I forget he's even there."
The practitioner nods. She attempts to keep a straight face, trying to mask the shock that she feels. Placing a reassuring hand on Mia's shoulder, she says, "I understand your concern. Every child is different. They all develop at their own rate. Over here at Sunny Lane Nursery, we will do our best to help your son communicate and socialize with others. If you are interested, we have an excellent Speech and Language Therapist that can get involved."
Mia nods eagerly, as she fiddles nervously with her caramel-brown hair. "Yes, please! I want him to receive all the help he can get," she says, as she bites her bottom lip in clear anxiety. "You know, I haven't ever heard him cry. Even on the day he was born, the doctors told me that it was peacefully quiet - I wouldn't know, I had blacked out during this. It was a horrendous birth that sucked the life out of me, I had to have so many stitches!"
Mia shudders momentarily recalling the experience. Then her eyes land on her son again, seeming greener and intense, as she smiles sadly. "However, that pain was nothing, compared to the aftermath of having my beautiful Max. He hasn't cried once." She looks right into the practitioner's sympathetic eyes for the first time. "It was difficult for me because my baby wasn't communicating with me, so I didn't know when he felt discomfort, or when he was hungry, or when he needed diaper changing. I never experienced my sleep being disturbed from his cry," Mia's voice cracks, as if she is being strangled. The practitioner squeezes her shoulder, her own heart breaking for the poor woman.
"I was so conflicted because I wanted my child to cry - I wanted him to disturb my sleep. It's weird to say this is what I wanted, but I just wanted normality. You would think that I'd get a peaceful night's sleep, but it was actually torture for me because I didn't know if he was even alive." Several teardrops stream down Mia's cheeks, as her bottom lip wobbles. She suddenly looks like a little girl playing grown up.
"I would constantly go to his room and check up on him. Eventually, we fell into a routine. I would feed him at this specific time, change his diaper at this time, and so on. I had to set the alarm on during the night to wake me up for his feed," she continues, her words beginning to tremble with her shaky voice.
"You did a good job," the practitioner says comfortingly. She notices several of the children have stopped playing and they were observing the crying woman with their curious little expressions. Not wanting to upset them, the practitioner stands up and beckons Mia over. "Come on, let's go to my office."
Mia follows the practitioner to a smaller room, which is adjacent to the playroom, enabling her to still have a clear view of Max playing by himself in the far corner. The practitioner decides to keep the door open to give the crying woman some peace of mind, knowing her son is still in her sight.
"Did he communicate to you in other ways, like through his body language and facial expressions?" The practitioner inquires, handing Mia a tissue box from her desk.
The mother considers this for a moment, as she wipes her tears away. "Well, yes, I suppose so. I had to do a lot of interpreting. Like when he'd push his food away, I could tell he wasn't in the mood for that, or how he tries to wriggle away when I hold him. He definitely doesn't like being held! He doesn't like bedtime either - his chubby little legs will run away, as he looks for a place to hide. He's so quiet too, so he's very good at hiding, and it scares me because I think I've lost him at times." Mia takes a deep breath, attempting to calm herself down.
"I... I've guessed a lot from his body language, but... he doesn't show much emotions - like happiness, or sadness, or anger, or anything like that. His facial expression is usually the same - just blank... like he's switched off from this world. It's really hard to tell how he feels. It's his actions that speak a thousand words for him."
"Have you seen any professionals about this?" The practitioner questions, raising an eyebrow.
"Yes, I went to a doctor who is a baby specialist. She told me that it was a unique circumstance I was facing. Some babies hardly cried, she said, but they whimpered or moaned - a substitute for crying. However, my little Max didn't do that - he didn't make a noise at all. The doctor advised me that I shouldn't worry too much, and that, because of our routine, Max and I both know when he needs changing or feeding. As long as I'm meeting his needs, there's no use of him crying. So I tried to stop worrying, but the real problem began when he turned one, and he hadn't even uttered his first word. I knew something wasn't right then. During this age, most babies should be attempting to speak, right?"
Mia stops and looks at the practitioner for confirmation. The practitioner nods.
"So I went to the baby clinic," Mia continues, "and the doctor was so shocked that Max hadn't even been blabbering at this stage! He told me I needed to get more involved, communicate with my baby - which I always did, but Max was never interested in what I had to say. He really preferred solitude. The health visitor had given me speech prompting tools and also tips on how to encourage Max to communicate - but nothing worked."
The practitioner leans back against her chair, her mind racing with everything the mother was telling her. She looks down at her paperwork, feeling completely lost for a moment, before looking back up at the desperate woman.
"Does Max have a disorder?" The practitioner asks.
"They don't know. Nobody knows. They've suspected he might be physically mute. However, the medical records show that his body parts connected to his speech are all fine - the esophagus, vocal cords, lungs, mouth, and his tongue - you get the picture. Some suspect that his silence is linked to trauma, but he's so young and I've been with him since day one - what trauma could've possibly happened that I wouldn't know about?" The mother shakes her head, her caramel hair swaying like waves. "I know in my heart that it's not that."
"Has he been checked by multiple professionals?"
Mia nods in response. "Yes. These experts have considered various disorders when they've scanned his brain and observed his behavioral patterns, yet they cannot 'conclusively diagnose'," she quotes with her fingers in the air, "Max with a specific condition just yet."
The practitioner nods slowly, jotting all of this information down. "We'll be working closely with our team to help Max, and we'll keep you up-to-date about him through our Journal Log, which will be sent directly to your email. We can take pictures and videos of the activities he's partaking in under our care - but that's up to you. If you'd like to receive these pictures and videos, then please sign here giving us consent to do so."
The mother scans the paperwork, sighing. She bites her bottom lip harder that she can taste blood oozing onto her tongue. "I want to help Max, I really do... but a part of me feels tormented at the idea of him speaking his first words when I'm not around... Still, I had a long time to consider this, and I have to do what's in his best interest, so..." the mother rambles, signing the contract. "My gut instinct is telling me that he needs to be with kids his own age. This looks like a lovely nursery and the children here are all so adorable and sweet. Perhaps he might make a friend here..."
"We will definitely encourage him to interact with his peers," the practitioner says. "Although, we have to keep in mind, that usually at his age, it is expected he will be engaging in alone play or parallel play. Therefore, there isn't too much communication occurring between the children. Nonetheless, it is a good way for them to familiarize themselves with each other, and this should hopefully encourage conversation."
Mia nods, although she hadn't been listening to the practitioner's rambles. Her green eyes, sparkling with fresh tears, have returned to Max, who is still hiding in the corner. He seems content on his own, uninterested by the rest of the screaming, playful children.
Mia sighs softly. "I love him so much. I never knew that I was capable of loving my baby so much that I would readily die for him," she says. Her throat is beginning to feel dry from speaking so much.
She grabs her water bottle from her purse and drinks the refreshing cool liquid. There is a small smile on her face. "I can't wait for the day when we get to finally talk! During our journey here, on the bus, there was this woman and her child talking to each other, back and forth. They were having an innocent conversation about Santa and fairies. It made me feel jealous at the time, but now I've gotten hope. One day, I know that will be me and Max."
Mia giggles, shaking her head. A bright smile lights up her tanned face. "Most parents dread when their kids talk back, giving them smart aleck comments, but I'm already wishing for those days to happen. I'd give anything to talk to my son, and get to know him, and learn what goes on inside his little head."
The practitioner looks at her wrist watch, knowing that their time was almost over.
"One last question. Is Max's father still in contact with him, or is he likely to get in contact anytime soon?"
Mia's smile instantly drops. His father.
That son of a bitch, she thinks resentfully.
"He's dead," Mia replies flatly.