I never wanted a homestead. I was exposed to one growing up - my mother was raised on a farm and we visited my grandparents’ farm a couple of weeks a year. I loved my grandparents and the animals, couldn’t care less about the garden, and was horrified of bugs and manure. Farms, I thought, were nice to visit, but I certainly wouldn’t want to live near or on one.
In the seventh grade, we chose our future professions. I don’t remember any counseling or testing, just writing “lawyer” in the blank space on my worksheet. Why? I don’t even remember. I can’t even tell you what kind of lawyer I thought I wanted to be. Maybe I watched too much television - Matlock was popular. Either way, I made my decision. Law it was. Incidentally, I am as stubborn as a mule, so my mind could not be swayed by thoughts of long working hours and massive student loans overshadowing my distant future.
My course was set. I took college classes in high school, graduated, and went to the University of Georgia to get a degree in History. I was going to finish before my Hope scholarship ran out, so I tacked on Criminal Justice to use it all up. I ate ramen noodles (not the good kind) and perfected my signature Kraft Macaroni & Cheese with hot dogs meal. I also started coming down with mysterious hives my junior year that could never be explained, so I started taking a Zyrtec every other day to keep them at bay.
I met my future husband, graduated from the University of Georgia, attended Florida State University’s School of Law, married my now-husband, graduated from law school, and passed the bar exam. We’ll skip over the crisis I experienced after my first semester of law school, when I realized the last thing I wanted to be was a lawyer, but I couldn’t quit, because I wasn’t raised to be a quitter, and surely I could use the degree for something, right?! Right. Little did I know.
I lived outside Atlanta during the housing craze in the early 2000s so I started my legal career doing mobile refinances, then closed houses at a legal firm. I got pregnant after 2.5 years of marriage and one month of trying. My husband and I attended a birthing class at the hospital where we learned nothing and passed notes during the discussion on cesarean sections.
At 37.5 weeks, my OB told me my baby was “too big” and he needed to induce. Not knowing any better (and being completely miserable), I agreed. Unfortunately, my son did not. He was born via c-section, with elevated white blood counts, and spent his first hours in the NICU, with a port in his head for antibiotics. Breastfeeding was a nightmare, but I was bound and determined that by God at least one thing would go as I planned, (Remember that quitter thing? I also have control issues.) and a week later, he started nursing. He didn’t sleep for years.
A little over a year later, I began to have suspicions that something wasn’t right. When my son was eighteen months old, I brought it up at a well visit and was told that he was just developing more slowly than average, but don't worry. Well, that didn’t happen.
When my son was two, I could no longer ignore my screaming gut, so I took him to a speech therapist who told me his speech was delayed. Shortly afterwards I retired from my legal career. We enrolled him in daycare, hoping he would pick things up from the other kids. It didn't work. The daycare owner told me they could ask the school system to evaluate him for developmental delays. Who knew?! I certainly had never been told such a thing existed. Per his evaluation results, he qualified for special education services through the public school under “Severe Developmental Delay”, “Speech and Language Delays”, and “Significant Learning Disability”. We were heartbroken. Our future dreams and plans for our family never included something like this. Now what?!
It was the opinion of most of his therapists and teachers that he had autism and ADHD. I researched everything - and I do mean everything, because that law degree was certainly coming in handy now. Say whatever you like about law school, but you will learn how to research. I read study after study, law after law. It was my full-time job. He would go to school, and I’d read until I had to pick him up. My law degree also turned out to be fantastically helpful for IEP meetings, but even though I left them with everything I asked for, I felt I wasn't getting him everything he needed.
Meanwhile, my husband and I were battling secondary infertility. Our first pregnancy had been effortless, but by now we’d been trying for several years and I was becoming increasingly upset and depressed. Nothing seemed to work.
When my son was five, a friend mentioned some dietary changes she made for her child who had symptoms of ADHD. That Facebook message was the catalyst that changed our lives.
Our first changes were simple - removing dyes and preservatives (like The Feingold Diet, I found out later). My son’s hyperactivity decreased. Not drastically, but enough to notice. I read about parents of children with autism finding success with a gluten free, casein free diet. So we tried that, too. Within six weeks, he was speaking 3-5 word phrases and tried to have actual conversations (at the age of five). I began to suspect he wasn’t autistic at all. The GFCF diet also made a difference for me - I had incredible energy and lost weight without trying. My daily research now included dietary studies and research into supplements and neurology. I moved us into the Weston A. Price diet using The Nourishing Traditions cookbook.
In the spring of 2010, I finally got pregnant. Then I had a traumatic miscarriage at 11.5 weeks. I was in shock for weeks and the devastation lasted for months. I vowed that something in my life would go right and I would figure out what was going on with my son, with or without the doctors' and therapists' and teachers' help. Without their help, as it turned out, but bullheadedness, control issues, and a legal degree are a potent combination.
Our homestead journey began in earnest. Whole, organic (or just natural, untreated) foods were not cheap. I planted a small garden. I bought in bulk and seconds from the farmers market. I needed raw milk and wanted goat milk, so we bought two Nigerian Dwarf goats. Suddenly (overnight?!), we had a small homestead on a tiny lot right in the middle of a small downtown and felt we were in way over our heads.
Then I changed our diets again. This time, we went grain free (paleo). Suddenly my son was having back and forth conversations with us and speaking in complete sentences. I was now certain he did not have autism and also that he did not have ADHD. The school did not agree. They were certain he did, and without saying the words (because they legally couldn’t), they continued to subtly pressure me to put him on medication.
I cleaned up everything. Every cleaning product, personal care product, everything that touched or entered our bodies was as clean as I could make it. Organic, non-gmo, sprouted, fermented; you name it, I did it. Shampoo, soap, laundry detergent, cleaners, sunscreen, fermented foods. I cooked all our meals and snacks from scratch.
Then I got pregnant again. I was stunned and terrified and thrilled. I immediately credited all the dietary changes. After the first twenty weeks (I always had terrible morning sickness), I realized this pregnancy would be completely different from my first pregnancy. I slept at night, I breathed easily, I had no heartburn, and I gained the perfect amount of weight without even trying. I barely remember that school year. We relocated our goats to a friend’s farm because it was time to breed them, but my husband was adamant that he couldn’t handle more than one pregnancy at a time in our household. Just over halfway through my pregnancy, I realized I’d stopped taking the Zyrtec I’d been on for fifteen years for that mysterious allergy. I’ve never needed it since.
My second son’s birth was no less dramatic than the first, but I blame that on an injury of mine. He made it to 39.5 weeks. I attempted a vbac, but ended up with a second c-section. He nursed like a champ and slept! My sons’ first years were complete opposites. My second son nursed painlessly, ate everything we put in front of him, was calm, and hit every milestone on time or sooner than average. And slept! Did I already say that?!
I was more determined than ever. As far as I was concerned, homesteading and a clean diet had proven itself. But my older son’s school was uncooperative. He was now nine and I was told that his testing for continued special education services would happen within the next year and he would age out of qualifying under the “Severe Developmental Delay” category. Since he’d improved so much (miraculously, apparently), he would probably only qualify for services under “Speech and Language Delay” and receive speech therapy and no other accommodations, unless he received "a diagnosis like ADHD”. However, at this point I knew he didn’t have ADHD at all. But oh, the pressure ... daily notes home about every little thing he did wrong, completely ignoring any progress he made, chipping away at his confidence little by little. In the spring of that year we decided we would pull him from public school at the end of the year and homeschool him.
Those first few months were wonderful, and then I realized I needed a break and some kind of support or I wouldn't be able to pull it off. I no longer had hours to myself every day. My husband worked long hours and traveled several days a week. My extended family thought I was crazy (they were nice about it, but still). I've always been an introvert - in groups, but not really in them. I’d followed the National Ladies Homestead Gathering on Facebook since its inception (and Lazy B Farm before then) and thought it might be my “tribe”. I was right. Again. ;)
My boys are now twelve and four years old. My oldest actually has Auditory Processing Disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder, vision tracking issues, and speech and language delays. He is my nature boy and loves books and still holds my hand in public. My youngest son is so, so fiery and yet curls up into a quiet ball in my lap when I read to him. Our vision for our homestead has changed so many times over the years, but I no longer feel overwhelmed, desperate, lost and alone. I’m more at peace now than I have ever been, even while preparing for major changes this year. Homesteading freed me and allowed me to believe in myself and my son - not what other people would have me believe was best for us. "Courage is found in unlikely places" and I found mine on a small lot, surrounded by chickens and goats, dogs and cats, tomatoes and herbs, and yes, even bugs and manure.
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