“True struggle happens when you can sense what is not working for you and you’re willing to take the appropriate action to correct the situation. Those who accomplish change are willing to engage the struggle.” – Danny Dreyer
One of her greatest struggles came packaged in an unexpected pregnancy.
“When I was 2 months pregnant, I remember hearing God say: you’re having a boy and he’s going to be special. At the time the person I was married to said, ‘oh, you just want a boy,’ because I had two girls. I said, ‘no really, God is telling me that’,” she says.
We’re seated in a quaint café on Girard Ave. in the Brewerytown neighborhood of Philadelphia. The area is undergoing vast redevelopment; here you can find a neighborhood drug fiend and long-time residents on one side of the street, and a growing college and middle class population on the other. The area is a quiet showdown of old vs. new, and California-native, Terri Matthew’s Mercedes Benz is parked on the dividing line that is Girard Ave.
Seven years ago, her heart was divided after discovering she was pregnant with her third child. The then married business executive, humanitarian, TV Personality, former teen parent and mother of two, had no desire to have a third child.
“[God] knew in my heart that I was contemplating not having the baby—and I’m just being real. People are going to judge and say what they say, but we as women know: if you’re not ready, you’re just not ready,” she admits, “Whether you’re against it or for it, or challenging Christianity—that’s not what I care about. The honest answer was, I wasn’t ready—it just wasn’t the right time. And I was married and [still] didn’t want this situation.”
Despite her initial fears and doubt, Terri accepted the pregnancy and awaited her baby’s arrival. She believed that her son would indeed be special.
“When Jaden came forth, everything was normal—he developed normal, or at least what I thought was normal…until I saw the change,” she says.
At two-years-old, Jaden began to show signs of development problems. Her family had relocated to Pennsylvania by then; rightly confused and concerned, she sought help. A health professional came to her home to observe Jaden for two hours; it was then that she was informed that he had “red flags for autism”. Unfortunately, a diagnosis couldn’t be determined until Jaden was taken to a doctor for further evaluation. Terri had to wait eight months to get Jaden’s first appointment due to what she describes as a lack of doctors who specialize in Autism diagnosis and treatment. During the eight month waiting period, Jaden struggled with speech, occupational and behavioral issues.
Terri didn’t know where to go or who to call and Google just simply wasn’t enough when it came to the health of her son; on top of that, there were no local support groups that were consistent or on-going—especially for African-Americans.
“If there were support groups, it was a lot of saddity moms that typically had the finances to do whatever it was that they needed to do for their kids. So if a person attended the meeting who didn’t have the financial flexibility, meaning—they don’t have the ability to stay home because there’s no working husband to pay all of the bills–then what?” she asks rhetorically with her brows furrowed, “I was fortunate to be able to do it, but the Lord stopped me and said, what about the parents who can’t?”
This was the first hint of what Terri believes to be God’s calling for her and her family’s lives. The hints came in various forms. For example, Terri says that God instructed her to ask why this process took so long. She soon figured it out when a health professional came to her home and told her that she needn’t worry because a case manager would call her “right away”. Confused, she asked them what they meant by that to which she received the reply: “not everybody gets called right away”.
That’s when she gained a clearer understanding of the developmental disability pre- and post-diagnosis process.
“People who live in underserved areas or areas that are considered dangerous, impoverished or less desirable—they don’t get services. The reason why is because a case manager has the option to take on cases. How the option works is like this: I don’t want to go there because it’s unsafe for me. Okay, they don’t go; they get paid regardless, and they pick and choose what cases they want to pick up,” she reveals with a matter-of-fact disposition.
I look out onto the avenue watching as a mother pushes a stroller along while holding the hand of a little one. Her revelation makes me wonder.
How many on this side of the avenue fail to get to services?
I shake the thought from my head and focus back on her story.
When their appointment finally took place [after waiting for eight months], the doctor agreed that Jaden seemed as though he had Autism. Unfortunately, before it could be diagnosed, the doctor would have to sit down to write and review the report, and then send Terri a copy of it. That process was estimated to take another 3-6 months.
Just what the hell do they have to do?
Grow the trees and cut the paper too?
Months later, Terri finally received Jaden’s official Autism diagnosis. The entire diagnosis process took Jaden from the age of two to three and a half years-old to complete. During that process he was in and out multiple daycares, which every working parent can imagine to be extremely frustrating.
“To have child with special needs, challenges everything within you. You’re faced with embarrassment when people see your child acting ‘weird’ or ‘awkward’; when you have to explain to everybody that he’s not ‘normal’ even though he looks normal,” she says full of emotion.
I sniff up the tears I feel coming. Hers have already dropped freely.
“The amount of patience that you have to have to tolerate the system—to accept assistance—is very humbling. It teaches you unconditional love, and it stretches you beyond anything that you could ever imagine. I thought I had two kids already and I knew what motherhood was, I had no clue when it came to this,” she says.
Terri wasn’t the only one who didn’t have a clue. She had two daughters who had needs too.
“It’s a balancing act because you can’t forget the other kids who are normal and need you. They don’t want you missing [important events] because Jaden needs all of these things. So it has created balance and understanding,” she pauses and swallows back what seems to be more tears coming.
She takes a moment to gather herself and as she seemingly thinks through her words.
“It’s changed me greatly. It gives you the a courage to walk–and especially when its your child and you see there’s so much injustice that happens. I think God had it happen that way for a reason because I had the money to do what I needed to do. I’m not saying that in a way where I think I’m better than anybody but I was fortunate to have Jaden in my life when I had the right financial resources. If this had been my first baby days it would have been different because I was in college and the whole nine! I had Jaden when everything was in the right place…and I still had to go through it.”
Terri is a woman who leans heavily on her spiritual faith and believes strongly in following God’s lead. And for longer than she actually cared to listen, Terri says God had been instructing her to act on something that she had been hesitant to.
But she couldn’t be hesitant anymore…too much and too many were at stake.
“God gave me Pennsylvania as my boot camp, and I slowly but surely understood why…”
Part II will posted on Nov. 7th, exactly one week from today.
In the meantime check out this video courtesy of Jaden’s Voice:
See you back here next week!
– Sincerely Syreeta