It never occurred to me that my newborn daughter would be anything but extraordinary. It’s not just that I’d curated a killer registry, availed myself of the best experts, and moved to a precious town just this side of Mayberry. It’s that secretly, deep down, I knew I was extraordinary. I had treated my life like a test I could ace with the right mix of hard work and moxie; naturally, my daughter would do the same.
I was a single mom by choice at 37, and if my love life hadn’t quite panned out, most everything else had. I was a classic “amazing girl”—driven, social, and relentlessly well-rounded—reveling in the fruits of post-Title IX America: an all-metro athlete in high school, Rhodes Scholar at 24, best-selling author by 27. My anonymous sperm donor is an (allegedly) gifted musician.
When my daughter was born, I did everything I thought I was supposed to do. Breast-feeding. Baby carrier. Wooden toys. But one day, when she was just over a year old, her nanny wouldn’t make eye contact with me. “I’m worried she’s not making enough sounds,” she finally blurted out. And suddenly I heard the silence, the way you one day notice a tree or a house on a street you’ve driven down a hundred times before. My daughter did not babble, or engage in a back-and-forth gurgle with me. Her voice did not inflect.
I went online. I called speech therapists, then state-funded early intervention. I pressed them with anxious questions, hoping I was wrong about what I was seeing, and not hearing, from my daughter. Standing in line at a café, and playing at the parents center in town, I craned my neck to eavesdrop on the emerging voices of other babies. Jealous and embarrassed, I avoided mommy friends whose young toddlers could talk.