Editor’s Note: Eraina Ferguson was a 20-year-old college student when she gave birth to her first child, Taylor, who was diagnosed with profound hearing loss and autism.
While the diagnoses felt overwhelming, Ferguson decided she was not going to let the medical challenges stop her from pursing her goals while being the best parent she could be to Taylor.
Ferguson went on to earn three academic degrees, including one from Yale University. The Torrance mom is now married and has four daughters. In the process of living in three different cities and navigating educational and personal hurdles, she discovered her philosophy: “This isn’t a normal life, it’s a good life.” Her new memoir, “My Good Life: One Woman’s Quest to Raise Her Special Needs Daughter,” is a story of perseverance, faith and hope. She shares an excerpt with us here.
I felt relieved as I drove my friend’s 1994 Acura down Elm Street. I drove past Calhoun College and past the Yale welcome center. Right before I arrived at Church Street, my phone rang.
I wondered who could be calling me. I knew it was not my boss; he had just blown me off. He was too busy to engage in a conversation about why I was unable to attend professional development training. Though I’d run into child care issues in the past, the last few weeks had been challenging. I was at my wits’ end, trying to understand why I could not do this. I had done the impossible before. Seven years to the month, I completed the same type of teacher training at a program in New York. Back then, I also had the odds stacked up against me, but I pulled out my Scriptures and got on my knees and prayed. In June 2003, I moved to New York City with only a job, one thousand dollars, and a dream of a good life for me and my daughter Taylor.
In the past, I was equipped with the stamina to deal with this situation. I had nothing left to fight with. Thirty minutes earlier, I sat with my head in my hands and sobbed. My integrity would not allow me to keep this position. I must resign and move on because finding child care had been impossible. Handing in the resignation letter felt like failure. Despite the circumstances, I was grateful for a moment because I was able to breathe. I could take a sigh of relief that now I could move forward, knowing that I had not kept my employer at bay. I did everything I could to make this position work.
I answered my ringing phone. “Hello,” I said.
“Hi, Eraina, this is Rochelle from the dining facility at Yale.”
“Hi, how are you?” I asked. I had no idea why she was calling. I remembered giving her my card months earlier, as I did often, but I had no idea why she would be calling now. I listened, unaware of the difficult news that she would deliver.
“Eraina,” she said, “please stay calm.” Stay calm, I thought, why would I need to stay calm? What happened? Why was she calling? A barrage of questions ran through my mind and my heart began to beat faster. I waited to hear what the difficult news would be.
She proceeded to tell me the news. Taylor had run outside naked while with the babysitter. “I looked out the window and saw Taylor running down the driveway with no clothes on,” she said
I pulled the car over as emotions flooded my body. I could not believe what I was hearing. After the initial wave of shock and disbelief flooded my body, anger and rage followed. I called the babysitter and yelled at her, asking how she could allow this to happen. Before I could spew more anger and rage, a calm voice took the phone.
“Hi Eraina, this is Anna Ramirez.” Anna Ramirez, the admissions counselor at Yale Divinity? I wondered why the admissions director was calling me. She was the dean of admissions at the Divinity School. “As I drove by this morning, I saw Taylor and pulled over to help. Taylor is fine,” she comforted. “Taylor is safe. Just get here as soon as you can.” She attempted to reassure me that everything would be OK. As I drove home, I felt relieved that someone else was there besides the babysitter.
It had been a challenging summer. This was a huge blow. I had nowhere else to go. What would I do now? How could I care for this child with no job and no child care? That is what this second master’s degree was about. It was supposed to place me in a position where I could excel in my academics and my career. I was so hopeful that I could finally have the career that I dreamed of and worked so hard for. As the tears streamed down my face, I was feeling low and prayed for something good to happen. As I pulled up to the front door, leaving my emergency hazards on, I tried to remain calm.
The babysitter had been in her office when Taylor ran outside. The challenging reality of raising a special-needs child is their limited understanding of danger. I used to be embarrassed by this story, worried that I would be judged. One lesson I learned at Yale Divinity was when one of my fellow classmates reminded me of the Scripture when God asked Adam, “Who told you that you were naked?” Sometimes our experiences are based on someone else’s point of view instead of our own. Living in our truth is imperative for living the good life.
There are so many memories that stick with me. My memories are accompanied by visions, smells and sounds that I cannot shake. I think memory is an important part of our makeup and invites us to move forward regarding our personalities. I compiled these memories to help me understand what happened during the 12-year span of raising Taylor on my own.
What happened in NYC, Boston and New Haven to make up my personality and, most of all, the life that I worked so hard for?
My good life.
Eraina Ferguson is a special needs advocate, journalist and TEDx speaker. She is the founder of My Good Life, an organization she created to help families of children with special needs to live their best life.