In doing Work Like a Mother, I’ve had the pleasure to talk with several moms of medically complex children. Each has been truly inspirational. Our conversations have opened my eyes to the ups and downs they face each day. And not just for their kids, but for themselves too. Everyone’s attention focuses on the needs of the child, but what about that child’s mom? What about how much her life has changed, how she’s experiencing a totally different version of motherhood than she had dreamed of? It’s time we reimagine a better way forward where moms of medically complex children have a village supporting them and their family. It starts by each of us becoming more aware and more inclusive, and Veronica’s story is the perfect place to start.
Watch + Listen to the whole conversation:
Veronica had just released her third album and was a rising star in the club music scene when she got pregnant with her son. Her career was taking off, and people saw her as one of the divas of the 1990’s club music scene. She had every intention of recording more albums, but it didn’t quite work out that way. CJ was diagnosed with autism at a very young age. So Veronica took on new roles as a full-time caregiver and a tireless advocate for autism awareness. But she also mourned the career and dreams that she had envisioned for herself. In today’s episode, Veronica opens up and shares how she has managed to pursue her own creative passions while being the primary caregiver since her husband Chris has a demanding Broadway career starring in Hamilton.
Where were you in your career when you had your first child?
By the time I got pregnant with CJ, I had three albums released. The very last album that I had released was a Remix album from The Rise album that I released on polygram. I worked with so many incredible people and I was incredibly lucky and blessed to be in those rooms and I was excited about doing it again. I was putting together showcases at the time and CJ was a big surprise. But I thought, I’m going to be 30 years old, it’s time. I had it all planned out. Chris would go do In the Heights and I’d have baby and hit the road. It didn’t happen.
So what did happen?
CJ was diagnosed with autism at a very young age. I knew probably from when he was about six months old that there was something a little bit different. There were some things that kind of took a little bit longer for him like sitting up and some low muscle tone in the mouth. Then his development kind of sped up a little and I was feeling like he was on track by the time he was eight months old. He had a couple of words that he would try to say and was hitting milestones. Rhen he got sick with pneumonia and was hospitalized for about 5 days.
After the pneumonia, nothing was the same. He lost all of his language his facial expressions changed. He was a shadow of the baby that I had previously. After recovery from pneumonia, doctors saw markers of autism and set him up with an evaluation just to make sure that everything was okay. The first evaluation came back stellar because at 10 months he was meeting all of the benchmarks for babies. I went back to the doctor and he told us- CJ needed to get evaluated again. We went to a different place when he was a few months older and received a diagnosis of sever autism. We went from one agency who said that he was developing beautifully to a diagnosis of severe autism within three months.
How did you think about returning to your career after CJ’s diagnosis?
I just didn’t. That’s the tricky thing. During the early months after the diagnosis, the poor kid’s schedule was busier than most adults. He had two hours of school in the morning. He had two or three hours of therapy in the afternoon. He would have speech, OT, and PT. He had so much therapy and I remember just thinking to myself- there is no way. I’m going to be able to get back to doing what I want to do because somebody has got to be here for CJ. I don’t know how I’m going to make it happen. And I kind of just put it out of my head that it wasn’t going to happen. I hoped that when he was older then maybe I could explore returning to my career. But I felt like the more time that passed the more difficult it felt for me to be able to connect to a world that I felt so disconnected from.
How do you juggle being married to a Broadway star, your own aspirations, and having a child with a medical complexity?
I got to see it from you know, being the wife of an amazing performer and actor. But I was watching everything that happened with In the Heights from home when I used to be the star of that show with my husband. That is something that was really really tough. But my heart was so full that I got to see my husband continue and see the success that it brought to Lin and to all of my friends. I mean all of my friends were in the show-all of them. So there was this pride and this also this sense of sadness that I couldn’t do it with them, but I still got to be a part of it with them, because CJ was a part of everybody’s life. He had so many aunts and uncles in that show. I am so glad that In the Heights had the success that it had but there is a part of me that wishes I could have been a part of it and not just watching from the sidelines or from home.
Co-founder & COO
Bridget is mom to two little boys, Hudson and Brooks, and a champion of working moms everywhere. NeighborSchools itself was borne out of Bridget’s challenge to find high-quality yet affordable child care, and the realization that so many parents struggle with these same issues every day.