In 2002, Sarah Swindell was living the perfect life.
Her husband, Greg, had just won the World Series with the Houston Astros, and she had just had her fourth child, a son. Little did she suspect Dawson would soon develop autism, her marriage would dissolve and she eventually would be contemplating suicide.
Sarah Swindell shared her story, covered in her book “Rounding Home,” of overcoming blows that could have left her broken, but instead saw her rise from despair to a recovery she credits to the power of forgiveness.
Swindell, who graduated from Farmington High School in 1988, told her story as the keynote speaker for the Farmington Chamber of Commerce 2020 Professional Women’s Summit held Thursday on Zoom.
“It’s like a messy love story,” she said. “The book is how autism affects a family. It’s a self-help book on what not to do,” she said.
In 2002, Swindell took then 14-month-old Dawson for a round of vaccinations, and by the evening, he was screaming a high-pitched scream. Three days later, she said the only way to describe him was “he was just gone.”
Swindell is not anti-vaccine, but she believes the inoculations played a role in her son’s autism, saying she believes certain children were susceptible to developing autism from the vaccines used in the early 2000s.
“It wasn’t my fault, but for a long time, I felt like it was,” she said. “I took him in for that round of shots, I felt like I murdered him in a weird way. For a long time, I felt broken.”
Greg, took the development of his son’s autism particularly hard.
The family spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in treatments for Dawson because autism treatments and therapies were not usually covered in health insurance policies in the early 2000s.
The struggles took a toll on both Sarah and Greg, and she attributes the difficulties she went through to a certain amount of pride.
“I never sought help,” she said. “Everything had to be perfect – the perfect family, everything had to look good. It was eating me up.”
Ten years into the marriage, the Swindells divorced after an affair Greg had with her best friend at the time.
Sarah Swindell said the divorce was not unusual – 80% of couples with autistic children will see their marriage break up.
She then went through a nine-year period in which she married three different times only to see those marriages fail.
Her emphasis on dealing with her son’s autism, she said, led her to neglect her daughters, who developed their own struggles with eating disorders, self-cutting and suicide attempts.
At the depth of her difficulties, driving with Dawson in the backseat of her car in Houston, she contemplated suicide by driving into a concrete barrier.
“I felt it was the only way to get through the pain, for the girls, for myself, for my son,” she said.
Forgiveness was the key, she said, to her recovery from a life that seemed overwhelming.
While seeking treatments for Dawson with Greg, their love began to rekindle.
He was regretful and guilt-plagued, and Sarah’s ability to forgive went a good way to rebuild not only her life but also to help him with his own demons.
Eventually, they remarried.
It was also her daughters’ ability to forgive her for the neglect she believes she offered them in their childhoods, that Sarah Swindell said was key to rebuilding the family.
“Our love was always there. We had to ask for forgiveness,” she said. “Forgiveness will get rid of pain and anger. If you forgive, it will free you of pain, guilt, all the mistakes you made.”