Cheryl Borrelli was pushed to the end of her endurance. From single-handedly raising a son who has autism, to fighting depression every day, she needed an outlet to express her pain.
Like all parents, Cheryl Borrelli was unsure of how she would handle parenthood when she first gave birth to her son, Nicholas.
After a premature birth in March of 1999, Borrelli expected some delays in her son's learning but was unsure of ways to measure the rate at which he learns.
"Being a new mom, I didn't really know what milestones to look for, so I was always looking in books like 'what am I supposed to be doing?' I started to notice as he got older he wasn't making the milestones he was supposed to be," Borrelli said.
After a trip to the pediatrician when Nicholas was four years old, Borrelli received news that is what she called "devastating," it was likely her son may have autism due to his non-verbal communicative skills.
Raising her son, Nicky, wasn't an easy battle from the start.
She spent the first months and years of his life taking Nicky to dozens of different types of therapies to help treat her son.
Due to this, Borrelli faced a never-ending period of sleep deprivation and depression, where she felt exhausted from the long days of treatment and stress of being a parent.
"I was just completely absorbed in being his mother, getting into progress and trying to figure out the severity of autism and what he needed," Borrelli said. "We started making those decisions like where does he go to school, where does he fit in, where can people provide for his needs?"
However, this was no easy feat for Borrelli, as she found herself in constant battles and lawsuits with local school systems and education boards because they were unable to provide basic and necessary means of service for her son.
As Nicky struggled with school, Borrelli found her son's autism to become increasingly severe.
"He would knock down bookshelves, run out of the classroom and we'd have to go and find him, he would scream, punch and kick, and punch and kick me," she said. "I had to pull him out of school, I had to volunteer practically every day, and began taking notes on him because they weren't helping him."
Borrelli decided to change the course of her parenting when she saw Nicky's autism become more severe. Instead of finding things to fix the problems he faced, she would look for solutions that are going to help him make progress.
The physical battle Borrelli faced was hard enough, but one of the hardest mountains Borrelli had to climb was accepting the fact that her perception of a normal family is changed.
"It can't be fixed. You just have to accept that this is our normal form now," Borrelli said. "That was the hard thing for me to accept because I want my son back. I was seeing him right in front of me and I miss him, I can't have a conversation with him."
The constant state of grief made Borrelli's depression worsen, so she started to look for ways of releasing her pain. This led her to write two books. "Dear Nicky, Love Mommy" was released in April of 2017, the second book of the series, "I Speak with my Heart", was released in January of 2019.
"Dear Nicky, Love Mommy" is a collection of handwritten letters Borrelli wrote to her son over the course of two years as she helps him face autism and life. It is the story of a mother's love, pain, and survival as she finds personal peace with the struggles she faces every day.
Through teary eyes, Borrelli read the letter she wrote to her son when he was first diagnosed with autism at a book signing event at the Whitman Free Library of South Philadelphia on March 11, 2019.
"Dear Nicky, I am so sorry. We fought so hard to survive and I can't believe it ended up like this. I never wanted this for you, for our life. We'll do whatever we have to be here for you. Each day that you struggle I'll be here for you all the time, cheering you on. I'll take care of you. I promise you I will help you, I love you."
Borrelli then denounced the labels that society may place upon her son and labeled him herself.
"I never wanted anyone to label you, so I will label you now. My angel. You are not 'autism,' Nicky. You are Nicholas D'Ambra. You are beautiful, handsome, intelligent, funny, loving, caring, unique, creative. You are wonderful, you are special, a survivor. You are a son, grandson, and friend, you are a child of God, an Italian American, a U.S. Citizen. You are not autism, Nicky, you are Nicholas, and I love you. Love, Mommy."
At first, the book was also a struggle Borrelli faced, as she had to face deep-rooted pain to write a collection of letters.
"I would much rather continue to ignore that pain and not feel it. I had to really feel it," Borrelli said. "I had to really spend time alone with myself and sit in it and feel it, cry, and let it out."
Releasing the finished novel was a milestone for Borrelli and her battle with depression. She felt anxious and afraid of judgment from people who will read about her life story and state of mental health.
Borrelli's fears were just that, fears. Her story has inspired readers and mothers alike who struggle with mental illness and together they have used her book as a connection to other parents whose children have disabilities.
"A lot of people really thanked me for reading my book because it's honest," Borrelli said. "It tells how parents feel, I make the best out of every day that Nicky has, any accomplishments he makes."
Borrelli proudly states that her book is an honest and raw depiction of the struggles a parent faces when their child has a disability such as autism. The book includes the full scope of Borrelli's life and doesn't fail to include raw truths such as physical abuse and an accurate depiction of mental illness.
"As he was getting older and stronger, his rage issues continued," Borrelli said. "He punched a window out one day, putting his fists through the glass, broke floorboards and he has given me two concussions from picking up DVD players or whatever is nearby and hitting me with them."
The struggle of watching her son face troubles daily moved her to devote every aspect of her life to helping him, expressing love for him through every movement.
"If I could take this troubling away from him I would, not being able to express himself is hard, but I can be here and fight with him," Borrelli said. "I can put awareness out there, starting my journaling helped heal me and my depression."
The love of a mother is one that is sacred and unbreakable, and Cheryl Borrelli's love for her son leads her to fight for him every day.
"He's the best thing that has ever happened to me," Borrelli said. "And I love him more than anything."