My darling child,
I loved you from the moment we decided to have you. You were four years in the making, four years of setting ultimatums, leaping hurdles. I had to quit smoking first. For at least a year. I had to start eating better and working out. I had to save money, pay off debts. I had to finish school.
It took your big brother, near tears, saying, “Will I ever have a brother or sister?” to make me realize it was time.
And then it took another six months to convince your father.
I loved you before I ever knew you. Before I knew your dimpled smile with the chipmunk cheeks. Before I knew the sweet smell of your head or the way your arms wrapped around my neck when we hugged.
Before I heard your voice say, “I love you, mommy.”
I love you, too.
You were difficult from the start. A more difficult pregnancy than your brother. A more difficult delivery. A more difficult sleeper. A more difficult eater. But I didn’t care.
I sat with you snuggled against my chest into the wee hours of the night and I loved you with everything I had. We survived the lack of sleep and personal hygiene and homemade food. We survived the sometimes inconsolable crying, yours and mine.
I felt guilty for the time we had. Guilty because it was time I never gave your brother. Guilty because I loved it so much and never wanted it to end. I’m sorry I colored our first few months with that guilt.
I cried when I took you to your grandmother’s, the first day I went back to work. You were only seven months. Only. I sat in the cold janitor’s closet, pumping milk and dreaming of being home with you, feeling you in my arms, smelling your smell.
We both adjusted to the separation in our own ways.
A week after your first birthday, you became very ill. Ill in a way that scared me to my core. A week in the hospital, visited only by robed and disinfected people. On IVs and fever reducers and antibiotics. I never left your side longer than to use the bathroom or grab a cup of coffee.
"Take a break," people urged. "Take care of yourself too," they begged. But I felt that staying by your side would keep any tragedy at bay. That my proximity to you would guarantee your good health.
That my presence would somehow make up for my absence.
And for the most part, it did.
But the virus we came to learn you had affected your hearing. We found out months later. You never talked or made a sound, other than to cry. You never tried to communicate in any way, other than to shriek. Once again I had to take you to the hospital, to hand you off to doctors I barely knew, who would put you under and remove pieces of you and restore your hearing and make you whole.
I blamed myself, for returning to work. I blamed myself for exposing you to other kids at daycare. For forcing you into close spaces with so many germs and sicknesses.
I blamed myself, but I didn’t stop working. I couldn’t afford to.
And then the bottom fell out. Your brother transitioned, we scrambled to respond. Hours of researching, letters to family, therapists, support groups, conferences, play groups. I became consumed with his issues, wrapped up in his challenges, and I had nothing left for you.
I’m told that’s the way it is, with kids. Never more than one crisis at a time. But that’s small comfort to you, my darling child, who went from being the center of my world to a distant satellite.
I love you more than you will likely ever know. And I’m so very sorry for this past year. I’m sorry for my absence, both physically and emotionally. I’m sorry for my exhaustion and my distance and my inability, some days, to do much more than get out of bed and face it.
I’m sorry I’m not the mother you deserve.
But I love you and I was once and I will be again.
This chapter of our lives will pass and I know there are brighter days ahead. Bright days for you and your brother. Bright days for me too.
I know I can’t ever turn back time, to those early days. Those beautiful, simple, sweet early days, with you snuggled in my arms, just the two of us.
I know I can’t undo the damage of the last year. I can’t give you the attention and support that you might have needed, but didn’t get, because your brother’s needs were greater.
But I can give you the gift of a promise, for your third birthday.
A promise to do better, from this day forward. A promise to be more mindful of our time together. A promise to spend time every day, even for a few minutes, with no one else but you and me.
A promise not to color all of our days with the guilt and regret of my mistakes.
After you’ve blown out your candles and eaten your cake, unwrapped all your gifts and opened your toys, after the excitement of the day has passed and things are quiet once again, I hope my gift will be enough to hold us together for another year, maybe for a lifetime.
Happy birthday, my sweet prince.
With all my love,
Then, now, and forever,
Don't miss my video on Listen to Your Mother where I share my story of Jake's transition.
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