Dear Zoe’s mama, in 2006
I know you know she is a miracle and you love her fiercely. But I know how you struggle every day with mothering. With getting it “right.” When your refluxy baby screams night and day and cannot get the sleep she needs – and you cannot get the sleep you need – you feel like a failure. When listening to her cry feels like the deepest pain, like listening to the little girl inside of yourself cry, and there is precious little you can do to soothe her.
I know your secret thoughts, that you should leave this to someone else and return to work. And I know the thought that followed unbidden. That if you do that, you might as well kill yourself.
Slowly the reflux will improve, slowly you will begin to bond with her when you feed her to sleep (all the experts say don’t) and when you let her sleep with you (all the experts say don’t). But you will still struggle with parenting the “right” way. Toddlerhood will seem like a battle of wills, as you try to mould your child so that she doesn’t become “spoiled” or “selfish” in the eyes of those so ready to judge. You’re always trying to do the right thing. Swimming lessons, soccer tots, the right nutritional mix of foods, but now you are also working all week, so can’t spend hours at the park or take her to mainly music sessions. Motherhood constantly feels like a test you are failing.
I’m glad you couldn’t know the future, that your precious daughter will be dead before her seventh birthday. Your parenting will change dramatically when she is first diagnosed with cancer. You will forget the rules, you won’t care about the judgement of others, you will simply start to parent by heart. It still won’t be easy. You are after all now a working single mother, and Zoe is smart and feisty, but you won’t feel like you are failing so much any more, you will feel like a team navigating this world together. I just wish you had learned some of the lessons earlier.
- That you can’t fix some things, all you can do is hold someone while they cry, be with them in their pain. This doesn’t make you a failure.
- That there is nothing more precious than sleeping with a little person who needs physical contact with you, whether she is a newborn, or six years old, still appearing in your bed some nights. You are her whole world. (After Zoe dies, you will wonder, did she know she would just have a short time here, that she needed to be with you as much as she could, because it needed to be enough for a whole lifetime, for the both of you?)
- That you cannot spoil a child with love. It’s why those time outs never worked. They need to know they are loved, no matter what poor decisions or mistakes they’ve made.
- That it doesn’t matter what the world thinks. Your only responsibility is to your child.
- That you are a good enough mother. That you deserve the love your daughter gives unconditionally to her beloved mama.
You will be ok. You will face tragedy and heartbreak and you will survive. You will be reborn through it. Just hold her. Breathe in that baby smell that will never really change. Love her while she lives, enough for her lifetime, then keep on loving her, enough for yours.
From Zoe’s mama in 2015