We sat around our well-worn kitchen table, my four-year-old excitedly reporting on the fun she’d had that day at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. There had been nature walks and scavenger hunts, pool-time and even bowling. I strained to hold my body up and utter whole sentences in response while we ate the take-out my husband had purchased on the way home. I reached deep into the depths of my being to extricate excitement, follow-up questions, silliness-you know, all the things a four- year-old desires during these sorts of conversations. The thing is, I just didn’t have it to give.
My body was screaming so many things at once, about pain, about fatigue, about noise, about light, about heat.
My daughter was asking me a question.
“Do you think after dinner you could play with me outside?”
“No, honey I’m sorry. It’s still too hot for Mommy to be outside and she has to rest after dinner, but maybe Daddy could play?”
“Why do you just always have to rest?”
It felt like I had answered this question no less than one million times in her short existence. It also felt like I was failing her, maybe the whole world in every way possible.
“Do you think tomorrow while Daddy is at work you could take me to the park?”
Hadn’t she just been to the park today? Wasn’t it ever enough? She was four. Of course, it wasn’t ever enough. I was a terrible person.
“No, honey. It will still be too hot tomorrow. Remember, Mommy can’t go outside very much in the summer, especially on super hot days? Because it makes her sicker?”
“I wish I could have a new mom, one who wasn’t sick all the time. Can Grandma be my mom?”
The pain was instant and visceral.
I told her, “No. Grandma cannot be your Mom. You already have a Mom, and it’s me. When people get sick we don’t throw them away and get a new one that works better; we take care of them because we love them.”
That night as I lay in bed listening to the rhythm of my husband’s snoring, a siren like breathing sound, alternating with a sawing like snorting, I tried to lance my wounded heart with words I spoke to myself.
I tried to stop the bleeding by reminding myself I was not only her mom but the mom who fought for her from the time I saw two lines on a stick reporting an impending visit from the stork. Even as my body fought me at every turn. Even when I didn’t yet know what my body was doing to me, or what it would do to my sweet baby girl, I prayed over her and fought for her every single day.
I dreamed about her future. I hoped and prayed others would get to know her, the way I was. I begged her to stay with us and laughed about the way she was already showing herself to be a woman who knew what she wanted.
And one surreal day, the hospital played the lullaby signaling the birth of a baby in their nursery, for my fleshy pink perfect baby girl. And I held her little foot in my hand for the first time, the same foot that had kicked me in the bladder while I was driving and made me pee my pants so many times, the same little piggy that had kicked me in the wee hours of the night and reassured me, “I’m still here” and I whispered “I will never stop fighting for you.”
Then came the newborn days, when I was sometimes too sick or dizzy to carry her in my arms, so I pushed her from room to room in her bassinet with wheels on it. My best friend came over after work and helped me, sometimes even staying overnight because my husband’s work required nights away. And I was still whispering, “I will never stop fighting for you.”
But this four-year-old asking for a new mom doesn’t know or understand any of that.
I told the shattered pieces of my heart that she one day would. I told those shards of glass that I was raising a warrior, that one day she’d look back and not see weakness but strength. One day, she’d look back and see how hard I fought to give her everything I had.
It’s not much. But’s it’s everything I have.
These may be the only things she learns from me, and I’m okay with that: 1) I’ll give you everything I have. 2) I will never stop fighting for you. (Even when you want a new mom)