I cried when I watched the plus sign appear.

I was single, unemployed and never meant to be a mama.

I cried again eight months later when seven pounds of perfection was placed in my arms.

My eyes locked with hers our bond was formed.

She could have been anyone’s, but she was mine.

When I told her, I didn’t know what I was doing, her eyes twinkled back at me.

Clumsily I put her head to my breast; naturally, she latched on.

She fussed, and I swayed. And our worry melted away.

I left the hospital knowing we were meant for one another.

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Her first bedtime story was a reading from my textbook. It wasn’t a nursery rhymes, but my voice still soothed her.

At 2-weeks postpartum, I returned to school with her on my chest. “Mommy and me classes,” I joked. I think she smiled at my giggle.

She was my “why.” And within weeks, I came to understand just how intricately we needed one another.

Our first year wasn’t seamless, but we learned and grew together.

I thought it would be a lot of me teaching her, but it wasn’t like that. She had just as much to show me, including that I had to stop and let her.

Infancy gave way to toddlerhood, as it does. She was fierce, feisty, and strong. I sought to teach her right from wrong. She taught me nothing is black and white.    

The twos came on strong. And we learned grace. Always together.

The preschool years were a whirlwind. Our family grew by three, and I learned a mama’s love is infinite.

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The school years followed, filled with lessons on standing up, standing down, holding tight, and letting go.

Then came a diagnosis to threaten it all.

A life-threatening one that brought me to my knees.  

And ringing out was her voice saying, “Mama, it’s gonna be OK.”

I cried. When she wasn’t looking, I cried and cried.

For months, I asked, “Why her?”

But she never did.

Through the seizures and paralysis she experienced, and the procedures and treatments to help them, she just kept on keeping on. She smiled more days than not, laughed when she couldn’t talk, and lived on faith “it would be OK.”

She thanked her nurses and doctors with pictures and hugs, asked everyone who offered her presents to give toys to the hospital, and slid notes under the doors of other patients to keep them smiling.

Her heart had every reason to turn coldinstead, it kept mine warm.

We’re through the storm now. We made it.

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She’s in remission from encephalitis, but an acquired brain injury from the illness has left a lot of extra needs in its wake.  

And as I rise to meet them, people say, “I don’t know how you do it.” But what they don’t know is without her, I couldn’t.

She was meant to be mine.

Cara Arnold

I’m a mama to 3 whose learning to balance parenthood and chronic illness at the hands of autoimmune encephalitis. Some days I’m a soccer mom, carpooling like a boss; other days I’m a relentless advocate, taking on doctors and insurance companies alike. But, if you’re looking for consistency every day I’m a hot mess. My life is a puzzle that’s still not together. I used to think pieces were missing. But it's all finally fitting together. It’s not what I envisioned, and some days I mourn that; but it’s mine. And knowing how fast that can change I try to appreciate every moment of it.