Every so often my friends post messages on Facebook to their children. Almost always it is to wish them a happy birthday. Usually they also express gratitude for the miraculous life-change of becoming a mother. Often, the phrases include “thank you for making me a mother,” “these last X years have been amazing,” and “the day you were born was one of the happiest days of my life.”
Well, five years ago today, Claire made me a mother. And, truthfully, it was one of the happiest days of my life. Having said that, the five years we’ve spent as mother and daughter since that rainy April morning . . . Well, they seem too loaded to simply say how happy I am to be her mother.
I don’t think I can frame my love for Claire in such a simple, happy way.
Every bit of Claire’s life, and my own subsequent “changes for the better,” has been extremely hard-won. From her conception to potty-training to keeping her alive, every “change for the better” has been a huge undertaking – the results of which are not yet seen.
Becoming a mother is normally pretty central to an LDS girl’s plan for her life, and for close to five years, that life plan just wouldn’t come for me. And, whether it is because my own body is stubborn, or because a reluctant, stubborn, sweet girl just wasn’t ready to make her appearance here on earth, those five years felt long and difficult on my end. I said many begging, pleading, questioning prayers during those years; however, if Claire was hesitant, she wasn’t alone in her feelings. I definitely had reluctance of my own when pursuing motherhood. Honestly, I wondered if it was really worth the effort. While women all around me were getting pregnant right on cue then complaining about sleepless nights and challenging toddlers, I was undergoing invasive procedures, having embarrassing monthly exams, and taking drugs that made me feel like throwing up.
All this with no baby in sight.
After undergoing fertility treatment for two-and-a-half years, I had my own ‘come to Jesus’ moment and felt peace with the Lord’s plan for me. I didn’t know what it would be, but I finally decided to trust that a childless life would be happy.
Less than a month later, I discovered I was pregnant with Claire. It was a long wait, but once I accepted that Claire wasn’t guaranteed to be mine, suddenly she was. She was worth the wait. She was worth the lesson learned.
Parts of Claire’s newborn weeks were rocky and challenging, but it was almost all because I didn’t yet know how to be a mother. She was a dream-come-true. I was completely smitten with her silky shock of black hair, her small body curved against my chest, and her ‘baracuda’-style of nursing.
She was my everything.
Until signs of Leukemia brought Claire’s babyhood to an abrupt end just before her second birthday.
She was still my everything, but my feelings on motherhood and my own daughter were much harder to discern and even to believe.
Claire was ultimately diagnosed with Leukemia 3 months after her second birthday. The range of mother-like emotions I went through during her first six months of treatment was pretty much at the ‘SAVE MY BABY!’ level. It was really the following two years of maintenance where I felt my easy-come love for her meet with resistance.
She was turning three. Maybe that’s it.
We had to potty-train. That could definitely be it.
She was on personality-altering and mood-changing steroids. Maybe that’s it.
She was in pain for two weeks out of every four. I know that I can be a challenge to live with when I’m not feeling well. So, maybe that’s it.
But, often love took a backseat to the duty of consistent clinic visits and hospital stays and medicine schedules.
I hate to even think about it.
Even though we have been finished with her treatment for six months now, I am still processing the effect of her illness on our mother-daughter relationship. Maybe I can write my way to an understanding sometime in the future. Until then, I do feel much gratitude on her birthday, and the gratitude I feel is most definitely for her.
By having my sweet, intelligent, silly, stubborn, giggly, beautiful, spirited, imaginative Claire, the Lord teaches me on a daily basis. He teaches me with the very words I use to reprimand, discipline, explain, encourage, and show my love to Claire. My poor Claire could very well be mine – frustrations and all - because she needs to hear from her mother the exact same things her mother needs to hear from her Heavenly Father.
She and I – we’re in this together.
She challenges me to be better than I think I can be. She constantly asks through her actions if I will still love her no matter what. She watches carefully for my sometimes less-than stellar reactions, and she lets me have another go at it when I fail. Because Claire is mine for a reason, and she refuses to let me settle for less than an eternity with her.
So, dear Claire, I commit to an eternity of perfecting myself with you. I will do everything in my power to make sure it is so.
Happy 5th birthday, my firstborn, my challenge, my Survivor. I love you forever and always.