Dear 30 Year Old Me on Mother’s Day,
Listen up. Yes, you – acting as the general contractor; living through and participating in your house overhaul, while carefully moving your pregnant belly out-of-the-way. Do me a favor and sit down a minute. You don’t sit much, but you focus better when you do.
Life is hectic, I know. You’re working full-time, working on the house full-time, and trying to wrap your head around this Mom thing. You have a lot to do. I get it. There are papers to process, contractors to fight with, lessons to plan, furniture to order, walls to paint, and tests to grade. There is this small, ok, large human growing inside you. There is so much to think about, but there isn’t time to stop.
Do me a favor, and make time? I mean it. Force it in. Make time for you and your husband to just be. Make time to laugh. Make time to rest. Make time to get in the car and drive the not so far distance to see the handful of friends that have always had your back. Because, believe it or not, your new life will make this chaos look like a day in the spa.
Those friends, they are high quality. And you will always have each other’s backs. But, they will have husbands, and children and houses, and obligations of their own. Before you know it you’ll be keeping in touch with each other’s lives via Facebook and blog posts. (Yes, you’ll have a blog, but I’ll explain that later.) You’ll regret not seeing them more. Not sneaking in a few more dinners out, or some drinks and dessert. The time for that will come again, but it’ll be much later. And sometimes you’ll get lonely. Really lonely.
While you’re still sitting down, reign in some of those day dreams about the smooth way everything is going to go once the baby joins you. Broaden your definition of healthy into a “spectrum.” Refocus yourself onto the important jobs of motherhood; guardian, advocate, supporter, guide, confidant, conscience, role-model, nurse, doctor, therapist, just to name a few. Don’t bother looking at Pinterest. Your life doesn’t work there. Actually, MOST lives don’t work there.
That baby inside of you isn’t going to stay there forever. One day it’s going to make its way into the world in grand fashion. And she, (yep, you’re wrong, it’s a girl) will change your life in ways you could never imagine. By the way, if you can get through to that doctor before the induction, try to save yourself the bags of Pitocin and the HOURS of labor. She’s got a big head just like you. The C-Section is inevitable.
And, she’ll be the biggest baby in the NICU. Right from the start you’ll hear about her feistiness. The nurses don’t lie. Right from the start you’ll have to change your perceptions of how this mothering thing was going to go. From the very first hours you’ll have to learn to go with the flow because you’re about to set down a path you could not have imagined.
For about 18 months you will sleep rarely. She will cry and scream and yell in ways that your family will forget, but you will remember for life. You will learn how to function on raw nerve. You will use the baby pouch you got skillfully to sneak in an hour or two of sleep without dropping her. Because you know she’s not “spoiled” even though she only rests on top of you. You know it’s more. You know it’s her belly and you will hang on when others want easy answers and excuses. You will fight for her because you are her mom. And THAT is what mothers do.
By the time she’s one there will have already been a week-long hospital stay and a surgery that left the doctors “perplexed.” This is only the beginning. Dig in hard and sharpen your instincts. Trust yourself. Ask tons of questions. Learn early that doctors, and therapists are a dime a dozen. Settle for nothing less than the best.
Because those therapists, those Early Intervention therapists, and the Physical Therapist you’ll pretty much use for life, will have some of the greatest influence on your parenting, and on the health and growth of your girl. They will change your world. Listen carefully and learn.
This girl is going to get stuck like a pin cushion and shuffled from specialist to specialist. She’s going to confuse them, and amaze them. She will start to retreat into herself. All of a sudden she’ll be two, and not making a word. Hang on and don’t let her go. She’s not autistic, and never was, but she is medically complicated and she is not well. You will try as hard as you can. You will read, you will frantically research. You will seek out expensive alternative specialists. You will even record her agony for your husband so you can press on for her care as a united force.
You will fire pediatricians, doctors and specialists alike. You will slowly find your confidence. You will become a master record keeper. You will try things that are “different” just to see what happens. You will step over your toddler for two weeks as she tantrums on the floor when you take away her milk. You’ll worry that she’ll never eat again. You’ll get angry when you realize that the food she’s eating is making her more unwell. You’ll learn about the immune system and the GI tract. And by the time she’s two and a half you’ll get a whole lot of babbling. By the time she’s three and a half the speech therapist will cut her loose. Her belly will be flat. She will be much calmer, and she’ll be in a regular preschool with some “transitional and sensory issues.”
Her baby sitters will be tortured by your need to have every detail written down. Because, like a detective you will spend nights poring over things to make connections. You will have volumes of daily diaries, and binders of lab results. You’ll never leave and office without uttering the words, “Can I have a copy of that?”
She’ll grow physically and intellectually. You’ll cherish every moment extra, because you’ll know from where she came. She’ll have surgery after surgery, and a few more hospital stays. There will be scans and specialists to check that knee pain, the joint pain, and every other bit of chronic pain that will plague her young body. It will hurt you to watch, but you will be strong for her. You will not give up. You will not give in. You will press on.
And then in third grade there will be that genetic diagnosis that will turn life on its ear again. “Cowden’s Syndrome,” a “PTEN Mutation.” And you will start to study genetics.
But while you are studying you’ll learn about the health risks and you’ll focus on solutions. You’ll try desperately to wrap your head around the realities of this tumor provoking condition. You’ll hear the word “cancer” more times in reference to your girl then you’ll care to count. Then, you’ll get that positive test result too. That day when guilt takes over for a while. That day when you realize she doesn’t just have your hair and your smile. She also had this syndrome because YOU have it too. Don’t hang out in the pity party for too long. It’s not good for either of you. Trust in the grand plan.
Oh, and those relatives you love so much, the parents and grandparents, they won’t be around forever. I know that’s hard for you to imagine, because there are so many, and they are ALWAYS there. But, one day it will end. Do me a favor and take a few extra minutes and cherish each of them. Even if you’re really tired. Swing by. Say hi. Pick up the phone. You’ll be glad you did. I promise.
Days will blend into weeks, and weeks into months, and months into years. You’ll blink and wonder, but there will be no time to catch your breath.
Because it won’t be long before you’re in surgery for a double mastectomy. Yep. With lifetime breast cancer risks in the high 80%s, and your own history of 7 biopsies, this PTEN diagnosis took the decision from your hands. Don’t stress over it for too long. You’ve got good instincts. The double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction will be one of your best decisions ever. Get home to the angel that saved your life. The pathology report will confirm cancer was lurking in the breast proclaimed clean by MRI a month prior. You don’t need perfect breasts. You need vigilance. This beast will nip at your heels through a complete hysterectomy weeks later. It will swipe at you. Take care of yourself. Recover quickly and completely. Lose some weight. Fill your body with excellent nutrition. This is going to be a battle and you’ll need all your strength.
One day you’ll count and realize there will have been 16 surgeries for your girl. There will have been 16 times when she was walked into an operating room, and put to sleep. 16 times when you’ve prayed harder than you’ve ever prayed in your life, and 16 times when you know the pure joy of gratitude when you see her awake for the first time when it’s through. And you’ll know in your heart 16 is only the beginning. But don’t get caught up in that. TRY to stop putting it all together. TRY to just breathe, and enjoy the moments as they come.
One day you’ll look at your baby, all strong and determined. She’ll be taller than you and you’ll wonder how it went so fast. She’ll be mature, and so smart. She’ll be talented and compassionate. She’ll still be feisty and competitive too. She’ll be as athletic as her body will allow. She’ll swim and sing and be active in fundraising and outreach work too. She’ll be passionate about raising awareness for Cowden’s Syndrome and other rare diseases. She’ll encourage you to tell the story of the struggles you two face. Even though she’ll have a deep understanding that everyone has something, the rarity of this syndrome will cause her to implore you to get a real-time record out in the world. You’ll blog diligently, as often as you can, making sure to have her edit most of your work.
She’ll struggle sometimes, and so will you. Sometimes you’ll even argue. But, it’ll be the most amazing relationship you can imagine. You two will spend more time together than most other mother-daughter duos. Most of your time won’t be on “fun” adventures, but you’ll have hours and hours to talk and get to know each other. You’ll realize she’s spectacular.
If I had to pick the most important advice, it would be to tell her she is enough. Be sure she lives and breathes the reality she is loved. Deeply, and sincerely. Make sure she knows deep in her heart that she is enough, and all she ever has to be is who she is. Middle school is tough work, and she’ll need to believe this in her heart from the very beginning in order to remain true to herself during those years.
It’ll be a busy 13 years. But, every single moment will be so worth it. Trust yourself. Love each other.
Mother’s Day is really every day that you are hugged, loved, and respected. If you put the time in, it will pay dividends later.
I’m not sure what the rest of the journey has in store for us, but I’m sure we’ll be just fine. We’ve got a pretty awesome kid, and we are #beatingcowdens together.
Your 42 Year Old Self