In making these gifts, I've also been remembering how I felt when I was in these other parents' positions. And over and over again the overwhelming memory and feeling I have is Failure. Those three weeks (and beyond, truthfully) were lived with an all encompassing feeling of guilt and failure.
I had failed in my only job as a pregnant woman, to keep my child healthy and see him into the world safely. My body had failed not only him, it had failed me. What millions of women find easy, my body rejected. My body failed by trying to kill me first, then Henry. I failed at having a happy birth story, particularly because my eldest son's birth story is quite different but was equally traumatic. I failed at motherhood because I could only see my infant son twice a day at best and surely he'd grow up at a disadvantage for that as well. I failed at motherhood over again because I couldn't give my 2 year old what he needed and so surely he'd grow up at a disadvantage for that. I failed at life. I failed at the world. I failed at breastfeeding, though the desperate Pssssh Psssssh of the breast pump still rings in my ears.
When you have a sick baby, every single thing in the entire world is absolutely and unbendingly WRONG. It is the most unnatural feeling in the world to lie in bed at night, your child having just been surprisingly removed from your body, and you are miles and miles and miles away. To feel like the nurses are the Real mothers, you were just a host. And a bad one at that. To feel the deflating of your soft, battered stomach and have absolutely nothing to show for it. To be going about your daily business without your infant seems so absolutely alien and wrong... it is just impossible to not feel broken into pieces.
My feelings about Henry's arrival are far from numbed, and far from happy. He is now (as the pictures indicate) a gorgeous, happy, healthy, talking, running, bounding, joyous, funny, delectible, chubby, adjusted, NORMAL little boy. And yet here I am crying as I type this because the pain of his time in the hospital is still very fresh. Forever tied to the pain of my mother dying exactly 2 weeks prior to his arrival, and feeling like an abandoned kitten, having no idea how to deal with this tiny baby and my failing body, and having no mother to talk to about it. And even though my sense tells me otherwise and my brain knows better, part of me - that irrational heartstrong mommy part of me - will always feel a sense of failure and guilt when thinking about Henry's birth.
And that is why this project exists. I watched my mother die an agonizing death. I watched her suffer through cancer for 7 years, and in the end I watched her practically melt before my eyes. And yet through it all she held an optimism that everyone found shocking. No amount of pain could stop her from being her best self, her best mother, her best wife. And as long as she had anything to do with it, nothing was going to stop her from making people laugh, taking care of her friends, and showing her unrelenting compassion.
Lesson learned, mom. Seeking comfort in your own situation by bringing light to others going through the same thing. Saying yes, life DOES suck and it IS unfair, so what are we going to do to make it better? Offering hope to people who are easily lost in the dark. Knowing that the smallest acts of kindness are often the ones with the longest effects, and often the ones that prompt even more giving. And so yes I am doing this project for Henry, my shockingly perfect nearly 2 year old... but I am also doing it for my mom. Both of them amazing people. Both of them worth honoring.