To the Moms Who Cared For My Family When My Daughter Was Critically Ill

She was puzzled when her colleague called her to tell her that one of her patients had just delivered a new baby girl…But there was something wrong. A skin disorder. What did that mean exactly? Had she missed something during all of her patient’s seemingly typical prenatal appointments?

And then she received a texted photo of the new baby. With elevated concern, she dropped her phone and yelled anxiously to her nurse to cancel her appointments the rest of the day.

Well aware of what this severe unexpected condition could mean for the baby’s life, the ob/gyn physician rushed to the hospital to be by her patient’s side. My side.

My beloved doctor sat with me and patted my arm. She did all she could to help in the critical situation. And then, when Brenna was transferred to the NICU, she continued to call to check on me and our family. She made appointments for me during her hectic days, just to talk. And more than one morning, she stopped by the NICU before her long shift to see Brenna. She left her own children in the early hours to make sure mine was OK.

More than five years from those days after Brenna’s birth, I never imagined how my heart could be stretched, not only because of the love I have experienced every day for my own two beautiful children, but because of the love shown to me by other moms along this life-changing journey of motherhood.

When my own weaknesses and limitations were pushed too far, other moms stepped alongside me and our family, time and again.

Today, in honor of this year’s approaching Mother’s Day, I offer a Thank You of deep gratitude…a thank you to those of you who have mothered my children. A thank you to those who kept my daughter alive, who cared for my son when I couldn’t be there, who served my family in the most selfless ways.

You, the neonatologist who sat by my hospital bed and patted my leg and looked at me with hurting blue eyes, with your own tummy bulging under your hospital scrubs with new life, offering me careful words to explain my child had a skin disorder called ichthyosis and the prognosis was not clear but that she was in good hands….thank you.

You, my friends, acquaintances and strangers who shifted around your budgets for weeks and weeks so you could generously help with Brenna’s medical expenses… thank you.

You, fellow mothers who took time away from your own family to spend extra time preparing a meal for mine… thank you.

You, NICU nurses who kissed your own babies goodbye to spend 12 hours on your feet taking care of mine, loving her to better health and increased strength, but also never forgetting to ask if Evan and I were all right, if we needed anything, if we had any questions… thank you.

You, moms who added to your shopping list at the store to purchase Aquaphor and medical supplies or thoughtfully choose a gift cards to Starbucks or the grocery store or Subway and spend time addressing it to our home… thank you.

You, nursing moms – a small but exceedingly special group – who gave hours of your life and dedication of your body to pump milk for Brenna for nearly two years… thank you.

You, the pediatrician who immediately gave me your cell phone number knowing, mother-t0-mother, than I needed that connection – and then answered my calls on evenings and weekends while letting me know you were happy to help… thank you.

You, the therapists who offered to come to our home to make it easier on our family, who researched and asked about the best ways to help Brenna, who are so involved in her school success… thank you.

You, medical teams of mothers who always ask me what I think, trusting that as her mother, I know my daughter best… thank you.

You, our own mothers. Our aunts, our cousins. Who have taught us how to love big, love whole, love unending. Who forced us out of the house, who rocked our baby through long afternoons, who played with our toddler during intense skincare routines, baths and hospitalizations. Who have been steady support, every day… thank you.

Tears slide down my face as I recount the dozens of instances that mothers I know stood up when my daughter was critically ill, reached out, and held my family in support. And my gratitude wells up with each memory, because I know it was not easy. It was one more thing to do, one more thing to think about, in the midst of already very full lives. But willingly, you stretched, and you carried, and you sacrificed, and you gave.

We all may parent differently, but the love of a mother never looks all that different – selfless, devoted, unconditional, caring. What I’ve found is that mothers not only lovingly care for their own children, but they truly love each other and they care for each other’s children. None of us could parent our best without the love of all of the moms around us, especially to lift us up and carry us through when we need it most.

My book, A Different Beautiful, is now available for order!

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When our hardships mold us for the better

We had just checked out at the grocery store, and I scooted the cart over to the loading area to bag my groceries while Brenna sat patiently in the front seat of the cart chattering away.

We were at least 10 feet away from where the grocery store clerk sat at the cash register, when the clerk turned to a woman next in line and asked “Darlene, how ya feeling?”

“Oh, not so good,” the elderly woman admitted, and the clerk continued to chat with her about her ailments while other people checked out and loaded groceries around us.

It was a conversation happening in the background of my grocery packing and talking with Brenna, and I didn’t even realize that she had overheard.

But a few minutes later, we were loading our groceries into the car when the older woman slowly made her way to her car near us in the parking lot.

“Mama,” Brenna said. “Why does that lady not feel good?”

“Is she sick? Is she hurt? Does she have to go to the hospital?” she asked.

It was the sort of side conversation that any other person would have probably brushed off and not given a second thought to. But for Brenna, who very acutely understands what it means when someone says they “don’t feel good,” it was concerning. She wanted to know more. She wanted to know why, and she wanted the woman to feel better.

I have been struck by my daughter’s intense empathy when it comes to others who are sick or hurting, which I can only assume is largely because of her own experiences with illness and pain. We have realized over the years that our efforts to build Brenna’s self-awareness when it comes to her skin care have seemed to be resulting in a deeper sense of empathy – as she learns to be aware of how she is feeling, she has also become much more concerned with how others are feeling.

Today, Brenna has such a developed sense of empathy and compassion, at just 4 years old, and even at this young age, she has allowed her pain to be transformed into care for others.

Our personal battles can feel isolating, painful, debilitating – from chronic illness to a severe injury to a job loss to a natural disaster. And as parents, the last thing we want is for our children to experience anything hard, especially anything painful. But while I would never intentionally choose pain or discomfort or struggle for myself or my family, I have seen how much those things can mold us for the better when we allow them too.

No one’s life is without struggle, and the hard in life can look so many different ways. But one thing our hardships can do is to lead us into better connection with others when we explore and express our self-empathy and empathy for others.

When my daughter is concerned about the hurting of an elderly woman who is a complete stranger, I realize that all of her pain that comes with her severe skin disorder is not for nothing.

I realize that God is using her to reach others, to connect with others, to bring people closer to Him through her empathy and compassion.

When our differences feel isolating, God is connecting. When we are struggling, God is redeeming.

Nothing is too different and nothing is too difficult for God to use for His great purpose when we choose to be better instead of bitter, when we choose to redeem instead of regret, and when we choose to allow our hardships to connect us to others in compassion.

Interested in reading more with your kids about differences and being yourself? Subscribe to my monthly email newsletter and download a guide to the best children’s books on differences and disabilities. Follow me on  Facebook and Instagram.