A year ago today was the absolute worst day of my life.
It started out well. My husband had to go to an early conference session, but Eli and I had a nice breakfast in our hotel, we were packing so we could go home, but first we were going to swing by an amusement park nearby since we had only gotten to spend a half day there earlier in the week (and our tickets were still valid) and we just knew Eli would love it. And then it happened. In the blink of an eye, my 10 month old fell head first off the bed and hit the very hard flooring of our hotel room. He screamed a scream I can never unhear. I laid him on the bed and when I picked him up, his head lagged behind and bobbed. He wouldn’t open his eyes. He wasn’t okay.
The next four days included 3 ER visits, 2 admission processes, and 3 nights in the hospital. It included 2 CT scans that showed blood on Eli’s brain. It included frank conversations with neurosurgeons who told us that there was no way to know if our child was going to be okay or if he’d have long term issues. It included IVs, vomit, and more fear than I can ever describe.
And now it’s been a year.
My son is now a hilarious, busy, incredibly profoundly normal toddler. If you looked at him for any duration of time, you’d never know that he had a brain injury last year. And I could not be more thankful for that.
If you looked at me for any measure of time, you might not know how profoundly damaged I was either. A year and a day ago, I had a level of parenting innocence I cannot ever get back. I obviously knew that there were risks, but I had never faced the reality of those risks. I had severe anxiety about something happening to my child but even with that fear, I had never truly faced the consequences of something happening. My introduction to the reality that my child was fragile wasn’t a skinned knee or a busted lip. It was a bleeding brain. And it devastated me on every level.
I had months where I didn’t sleep because all night long I tried to rescue my child from situations that would harm him. I had months where I didn’t smile, where I functioned at the bare minimum, working just as much as I had to, parenting just as much as I had to. I had months where I never thought things would ever be good again, even though I could see this incredible person in front of me who despite what happened was fine. I was not fine.
A full year has passed and much has changed. I have a level of awareness that in some ways I’m grateful for. I have a level of appreciation for modern medicine that I cannot possibly convey in words. And more than anything else, I am happy again. My marriage is better than it has ever been. I am more appreciative of the things I have in my life because I am truly, immeasurably fortunate.
I will not pretend that Eli’s injury a year ago is something I am thankful for, because I am not and if I could go back and undo it, I would, a million times over. But I have worked hard to make it mean something for my life, for my child’s life, for our family. I have worked hard to use it as a way to be a better parent, not in the helicopter overprotective sense, but in the awareness of reality sense, in the being grateful for my family sense. I have worked hard to be a better parent, a better wife and a better person this year.
And a year later, I am happy. I am truly, genuinely happy. A year ago I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to feel that way again. 6 months ago, I doubted that I’d ever feel this way again. It has taken hours of therapy, a medication I never wanted to take and time. And here we are.
I am not the mother I was a year ago, and I will never be her again. But I’ve stopped mourning that reality, because I realized that now, a year later, I’m better than I was last March. I’m now the parent I wanted to be, not the one who was so held back by the fear of something happening that I couldn’t give my child space to explore. I’m not the parent who was so afraid of tragedy that I couldn’t fully attach to my son and be present with him each day. I am not that mother anymore. I am attached. I am present. And I am truly, in my bones, to my core, happy. And I am grateful for every single day that I get to be this way. For every single moment with my family. I know what is truly at stake in this life and while this year has been indescribably difficult, I’m so glad for all I have learned and for all that I have.