Before you were born, I was wrongfully diagnosed with infertility. I wept endlessly for your existence, for your faces, for your warmth. I didn't know you then, but I knew you were a missing piece of me. My story wasn't whole without you.
The first moment I saw each of you, three years apart, was after months of suffering and worthy sacrifice, enduring hyperemesis. I cried big heavy tears stopping only to wipe them away for a better look at your sweet face, to get a closer count of your tiny fingers.
I envisioned what our lives would be like, what I would teach you about life, how I would show you the value of hard work.
I promised to protect you fully.
Before we could get very far in this life together, our world was changed forever. We learned that I had a multiple sclerosis, a chronic and disabling illness. I cried unstoppable tears of the purest fear and great concern. For myself and your father, but more for the two of you, who deserve to have an able and healthy mother.
Again I wept for my sons, who should live a life free from fear of this unpredictable illness.
My youngest boy, just four months old at the time, I pumped milk that should have been yours and discarded it due to my treatments. I did this day in and day out from my hospital bed, hoping to be able to nurse you again one day. I cuddled with you in that small bed next to me; I held you for faith. I leaned on you for hope.
To my eldest, I felt I had failed you. Your happy, active mother was now weak and unsure of herself. I couldn't hold you tightly though I desperately wanted to. I couldn't reassure you though I searched for the words. I believed that I'd never again be what you needed me to be.
I believed I'd failed to protect you.
Here we are over a year later, I hear you both playing happily with your father in the other room. Our days are not without strain, but my hope has been restored. I have learned that I may not always be exactly the mother I envisioned before but I will always be the mother you can rely on to love you without conditions.
My sons, you have taught me to be present. To be engulfed by belly laughs, to dance circles around you in the kitchen, to paint and make a mess when my heart calls me to do so.
You have taught me that most little things don't matter at all -- like spilled milk, broken eyeglasses, and being five (or fifteen) minutes late. Yet some little things are to be treasured immensely -- the curls of your hair, the joy in your eyes when I say "yes," the first minutes when you wake up in the morning.
You have shown me what no one else in the world can; I am not MS, I am not a sob story, I am fortunate to be your parent and deserving of true happiness. You are my greatest teachers.
Your lessons are protecting me.
I hope you will learn perseverance from me as I fight this disease with a fierceness lit by the bright shine of your smiles. You may watch me stumble, but I will get back up. You will know that my strength is greater than my burdens. My focus will overwhelm my sorrow.
Through the years we will have endless enjoyable days together, laughing with each other, and living life with a fullness one can only appreciate once they know what it's like to be empty.
And so, dear boys, as I look back on the years stretching back to before we welcomed you into this world, I can't believe how far we've come.
You are here.
You are healthy.
You are joyous.
Independently, you are each so full of personality and love. You radiate happiness and light up every room you enter. You are smart and powerful. You will do great things in this world.
I wish for you to always remember the ways in which you are special.
If ever there comes a day when I am unable to tell you myself, remember that you have touched my soul in ways I cannot accurately express. Even if my body doesn't physically allow it, when you need me I will stand up for you. Although I may be weak, I will support you. I will be silent when you need someone to listen, I will cry alongside you when you are pained. Against all odds, I will cheer the loudest when you inevitably succeed. I will love you with my entirety.
And above all:
I will always protect you.
Lauren Dillard is a crafty, overthinking wife and mother of two boys living in Virginia. She enjoys writing emotional essays about uncomfortable subjects and baking vegan cookies. Lauren is currently working on a book about the intensity of motherhood. Until then you can find her work on The Establishment, Scary Mommy, elephant journal, and her blog.