A letter to my daughter

...on her third birthday

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Today’s piece is a letter to my daughter (if it wasn’t obvious from the title). I read it aloud to her and my wife on her third birthday, which was yesterday. She’s non-verbal, so I don’t know if she understood the words. But I hope she felt the love I have for her in my voice.

And I hope you can feel it by reading my words too.

Dear Em,

I know you won’t be able to read this for many years. But I wanted to capture this moment in our lives together as a time capsule, of sorts. So here goes.

Today is your third birthday. It’s hard to believe so much time has passed already.

I’m incredibly proud to be your dad.

Your entry into this world was difficult. It was the hardest day of my life. Yes, it was difficult for your mom and me. More importantly, it was difficult for you. For a while there, we thought we lost you and we weren’t going to be able to meet you.

I will forever be indebted to the man who saved your life, for sure. But you fought hard too and without that, you wouldn’t have survived. And I’ve seen you fighting every day since. It has been amazing watching you grow up, get stronger, and more determined.

Your strength, perseverance, and toughness are inspiring.

Your rough start to life caused your cerebral palsy. There wasn’t enough blood and oxygen getting to your brain for a period of time and that injured it at birth. This is why it can be hard for you to do certain things that are easy for most people to do without thinking. Things like walking, talking, and eating. This is why you have an incredible team of specialists and therapists who help you. This is why you will be going to a special preschool class in the fall.

While your cerebral palsy is obviously a large part of your life, I want you to know something. Your disability does not define who you are as a human being.

You’re not defined by your struggles or your limitations. You’re not defined by your diagnosis or your medical history. You’re not defined by a category or a label assigned to you by society.

No one can define you except for you.

When I look at you, I see a girl who loves life.

I see a girl who loves music.

I see a girl who’s opinionated—especially when it comes to music.

I see a girl who loves to go on walks in her stroller.

I see a girl who works hard at her therapies.

I see a girl who has been doing great in her new walker lately.

I see a girl who loves playing with her toys.

I see a girl who loves her family.

I see a girl who has an infectious smile.

As you get older, you will get to choose who you want to be and how you want to show up in the world. I promise to support you and help you no matter what. While your body may prevent you from doing some things, I truly believe you can accomplish almost everything else in life you set your mind to. And I have a feeling you’re going to shoot for the moon—hopefully not literally, although that would actually be kind of amazing.

Don’t let your disability hold you back from your dreams.

As I’m writing this letter, I look to my left and I can see you sleeping soundly on the video monitor. It reminds me of a moment I had with you in the hospital during the first week after you were born.

You had already coded two different times that week, which meant you were struggling to breathe and the nurse called for help from doctors and other nurses. The codes happened because you were having a hard time keeping your airway clear. The most beautiful experience of my life was after you coded for the second time when you recognized your mom’s voice and turned to her after you were stable and all the chaos had died down.

Within days, you started getting stronger and were able to breathe without a machine helping you. You still had a feeding tube in your mouth and an IV in your arm, but you only needed oxygen through a tube attached to your nose called a nasal cannula.

We thought we were close to going home with you then, but we still had several weeks to go.

One day, I was holding you and rocking you to sleep in the recliner in your hospital room. I was singing some children’s songs to you when a new melody came into my head. I started humming it to you. I was trying to figure out if it came from a song someone else had written, but I couldn’t pinpoint it. I kept humming so I could remember the melody.

Now, as you know, I’m not much of a singer. But we were alone and you were only a days-old baby, so I knew you wouldn’t judge me or even remember the moment. I started singing the melody and trying out different lyrics until I found what I liked.

My sweet Emily
She’s my sweet girl
My sweet Emily
She’s my sweet Em
My sweet Em
Emily
I love you so much
Yes, I do
Yes, I do

I’m sure you recognize the words. There’s no deep metaphor in them, but I know you love them.

I sang this short song countless times to you during our time in the hospital. It became my unique way of calming you. Amazingly, it still works to this day (for the most part). There have been many times when you’ve been frustrated or uncomfortable, then I’ll sing this song and you’ll turn to look at me and smile.

It warms my heart every time.

I know I have to be patient about your progress and you might not ever be able to do certain things. But I know you won’t give up and I promise not to give up on you either.

I can’t wait to see what this year has in store for you.

Love you,

Your proud dad


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