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To the family who's just received a childhood cancer diagnosis,

I want you to know that I see you. All of you.

I am the nurse who admitted your child to the oncology unit to rule out "something serious."

You watched me draw your child's blood, and help them change into their first of so many hospital gowns, and lift them onto the stretcher so they could get their CAT scan.

You probably don't know that I had to steel myself in the bathroom for a minute before I could walk into your room to be with you as the doctor told you that it was, in fact, something serious.

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You probably didn't know I was even there. How would you? Time warped, your vision tunneled, your breath left your body, and finding a way to inhale it back in was close to impossible.

You probably didn't see me. But I saw you.

You watched as I hung the first bag of chemotherapy, and I gave your child medicine for the pain—and the nausea, and the itching, and the heartburn. You worried about side effects. You asked 100 questions but couldn't hear the answers. You stared at that bag of chemo, simultaneously hating it and willing it to work.

We stood together in the bathroom. Your child between us, all three of us looking into the mirror as together we shaved your child's head so that the hair loss wouldn't feel so dramatic.

I want you to know that while you were watching your child in that mirror, I was watching you.

I watched you choke back tears, and smile bravely at your baby, and tell them how cool they looked with a shaved head. And when your child went back to bed, and you scooped the trimmings into your hands and wept over them, I watched you then, too.

The truth is that I watch you a lot.

Because while of course, it is my job is to take care of your child, it is also my job to take care of all of you. Because the reality is that childhood cancer is a family diagnosis. The child is going through something really difficult. It's okay to acknowledge that you are too.

The parents. You want to absorb every part of this diagnosis so it becomes yours, and not your child's. You would give anything to take the pain away from them. Please hear me: You already hold mountains worth of angst, worry, pain. You make your child's burden lighter every day. I promise you this.

You reflect on how two weeks ago, you had the annoying disagreement with a co-worker that made you upset all day—and that you would do almost anything to have that be the worst part of your day again.

You watch people walking on the streets outside the hospital, and you wonder how they can just go on with their lives while this is happening. You look at the sun and wonder how it has the audacity to shine.

You worry about the bills. You worry about your job. You worry about your other children, your sanity, your partner.

Your child carries this illness, but you carry the world.

The siblings. Who are scared and confused. Who knows that something is wrong, even though we try to shelter you as much as possible. You're too smart for that, I know. You understand more than we share, and I see you.

You want your brother or sister to be better because you love them, and because this is really hard for you. You're just a kid, too, after all. It stinks that you had to drop out of basketball because no one could take you to practice this season. It is not fun to spend your afternoons in the hospital, and weekends with a babysitter. Everyone around you is kind of on edge, and it doesn't feel fair right now. You know what? You're right. It's not fair, and it's okay to be mad.

I want you to know that it's also okay to be happy. If you go to school and forget about what's going on for a while, or if you find yourself laughing a deep kid belly-laugh, it's okay. It's great, actually.

The grandparents. Who hurt for multiple generations—for the child who has been diagnosed, and for that child's parent who is reeling, who will always be your baby.

The village. Who wants desperately to help and has no idea how. Who goes to bed at night and stares at the ceiling, unable to shake the onslaught of emotions. Who feels guilty and blessed and terrified as they look at their own healthy child, and murmur the words, "what if?"

To all of you. Your child is my inspiration, and you are my heroes. Your child's journey is made infinitely better by your presence in it.

Bravery is not the absence of fear and strength is not the absence of struggle. You are scared and struggling, and you are the bravest and strongest people I know.

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When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.

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The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.



As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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I was blissfully asleep on the couch while my little one was occupied elsewhere with toys, books and my partner. She got bored with what they were doing, escaped from his watch and, sensing my absence, set about looking for me. Finding me on the couch, nose-level, she peeled back my one available eyelid, singing, "Mama? Mama? ...You there? Wake UP!"

Sound familiar? Nothing limits sleep more than parenthood. And nothing is more sought after as a parent than a nap, if not a good night's rest.

But Mother Nature practically guarantees that you are likely to be woken up by a toddler—they're hardwired to find you (and get your attention) when you're "away."

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