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Feeling like a mom - at last

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Nearly two years ago, on July 31, my son, Max, was born. The doctor held him up so my husband, Jeff, and I could see how perfect he was. His eyes were wide open, and when they met mine, a pulse of electricity raced through me and I fell in love. Three days later, Max went home.

Seven weeks, five surgeries, 40 doctors, and two near-deaths later, so did I.After seeing Max that first time, all I remember is struggling to wake up from a fog of white, unable to move. Two doctors hovered over me. Past them, on the window, was a photograph of Max. He had one hand stretched out to me. Along the bottom of the photo was scrawled, "Get well, Mommy. I miss you."

Panic snaked up my spine. Get well? From what? And why did he miss me?

"We thought we'd lost you," one of the doctors said. "You've been comatose for nearly two weeks. You're a very lucky woman."

A protein called factor VIII inhibitor had destroyed my blood's ability to clot so effectively that even getting out of bed could cause a fatal hemorrhage.

"There's good news," he said. He smiled for the first time. "We think we can cure you completely. It just might take a while."

And it did. I suffered through transfusions and tests and an endless parade of doctors who changed their minds daily about whether I was getting well.

Though Jeff came every day to visit, he couldn't bring Max back to see me. I was too sick. My yearning for my baby was sometimes so piercing that the nurses would find me weeping.

Jeff had planned to take time off when Max was born, but now he had to give up his editing job entirely, and we lived on our savings. "You'll be out of here in no time," he promised.

I saw, though, how exhausted he was, how worried and faded he sometimes looked. He told me how one night, when Max was 3 weeks old, he'd dimmed the lights, put on the Beatles' White Album, and then slow-waltzed the baby to the music, right through both sides of the album, until Max had fallen asleep on his shoulder.

"That's my favorite CD," I said, smiling. "I wish I had been there."

"But you were," he said. "That's why I chose that CD. It was the only way I could think of to make you a part of our dance."

Maybe Max and I couldn't see each other, but Jeff built a bridge the two of us could cross. Every day he brought in new photographs of Max that I kept as close to me as I would have kept him. Every night I carried on a long-distance romance with my son on the phone, talking to him and listening to his babbles and sighs. Jeff taped me singing and reading stories, and he swore Max perked up when he heard my voice. Then, when Max was 5 weeks old, Jeff brought in a videotape. We commandeered the nurses' VCR, and there was Max flooding the screen. There was his small lovely face, the sound of his mysterious baby language.

Almost two months after I'd left home to give birth, I returned in a wheelchair. My heart hurtled in anticipation and fear as Jeff wheeled me into the living room toward my son.

Max was on the couch, held by the nurse. He was as luminous as a pearl, a near stranger. I reached tentatively for him, settling him on my lap. Instantly he struggled to be free. "There's Mommy," Jeff coaxed. Max wailed, pulling from me. I held tight, as if I were drowning and he was the shore I had to reach. "You'll have lots of time to get to know each other," Jeff soothed, but I felt terrified. Then, because I couldn't think of one other thing to do, I started to sing a song from the White Album, "I Will."

Suddenly Max stopped crying. He watched me, calming. I sang to Max, I sang to Jeff, I sang to myself, making the words an affirmation, a promise I swore I'd keep. I will, I will, I will.

One afternoon, three months after I'd come home, Jeff, Max, and I all sprawled across the bed, talking and playing. In the cool quiet, Max turned to me and placed a hand, like a tiny star, on my face and held it there, content. We studied each other, and I was flooded with so much love and need and wonder that I felt as if a whole shimmering constellation had exploded within me, radiating wave upon wave of brilliant new light. I felt what I had been yearning to feel since the second I knew I was pregnant. I felt like a mother, at last.