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A Daughter By Many Definitions

a blog by Suzanne Rico, July 3, 2012

A decade ago, I began mentoring a girl from South Central Los Angeles. She was 9 years old, a shy kid who rarely smiled and had more distrust of the world in her big brown eyes than hope for it. By giving her what little time I had in my life, I hoped to change hers. What I did not expect was to gain the daughter I’ve always wanted.

Diana was about 11 when I began my struggle with infertility. With five brothers and sisters, the idea that a woman could have trouble reproducing was baffling. Still, she listened with ever-increasing interest to my talk of babies — and when, after a year of back-to-back miscarriages, I told her I was pregnant, she hugged me with true joy. I was so thrilled to be past the troublesome first trimester, I forgot to be disappointed I was carrying a boy — and not the girl I’d hoped for.

Years passed. I had another son and my children became my life. I had less time to drive down to South LA to see Diana — less time to have her for weekend sleepovers. When she finished high school, I was traveling and missed her graduation, and then suddenly, she was a college student. Over time, I had paid for things — braces for her teeth, and the occasional shopping spree — but I knew money did not make up for personal interaction. And seeing that the child I knew so well had grown into a woman when I wasn’t paying attention, I worried that I’d let her down.

Recently, we took Diana with us to Maine for a family vacation. She flew in an airplane for the first time, ate bright red lobster, swam in the Atlantic Ocean, and paddled a kayak across the still water of a New England pond. She was confident, polite, accommodating, willing, funny, and appreciative, and so incredibly beautiful it took my breath away. I couldn’t take credit, but I hoped that maybe — just maybe — I had contributed to her transformation just a bit.

The day Diana left to fly back to LA. she gave my 4-year-old son a present for me. Adrian handed me her typed, six-page letter reverently, like it was a treasure, and it was. Her words made it clear that to Diana, I am more mother than mentor.

“You have no idea how happy I am to have you in my life, and I will always look up to you,” she wrote. “I want to see myself as successful as you are one day, not just career-wise, but as a woman. There are no words that could describe what you mean to me and not enough paper in the world to contain what I have to say. I will love you and cherish you for as long as I live.”

My heart squeezed and tears came to my eyes. But there was more.

“I take pride in watching you overcome and thrive. They said you couldn’t have children. But it wouldn’t have mattered if the President had said no — you did it anyway! Most women would have broken down and admitted defeat, but you didn’t, and now you have two beautiful children.”

Diana’s letter comes at one of the most frightening times in my life — a time when my mother is fighting one of the most serious kinds of cancer there is. And I knew that just as I was trying to be there for my mom, Diana was doing her best to be there for me. It’s what mothers and daughters do.

“The kindness you have shown me, the love you have given me, and the wisdom you have taught me,” continued Diana’s letter, “I will take with me wherever I go. Thank you for just being you.”

In the midst of uncertainty and fear, Diana has me thinking about blessings. Through hard work, faith, and some seriously amazing luck, I now have three children. I carried Griffin myself after two failed IVFs. A surrogate mother carried Adrian after three more failures. And Diana came to me by the grace of some higher power — a power that must have known how much I really needed a daughter.

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