Parenting for the Needs of Your Child- Johnny’s Story

I was talking to my friend the other day about how she was led to her career as a social worker because of her heart for children. It evolved into a conversation about what life experiences helped to shape our passions in life. Unlike my friend, my passion is not as much for children as it is for mothers – which ultimately benefits children. With my own children, or children living at the center without parents, I have a close connection, like some people have with all children. However, when a child has parents, I am not as hands-on. I now believe this is because I subconsciously am aware this child has a parent, and that his or her need is met. My heart lies with supporting mothers (and fathers) to be confident in their parenting choices (and to choose what is best for their families).


I believe that, like anyone who has been given a love for a group of people or a cause, my passion is God-given. I also believe that experiences in our life shape our interests and who we become. In an attempt to look back on my life to find out why I have a desire to serve this community, I found it came from watching my own mother.  The story I’m about to share is extremely personal and was not something I wanted to share without knowing the message would help others, which I believe it will.


Johnny and me in 1986

I’ve written before about my mother’s experiences with her parenting. I am focusing on my mother here as well, not because my father was not a present figure in our lives (quite the contrary) but rather because, as my husband said a couple weeks ago, “mom gets all the bashing, and dad gets no credit.”  The pressure of parenting is intense for mothers, and it has been for far too long.


My brother, Johnny, and my sister, Ali, were born three years apart in the 1970s. My mother speaks about hiding in the closet to breastfeed my sister when unsupportive family and friends were over. Weaning occurred very early with both my brother and sister because of poor medical information at the time and an unsupportive society. My parents felt the desire to co-sleep with their children, and keep close contact with their babies. However, the culture of mainstream parenting was not supportive of the tenets of “attachment parenting” (this was years before Dr. Sears introduced an AP type of parenting into modern culture). My mom felt the pressure to parent the way society was telling her to parent. So, that is what she did. My brother and sister were “conventionally” parented. My mom said that with my brother, more than my sister, she felt the need to follow her instincts and parent in a more AP style, but she didn’t because of pressure to parent one way by the mainstream culture. My brother came out of the womb vastly different than my sister or me. Many years after my brother’s childhood, Dr. Sears wrote a book about parenting a high-needs/special-needs child and about the importance of parenting according to the needs of the child.


My parents had me when Ali was 14, and Johnny was 11. My mom was now 35 years old and more confident as a mother. Times were changing and she parented me the way she felt was right for me. She fought against criticism to parent me intuitively.   My siblings grew up watching how my mother and father parented me and saw the benefits of parenting for the child’s needs, rather than society’s wants, and my sister parented her children in the same way because of witnessing my upbringing.


My mother also believes my brother would have benefited from homeschooling. Ali (who was parented in the same way as my brother) was doing fine in a conventional school setting. Johnny’s personality and way of learning were more compatible with an independent study structure and less distractions. Homeschooling, at the time, was highly criticized by society. It wasn’t until his last year or two of high school that my parents decided to enroll my brother into independent study courses and saw the difference their child, but he soon graduated, so he didn’t reap as many of the benefits as he could have if he had started earlier.


Johnny was extremely sociable and loving. He had many friends, some great ones, and some that were not leading him into a healthy environment. Drug experimentation started, which (as many of us know) is very common practice with teenagers. Johnny’s ADHD and OCD brain along with an addictive personality became a recipe for disaster. Partying with his friends and self-medicating led to a full-fledged drug addiction.


I think people without personal experience have misconceptions about drug addicts. In their minds, every addict is a loser, someone who can’t get their act together, without self restraint, alone, careless. Some of those attributes can definitely be true, but from my experience, I just see someone broken. My brother was blessed in the fact that he had a family who was close to him and stayed by him through multiple hospital stays from overdoses (where he had 50% chance of living each time). We were blessed to have Johnny in our lives, as well. Empathy was something he was not lacking, and I think attributed to some of his depression and self-medicating. His absolute love for our family was overwhelming. My brother proves that even if you don’t practice attachment parenting, children can be loving, empathetic, and well-attached. He loved and looked up to my dad, and was protective of my mother, trying to shield her as best he could from his destructive lifestyle, because he knew how painful it was for her to watch. My sister was three years older, but they were so close that they were like twins. I was younger, but doted on. I still, to this day, have not found more devoted or loving siblings as I had in mine (still have in my sister). They were always excited to play with me and loved that I was part of their lives. This was not a story of a child addicted to drugs and estranged from his family… we were present daily.


Unfortunately, drugs are mind altering and can warp your perception of life. Hopeless, having done rehab and feeling his mind and body were literally broken, he decided to be extremely selfish.

Johnny used the police as a means to end his life. He was shot and killed by the police on June 11, 2000.

Such a violent death brought cameras and journalists to our door. It was my first experience with the press, and set the tone for what I know about the media today. I learned that some media outlets can handle issues with respect, while others just want the sensational story. “Blue Suicide” was not a common occurrence where we lived, and it was a heartbreaking lesson of what can happen to a life lost in addiction.


My mother will never say the police killed her child. If it somehow comes up, she says drugs killed him, and it is the truth. Watching my parents handle losing a child, respectfully approaching the police and apologizing to them that they had to do something so awful because it was necessary, was heartbreaking. I was 14 when my brother was killed and the statistics of marriages ending in divorce after something so horrific as the loss of a child is extremely high. My parents’ marriage was always strong, but they ended up leaning on each other after this in a bond that seemed even stronger than before.


It gave me a surreal feeling to turn 26 this year. My brother died at 25. It felt like I was on borrowed time. Even though my life is my own, I realize I am now older than my sibling was at the time of his death. This is devastating and motivating at the same time. I started thinking a lot about my parents recently, because I am a mother now. They carry sadness daily. It becomes a new sense of normal for the whole family. Always in the back of our minds is a thought that one of our own is missing. I think a lot about the fact that my children will never get to meet their uncle, and Brian will never get to know who Johnny was, but must understand his personality through our stories. Seeing the similarities of my brother in my nephews and my own children is hard enough, but to know my parents are watching their son in their grandchildren is bittersweet. Losing a child is a wound I understand cannot be compared to anything in this world. It is a very unfair part of life that my parents have to experience. Even what should be joyful occasions will remind my mother of her senseless loss.  I unexpectedly ran into my brother’s best childhood friend at Disneyland (it had been years since we last saw each other) a couple days ago and I texted a photo of all of us together and sent it to my mom. As happy as she was to see time moving on and the rest of us thriving, it was a painful reminder to her.


The most troublesome thing for me is the guilt involved in the loss of a child. It is a toxic and undeserving guilt but, no matter what, your mind goes to what you could have done differently when an outcome so tragic like this occurs. As parents, we are all going to make mistakes. There should be no guilt in this because it is part of life, and as long as we are trying our best and making thoughtful, loving decisions we need to accept that we are not perfect and life isn’t perfect. However, my mom also has to live with the guilt that she didn’t get to parent the way she felt was right because of societal pressures. She should be able to look back and think, “I made every decision based off of what I thought was right for my child at that time.” She and my dad can’t say that because we live in a bullying culture. That infuriates me. Would the outcome have been different if she had felt free to make the choices she and my dad felt were right for my brother? I don’t think so. There are so many factors that led to what happened, but that is not the point. The point is that there is unnecessary guilt from giving in to pressure from strangers and a society that does not know who you or your children are on a personal level. Blanket statements about parenting are destructive. We need to start realizing this as a culture.


Daily, mothers are shamed, pressured, and guilted into making parenting choices they don’t feel are right for their children. Anyone who ridicules parenting styles they don’t understand is speaking out of total  ignorance. The most obnoxious make the most noise. Unfortunately criticism and ignorant statements can cause mothers to make choices that are not for the good of their child or their family, but rather because they are so ostracized by their communities.

I am outspoken about issues like normalizing breastfeeding and a parenting style that is very misunderstood in our culture because I don’t want to watch another mother have a “what if” moment because she didn’t listen to her own instincts. We are all going to make mistakes, but we should not let society dictate what they will be. It goes much farther than normalizing just one style of parenting. It is about acceptance of meeting the needs of each individual child.


To parents: society does not know your children, and you know them better than anyone on this planet. Do not let hateful, bigoted, or ignorant comments shame you into parenting in a way you know is not right for your family. You are supported, whether you realize it or not. You owe it to yourselves and your children to be strong and move forward with the right decisions for your family. From feeding choices to the very structure of your family (I received an email today from a gay couple questioning whether to adopt or not because of what they feel is society’s deep hatred for same-sex couples starting a family). Just know there is an army of parents behind you. Some with similar parenting styles as you and some differing, but all supporting your thoughtful and loving decisions for your family.

You are not alone.

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Write a comment
  1. bernardeena 9 October, 2012, 01:41

    Thank you so much for sharing. I’m so sorry to read your story, my own brother struggled with alcoholism and trouble with the police and I am so greatful he has come through the otherside, but at the same time I know how it easily could have been so different. I definitely agree we all have our own God given passion, I hope I do my best to live to that calling.

    Reply this comment
  2. Shanna 9 October, 2012, 04:09

    Thank you so much for sharing this intensely personal experience! I’m so sorry for the loss of your brother.

    Reply this comment
  3. Alex 9 October, 2012, 08:50

    This is a beautiful and heart wrenching post. Thank you for sharing such a personal story.

    Reply this comment
  4. Laura 9 October, 2012, 09:23

    My brother (8 years older than I am) has mental illness (bipolar disorder, addiction struggles, manic depression) and has attempted suicide. He has been destructive to his life and those around him. He has done illegal things to fuel his addiction. He is also one of the most loving, generous and doting brothers a girl could have. My entire life he was my hero and so I want to thank you for sharing this deeply personal and painful story to bring a human face to the addict. They are not bad people. And they are oftentimes loved and valued individuals, not castaways.

    Reply this comment
  5. Scott aka This Daddy 9 October, 2012, 09:47

    I have no idea where to start…This is so moving and you are so strong for sharing. I am going to have to read a few times to try and gather my thoughts about this so I can somehow share some things with others the same way you have. You know you really have a way of making people want to be and do better. Everyone’s BETTER can be different too. You alway have me leaving your blog thinking of ways to be a better dad and how I can help other dads be better too.

    Reply this comment
  6. Susan Kristie 9 October, 2012, 10:30

    I too lost a brother to suicide, Jamie. Your post is eloquent on so many levels. Thank you for putting thoughts shared by so many into passionate words and a heartfelt blog. As a parent, I have had a difficult time when each of my children reached the age of my brother when he took his own life. You anxiously look for signs as, outwardly, you try to enjoy each and every moment with your children.

    Again, thank you for this beautiful, loving post.

    Reply this comment
  7. Jeannine 9 October, 2012, 10:57

    You constantly amaze me!

    Reply this comment
  8. Disney Sisters 9 October, 2012, 11:42

    Jamie, you are such a beautiful person and your writing is amazing. I am sorry for your loss of your brother. I am thankful for your instincts and passion to support other mothers, all mothers! You are so right about the intense pressure of parenting of mothers. We love you for everything you are!!!

    Reply this comment
  9. Jackie 9 October, 2012, 11:52

    First of all, my heart breaks that you lost your brother, and even though it was 12 years ago, I can imagine the pain of your family’s loss is just as raw today as it was then, and that I am so sorry for. With every post you write, I am more thankful I have found you! You are such an inspiration and have helped me understand the changes I needed in my own life to make me a better mother, wife and friend. Keep speaking your passion, there are so many that are listening!

    Reply this comment
  10. Nic Trick Steinbach 9 October, 2012, 12:05

    One of the reason that I am so glad that I as a person waited until 30 to have my first child is because I personally needed to get some more strength under my wings. My child is wonderful AND he is strong willed and social to the max and contact-intense with my body. Had I given birth to him earlier in MY life, I wouldn’t have the strength to say “my little guy is perfect and he needs THIS from me” and follow through on it. Not everyone needs to get older to get stronger – but for me, I needed that time.
    Thank you for sharing your heartbreaking story and for being a voice that helps us see that we are not alone and that, yes, we are working to improve our corners of the world with each step.

    Reply this comment
  11. Anne Louise Bannon 9 October, 2012, 12:37

    Such a terrible loss. There are so many things I wish I hadn’t caved in to my mother on when I was raising my daughter. Thank God, she’s doing well.

    We all want to protect our children from every bad thing that comes along, and the problem is we can’t. You’re absolutely right. We all do the best we can and most of the time, it works. Other times, our children make choices that have catastrophic consequences. One of the things you learn from living with an addict is that we cannot control that person’s behavior.

    A lovely, heart-felt post.

    Reply this comment
  12. Connie 9 October, 2012, 13:03

    We knew that sweet brother of yours. What a beautiful tribute to him…and to your mom and dad. Your parents bestowed their wonderful gift of nurturing on our four boys when we would go to retreats or get-aways. Our family has wonderful memories of those days before we moved to Oregon. Blessings to you all!

    Reply this comment
  13. Terri 9 October, 2012, 14:48

    Jamie, I can’t imagine all the thoughts and emotions you must have felt as you wrote this part of your story. As well as what your mom, dad and sister will feel if and when they read it. Thank you are two words that don’t seem big enough, both for sharing such a personal part of your family’s journey, but also for the reason behind the words. I can only hope that each person who reads this will feel similarly moved, however that looks for them, to help the cause of letting parents parent, regardless of what society says. You’re right, we will make mistakes, but I love where you say that society should not dictate them. And the guilt should not be allowed to take hold. I also think you’re right about the outcome of your brother’s life. You poor parents. They loved him so, I’m sure of it, and Johnny most decidedly knew it. May he rest in sweet peace, and may your family know peace as well.

    Reply this comment
  14. Kimberly 9 October, 2012, 18:33

    Wow. I am not sure where to start. This is a seriously intense story with such an important lesson. There is so much to be learned from this story. I am so sorry that you lost your brother. I understand what you mean about empathizing with parents who have lots children in a different way now that you are a parent. While stories about parents losing children always seems devastating to me before, now that I am a parent these stories are unimaginable. Trying to continue with life after the loss of a child seems impossible and I am in awe of the parents who find the strength to do it. Thank you for reminding all of us that we know what is best for our children. I often judge myself as a parent, but I have to remind myself that I am doing everything I can do raise my kids in a house filled with love and support.

    Reply this comment
  15. Elizabeth 9 October, 2012, 19:33

    I have a beautiful brother whose life has been stunted by alcohol,depression and anxiety. He is also such a kind,funny,gentle soul-when he is present both mentally and physically. I am sorry for your loss and for your family’s loss. Your brother was such a handsome boy and you can see the love that he had for you in your picture. The pain and suffering that you have experienced has shaped you into such a well-balanced,strong, open-minded and determined mother so it isn’t in vain! Keep being the beautiful,healthy woman that you are and keep shining your light because we all need it!

    Reply this comment
  16. Pattie 9 October, 2012, 21:08

    Thank you for such an open letter. I never thought about it as bullying when parents are encouraged to parent with the norm. I see it now though. It’s true. Someone gets it into their heads that their way is the right way and there is no discouraging them from yelling it from the tallest building. I love the message that you send in that a parent must parent in the way that is best for them. Lovely post.

    Reply this comment
  17. Jeanne 10 October, 2012, 06:24

    The strength and love that your family shares is truly inspiring and a reminder to us all to find the gift in all of life’s experiences, even the hardest. I am so grateful to have met you, Jamie and I know you have a powerful road of service ahead. What is so special is that you know where your True strength and protection comes from and so long as you remain connected heart-to-heart with your Source, your service in earth will be blessed. Please thank your parents for being the loving, deep beings they are.

    Reply this comment
  18. courtney markham 10 October, 2012, 06:27

    what a beautiful picture of you and your big brother! I am sure you cherish it!
    I cannot imagine the heartache you and your family have and will continue to experience from this profound loss. It seems to me that you and your family have sought to make his spirit continue to live on through your advocacy and voice.

    Reply this comment
  19. Desiree Eaglin 10 October, 2012, 08:55

    This must have been a very emotional piece for you to write Jamie, thank you for sharing your story. I hope that your parents are able to let go of the guilt they feel over not parenting Johnny the way they wanted.

    Reply this comment
  20. Aracely 10 October, 2012, 10:05

    Jamie, I’m sorry about the loss of your brother. This is a beautifully written piece. Thank you for the reminder that we all know deep down what is best for each of our children and to be supportive of everyone’s different parenting styles and choices.

    Reply this comment
  21. Jessica 10 October, 2012, 10:19

    Thank you for sharing.

    I haven’t lost my brother, but, I do know the feeling of being relieved when you find out he’s in jail again because you hadn’t heard from him for 2+ years and now you know he’s still alive.

    He actually just got out of a 4 year stint and, based on a recent conversation I had with him, I’m pretty sure he’s jumping right back in to the same stuff that got him in trouble in the first place. :(

    Although I acknowledge he is fully responsible for the choices he makes, I also know what a horrific childhood he had (he’s not a bio brother, he’s a neighbor boy my parents took in that we consider a son/brother) and I know that some of the foundations for making good decisions just aren’t wired in his brain.

    I was a bit frustrated after my conversation with him yesterday because he is once again not changing, but, after reading your story, I was just grateful that I still have time. True, chances are that my brother isn’t going to change in that extra time, but, with that time I’ve at least got hope (and miracles do happen).

    Thanks for sharing your story so I could have the right mind frame to offer my brother grace.

    Reply this comment
  22. christina 10 October, 2012, 11:58

    I am so sorry for your loss… it’s so great that you’re sharing this, though – such a wonderful perspective on what happened. so much grace and yet so thoughtful/real in a way that is very encouraging to any parent reading it. thank you for sharing something so personal.

    Reply this comment
  23. Linda in Sweden 10 October, 2012, 13:05

    I am so so very sorry for your familys great loss. Heartbreaking. Lots of warm thoughts from me

    Reply this comment
  24. Morgan (The818) 10 October, 2012, 16:32

    This was a heartbreaking and powerful post Jamie. I’m so sorry about the loss of your brother.

    Reply this comment
  25. Karen 10 October, 2012, 17:25

    Thank you so much for sharing. I do hide in my son’s room if company is over, or if I am not at home I go to a bathroom, closet, or someone else’s bedroom to nurse my son. I have been doing this for 15 months now, and I only find comfort in 2 maybe 3 places (also depending on who is around) to nurse him. My brother is very unsupportive of me publically BFing, and says comments like “Karen, there are people around!” Even if I am convered up. My best friend tells me he is too old to be BFing, and makes jokes like “he’s going to come home from kindergarten wanting his nini’s” or “hey, mom! Can you top me off before I go to prom?” I recently had to get a job at an at home daycare so I could BF him whenever I needed to, the sad part was that they made me have him cry himself to sleep :( my son, my husband and I still co-slept at the time so it was very hard and sad and difficult for me to hear my son in the room upstairs just screaming. I would go and get him after a few minutes and my boss would make a snide remark like “that is only making it worse” I felt like the only way to make it better was to have him no longer co-sleep with us. Sure, after about a week he wasn’t crying at nap or bedtime anymore, but that was the absolute hardest week I ever had to deal with. This story makes me want to bring him to be with me tonight, but also now he is so happy in his own bed..
    I guess this post really opened my eyes for my next child, but for my son now.. I am just a little confused, and upset at myself.

    Reply this comment
  26. natalie 10 October, 2012, 20:42

    wow I am so sorry for your loss. thanks again for sharing it is not an easy one to share!

    Reply this comment
  27. Alma Bosek 10 October, 2012, 20:50

    Families are complicated. A very heartbreaking story. Sorry for your loss of your brother.

    Reply this comment
  28. Jenny 13 October, 2012, 10:39

    Thanks for sharing something so deeply personal in order to inspire others. That, you did.

    Reply this comment
  29. Tanya 25 October, 2012, 13:57

    I am sitting here in a pool of tears. I am so very sorry for your family’s loss. Your message is powerful, one so many of us need to hear. I have deep regret that I let society dictate my parenting choices early on. My son is still young, only 6, and I’m trying to make up for them. It is so hard some days to weather the uncertainty and sometimes loneliness when no one in your smallest circle of family and friends understands your parenting choices (and now our homeschooling choices). Your blog and so many other kind voices in the big world wide web who share their time and their hearts with other mothers out there are a blessing, a place of hope, a place to feel understood, and a much needed extra dose of courage to keep on against the social norm. Thank you for sharing your time, your stories, your heart, your family, your message. Those who need to hear it will find you. I did.

    Reply this comment
  30. Amber 11 January, 2013, 02:05

    Oh Hun this post was beautiful. My own husband suffered from addiction before we met and has such a hard time with so society’s outlook on drug addicts. We once heard a broadcast on the radio about how all men whom have had drug problems should have to have surgery so tey can no longer have children, how sad is that? He became the best husband and most loving father I have ever known. He also suffered from ADHD, OCD, and an addictive personality.
    Thank you so much for defending our right to parent in the most natural way regardless of the way society tells us! I have had a hard time sticking up for myself in the past when my family says I am causing unnecessary trouble, creating a dependent child, yada yada. Now that there are so many moms backing me up I have had a much easier time tuning those unwanted voices out and turning to parents like you! Thank you so much!

    Reply this comment
  31. Kim 26 January, 2013, 00:18

    Thank you so much for sharing such a personal story. It really makes me think about the way my own mother continues to care for my brother (aged 29) and my father until his unexpected death almost three years ago despite that he had divorced her since 1990.

    My father suffered post traumatic stress order as a result of the Killing Fields in Cambodia. I remember he loved my brother and I so much, but could not fight the voices in his head and left our family for a life of solitude. Over the years he would pretend we didn’t exist and he withdrew more and more, but my mother would still visit him most weekends to make sure he was fine. She would always ask why I did not visit him, but I struggled to see my dad the way he was….I couldn’t have a meaningful conversation with him. That my mother has had the strength to be there for him all this time has made me so proud of her, in the same way I can see how proud you are of your mother. When dad was found dead in his home my mother regretted she had not gone to see him for a few weeks, but she had always given more than any ‘ex-wife’ could.

    Add to that, my brother has been in and out of mental health care since age 20, due to drug induced psychosis and schizophrenia. Despite him always turning back to drugs, she always welcomes him back home, when many around her say she should let go and allow him to fend for himself, and shamefully, those people have, included me. But I know this is her caring nature. If left to the state/welfare system alone, I don’t think my brother would still be alive today, or would’ve made the progress he has, it is all due to my mother…still parenting a son to his needs.

    When my son was born 7 months ago, mums first grandchild, she was overjoyed, but also quick to tell me how things were done in our culture. She was very upset that I left the baby in the bassinet in a room alone after I came home from the hospital. She said in our culture we don’t leave babies alone. I told her that was how they do it in this country. Well, it didn’t last long anyway…after about 3 weeks baby refused to sleep alone, naturally, and despite health visitors telling me to leave my baby to learn to self soothe etc, I’ve chosen to follow my unconditional care and affection my mother has modeled my whole life…

    So again, I am grateful that you have shared your story to remind me of what an amazing mother (and father) I also have.

    Reply this comment
  32. Kristi 26 January, 2013, 07:03

    I think that you seem like a great person, and mother, and you seem to support all parenting styles in this blog as long as it meets the needs of the child. I just have to say though, that parents who practice “strict” attachment parenting seem to be very judgmental if you don’t. The fact that I plan on giving a punishment or time-out to my daughter seems unthinkable to some and is now looked down upon in society. So, hopefully, they realize that the judgment and bullying goes both ways!

    Reply this comment
  33. danielle 10 April, 2013, 11:32

    thank you for this reminder to me that there are other people out there that will cheer you on as you champion your own family your own way. i agree with so many things you said about how mothers are shamed and how no ones knows what our children need better than we do and we (i) need to be strong enough to say “this is what is working for our family” thank you so very much

    Reply this comment
  34. janet 23 April, 2013, 10:52

    heartwrenching…thank you for sharing your story. but what a beautiful photo of the two of you.

    Reply this comment
  35. Eric Clifford 23 April, 2013, 12:59

    You are a very good writer and I can tell you care deeply about your beliefs. Good Job! Fight the good fight!

    Reply this comment
  36. Jessica 12 September, 2013, 06:43

    In the 5 years since my younger brother died by suicide, this is the first thing I have ever read that I actually really relate to! Thank you, and I am so very sorry for your family’s loss.

    Reply this comment
  37. jessica norris 12 September, 2013, 13:19

    Thank you for sharing this incredible story. As the parent of a high needs child it was a huge encouragement to me that i’m doing the right thing in raising her against society standards. We are still breastfeeding at 2.5, co sleeping, toddler wearing, etc…. I give her as much love and attachment as she needs, which is a lot, and we are doing so much better with the AP lifestyle than I could have hoped for. I appreciate hearing stories like this as affirmation to our journey, I know there will be harder times as she gets older, but I will stick with what has worked so far, love, commitment, hugs, compassion, understanding, help, and so many other key elements to raising a high needs child. Hugs to you, your mom, and your family for all you have gone through, it is an incredible journey, this life we live.

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