Becoming a mother for the first time is such an emotional experience. Whether by birth or adoption, new motherhood comes fraught with countless joys and countless fears. Once you have a child, your heart is suddenly at risk like you never knew it could be. For Kate Harris, a Florida aerospace engineer, those new mom fears were quickly realized when her first child, a son she refers to as “Mr. Snuggles,” suffered several episodes of acute cardiac arrest at seven weeks old, “ending up on life support, and, eventually, a Berlin Heart pump.” Rocked to the core, she was told her son would need a heart transplant. In a gut-wrenching letter she published on TODAY.com, Harris explains,
“…while navigating the maze of hormones and sleeplessness that is new motherhood, I was then faced with the fact that I might lose this brand new infant into which I had poured my very being. And no one knew why.
I spent the next few months drowning in a sea of sorrow. Waves of grief crashed over me, leaving me sputtering, desperately trying to catch my breath before the next one came roaring down. They were relentless. Incessant. Merciless.”
Harris goes on to explain how her son defied the odds time after time. Things the doctors said he would never do, he did. He was a little miracle, and though his successes made her spirits soar, his setbacks were extremely difficult to endure. “As soon as we allowed ourselves to hope again, an infection would crop up, or he would become fluid-overloaded and need yet another procedure,” she writes. “Our moment of sun, our hour of calm, would abruptly end, and we would be left gasping for air again.”
Week after week of her baby hovering between life and death took its toll on Harris. Though her baby kept fighting, she was, she says “retreating.”
Then, everything changed. In her letter “To the Mother of My Son’s Organ Donor,” she explains:
“Just when I was about to lose myself, a life ring appeared. I got the phone call that they had found a donor for my Mr. Snuggles. That life ring was attached to a rope, and at the end of that rope was a nameless, faceless hand, pulling me out of the deepest crevice of the darkest caverns of the ninth circle of Hell.
That hand was yours. While drowning in your own grief, you reached out and saved me from mine.
When I got that call, I wept inconsolably. I knew the price with which my happiness must come. While the relief that Mr. Snuggles would be saved washed over me, it was overshadowed by the gut-wrenching knowledge that a perfectly sweet, innocent baby — just like my own — had been taken too soon.”
Harris goes on to say that the heart donor’s mom saved Harris from “soul-crushing sorrow”—a sorrow that she herself must now be enduring. I cannot imagine what a conflict of emotions it must be to know that every “first,” every smile, every milestone your child reaches is at the expense of another mother’s sorrow. What an extreme, resonating definition of “bittersweet.”
As Mr. Snuggles hits these achievements, Harris writes to the donor’s mom, “I think of you. And every time I think of you, I am overcome with guilt. My happiness is your agony. My joy is your heartbreak. I cry for you, I pray for you, and I love for you…I know that to say “thank you” is far from enough, but it is all I can do. From the depths of my soul, and with all that I am, I thank you. You saved us both.”
This mom-to-mom letter, this story of two lives so eternally intertwined, is so hard but so beautiful. I am so glad Harris wrote this poignant letter to bring attention to this important issue—not only to the vital need for families to become organ donors in their hour of grief, but to recognize that grief and loss as well.
You can read Harris’ entire emotional letter at TODAY.com.