I thought I would be writing about my baby today. He turns one tomorrow.
Instead, I'm blogging about another baby. One who I've never met - in person, anyway.
But that's the thing about the internet, isn't it? You don't need to know them to, well, KNOW them.
Maybe you've heard of her. Possibly you're one of the more than 43,000 followers on Twitter who've waited anxiously for updates from Shanna, her mother.
I knew of Layla Grace through Shanna. She used to post over on MommieswithStyle.com. I remember when her comments were simply about getting a new car. What baby names she liked.
The usual stuff.
That is, the usual stuff when your baby doesn't suddenly get diagnosed with Stage IV Neuroblastoma.
Layla Grace was a happy, healthy, chubby toddler when she lost her appetite, not entirely unusual for a 18 month-old. And then she became severely constipated.
Soon after, late last Spring, came the diagnosis we all fear - for ourselves, but mostly, for our kids: cancer. It wasn't good. It had metastasized, taken over, wrapped around her aorta. There was a tumor behind her eye and ones behind both ears. It was in her bones, her bone marrow.
The Marshes chronicled much of Layla Grace's battle on their blog and through Twitter, from which I got the above photo.
When you go back, and read some earlier posts, the hopefulness is painful - because you know the eventual outcome.
She died this morning. She was two.
There are thousands of kids who die every day. Not just from cancer. Mostly, from hunger or diseases related to that. From malaria. From war.
And yet, this particular child has touched so many people. Shanna took to Twitter (where she was trending #2 worldwide at one point today) and Facebook to not only help raise awareness for this despicable disease, but also to ask for prayers for her baby. If one person was moved, became closer to their faith, learned about Neuroblastoma, then Layla Grace's life would mean something to more than just her family. It HAD to mean more, because how else to comprehend the incomprehensible death of someone so young?
Was it just the image of a beautiful little girl, wearing a hat with the giant fuchsia flower on top, that attracted attention? Was it the family's strong Christian faith that drew people in?
For me, it was in part because of a small connection via the internet message board world.
I became riveted. Would Layla Grace beat this? How were Shanna and her husband, Ryan, handling this?
Why, why did it matter to me so much?
Because I could be Shanna.
I have little kids.
I could be the one hearing that shocking diagnosis.
I could watch my child go from an active, exuberant whirlwind to one who thinks it's normal to have a tube going into her chest. When a good day is one in which she doesn't vomit - much.
And then. Then. All you have left is to pray for a miracle, if you believe in that sort of thing.
Layla Grace came home and into hospice care.
There was a final outdoor photo shoot, where a pale and slender Layla Grace rests her head on her Daddy's shoulder while her mother and sisters gather around.
She was allergic to morphine and all its relatives, so it was difficult to manage the pain (Layla Grace had to have morphine AND an antidote).
The Marsh's last couple of tweets and blog posts were exceptionally heartbreaking and gave us all a glimpse into what it's really like to watch your precious, precious baby slip away.
"Layla's breathing is very shallow, her breaths are getting further & further apart. Laying next to her watching her sleep. She's beautiful." - Shanna tweeted on February 28th.
You learn that watching a child die isn't at all like you see in the movies. It's not comfort and peace. It's not quick.
It's seeing your child spend her last moments not wanting to be held because it hurts too much. It's crying more tears than you thought possible - but not in front of your baby, who is still aware of what's happening around her.
It's reading her favorite stories aloud as she sleeps.
It's wondering if the last time you saw her open her beautiful blue eyes was, in fact, The Last Time.
It's shaking your fist at G-d while still praying for a miracle.
It's counting her breaths, noting that she takes eight a minute.
It's feeling her feet get cold.
"Layla went to play with the angels early this morning. Rest in peace precious Layla. 11/26/2007 - 3/9/2010."
It is now up to the rest of us to decide how we want to honor her.
For me, I'm truly appreciating my kids are healthy. That if the worst things that happens to X is his double ear infection then we are incredibly lucky.
I'm hugging my them more. Enjoying the noise of them. Watching them play and laugh and shout.
I'm holding my baby tighter, picking him up with joy when he cries for me yet again.
I do these things for Shanna, who can no longer do that for HER baby.