I started researching doll making and looking at patterns online and even emailed a total stranger who had blogged about making her daughter a doll. I quickly realized not knowing how to sew a stitch was going to be an impediment, so I sought out a teacher who specialized in making Waldorf dolls.
During my first lesson I felt silly as I struggled to thread the needle and tie a knot. I really should have taken home economics, instead of skipping it to be the yearbook editor, I thought. I thought by this age I would be the editor of a newspaper, not sewing dolls. Funny the paths our children lead us down.
During my first lesson August was about eight months old and crawling all over my teacher's non-childproofed sewing studio. Every few seconds I was lunging to keep him from harming himself or something else. Just when we got in a rhythm - he pooped. What was I thinking? How could I take on such a massive project with a four-year-old and baby to take care of? But as with most things, I refused to acknowledge I had taken on too much, and continued on determined.
During the next lesson we cut out the muslin for the doll’s body. I was making a heavy baby, which would be filled with toasted millet. The doll would be about three pounds and give Ellie something substantial to heft around and snuggle.
Initially I thought six months was plenty of time to complete the project, but Ellie’s birthday came closer and closer and I was nowhere near finishing the doll. I hand sewed every stitch around the heavy baby’s body - twice around. I toasted the millet and scented it with lavender essential oil. With my teacher, we formed the head out of wool roving, tied crochet string around the head to make an eye line and a jaw line, sewed fabric around the head. She showed me how to fill the baby’s body with the millet, and sent me off to finish the project.
I needed to sew the hands, attach the hands to the body, sew the baby’s dress and hat, embroider the eyes and mouth, and sew the head onto the body. I only had a week left.
The perfectionist inside me was paralyzed. I didn’t know how to do any of this, and I didn’t want to give Ellie a misshapen baby with funky facial features. I wanted the baby to be perfect. Ellie’s life has been so hard, and she’s endured so much. So much. So much more than any child should have to endure. And I wanted this doll to say something to her. It’s okay, maybe. Or, you are so special to us. Or, we can still make this life beautiful even if it hurts sometimes.
The unfinished doll sat on my dresser, hidden in a bag. I didn’t work on it and the days passed. I didn’t want to screw up the doll. I felt like I had screwed so much up already.
Finally - a few days before her birthday - I just had to get over my fear and start working again. I sewed the hands. I didn’t have the right color thread and I didn’t have time to get to the store, so instead of sewing the peach colored hands with matching peach thread, I had to sew them with blue thread. I had to forgive myself.
I worked on the doll’s dress with my mom, using her sewing machine, and we realized the pattern wasn’t going to work, that the neck hole was too small and I would have to sew the dress onto the doll to get it to go on. My last stitches looked terrible. I had to forgive myself.
Finally, the night before Ellie’s birthday, I had to tackle the part I was most worried about - embroidering the eyes and mouth. I had no idea how to embroider. The first eye looked pretty good, then the second eye didn’t match at all. I tried tearing it out and doing it over, but it only made it worse. I had to re-embroider the first eye to make it look more like the second. I had to forgive myself.
The pattern warned not to pull the threads too tight because the fabric would pucker, and “age” the look of the doll. Well that’s exactly what happened with the mouth, and I couldn’t figure out how to fix it. I had to forgive myself.
At midnight that night I was finally making the hat when I realized it too was too small. I had to invent my own little hat pattern and it didn’t look the way the pictures did. I had to forgive myself.
The doll didn’t turn out perfect. But that doll has every ounce of my love in every stitch.
I couldn’t help but find the similarities in making that doll and our journey with figuring out Ellie’s health. I have worked so hard. I was so determined. I made so many mistakes. Sometimes I stalled out and sometimes I charged forward. I had to let go of trying to make Ellie’s life perfect, because as much as I love her, I couldn’t figure out how to take her pain away. I had to let my love be enough. I had to tell myself that I was enough, whether I had figured it out or not.
Every time I make her a meal, or give her a bath, or read her a story, or spend time snuggling when she has a tummy ache, I sew another stitch of my love for her. I’m not perfect. I’m human. I’m not a doctor. I’m a mother. I used to think maybe it would have been better for Ellie to have been born into a family with a doctor for a parent. Maybe they would have been able to help her better. But there’s a reason God gave her to me.
In the morning I gave Ellie her doll and she was so delighted. She fell in love. Ellie didn’t see any imperfections. She didn’t see eyes that didn’t look like the instructions, or a dress that had hasty stitches in the back. She didn’t critique the puckered mouth. She saw a special doll that her mama had made just for her. All she saw was the love. My imperfect love.