This year, I’m celebrating Mother’s Day and the ten year anniversary of my ten year old son’s open heart surgery. I spent my first official Mother’s Day at Rady’s Children’s Hospital while my new baby recovered from open heart surgery.
This year is an especially good year to remember it.
That Year was a Banner Year
That year, I had my son, he had emergency intestinal surgery at 4 days old. Then, he spent three weeks in the NICU recovering while my father spent those same three weeks slipping away, dying just a month after his birth. Shortly after, we had to move my mother out of our childhood home. And then by Mother’s Day, I was back in the hospital with my son for another major surgery.
This Year Too, was a Banner Year
This year has been a banner year too. We had a pandemic.
Moved across the state.
My son attended three different schools (not to mention various formats of remote and hybrid at all three).
I changed jobs in a big way.
My husband changed jobs in a bigger way that kept him in Africa most of the year.
Plus we are living with family while trying to build a house.
Both were banner years, and as I remember that Mother’s Day, I remember that what floored me the most was my son’s resilience. This Mother’s Day I feel the same.
A Story of Resilience
I was twenty weeks pregnant when we found out that our son had a hole in his heart. It’s not uncommon, but his was one that wouldn’t close on it’s own, and we knew he would have to have open heart surgery. Well, a few – many – things went wrong between his birth and his surgery, but that’s a story for a different day. This story is about his heart surgery. More than that, this is a story about resilience.
It was a scheduled surgery, and the original plan was not to have it as a horrifying Mother’s Day event. He was scheduled to have it a month earlier, but as he had a bit of a cold, they did not want to take the chance on such a significant surgery until he was feeling his best. So a month later, there we were, at Rady’s Children’s Hospital, with a very unhappy and hungry baby who was not allowed to eat before surgery.
A few hours after that, my husband and I were on a bench with a buzzer that was meant to page us when his surgery was over. It was like the Cheesecake Factory, without any of the appetite. The surgery was meant to take about 9 hours. Open heart surgery for a baby is already too much to handle. But waiting 9 hours for it to complete? Insanity.
When we finally got to see him in recovery, it was terrifying. His body was shiny and perfectly still except for the robotic rhythm of the rise and fall of his chest with the ventilator. They had put something on his body after the surgery, and his body looked glassy. For a long while (partially insane from worry and lack of sleep), I was fairly sure that this wasn’t my son at all, but a doll they had replaced him with. He didn’t look real. His body was plastic, his breath was mechanical.
After the anesthesia wore off, he woke up, still intubated. I expected him to be lethargic, wounded… a sick baby that would weakly rest his hand on my finger.
Just a few short hours after his 9 hour surgery, he was awake, intubated and FURIOUS about it. My child would have ripped that tube straight out if he could have. Since his hands were restrained, he kicked both of his feet up and down, together, slamming them repeatedly on the bed, shaking his head furiously. Over and over, he kicked both of his feet, for about 45 minutes straight.
That Core Strength
Two days later, Mother’s Day was over. His chest tubes had been drained, and we went home with a superglued-shut chest covered with just three steri-strips. He refused to take even the Tylenol, gagging and throwing it up every time. He was fine. Happy to have the intubation out. Acting like a completely normal and healthy baby. Everyone said, babies are so resilient!
This year, I remember his resilience then, and his resilience now. Three schools later, finishing 4th grade like a champ, making friends and playing basketball. Everyone says, children are so resilient! It reminds me to be resilient when I sort of want to lay limply, lethargic and wounded after a year of uncertainty, anxiety, change, a trans-global marriage, a new business, a new job… survival of all of it at once. I remember his legs raising and slamming down on the hospital crib over and over for the most ridiculous period of time.
This Mother’s Day, I will find that same core strength and be resilient like my baby.