Today marks two years since I handed my tiny eight week old newborn over to the heart surgeon for open heart surgery. Her second major heart surgery in her short little life, this one to repair her main heart defect that was discovered in utero. I still cannot believe we lived through it to tell the tale.
I will never forget that morning. I woke early and quickly hurried through the hospital to get in some last snuggles with Bernadette. My heart ached as I sat there with her tiny body, blue and mottled, her breathing out of control, her monitors alarming. I prayed for another way to get to the other side, but I knew this was exactly what her heart needed in order for her to survive.
I didn’t have much time with her that morning because she was first case. That meant a quick cuddle session and then it was time to walk her to the surgery floor. That was one of the worst walks of my life. The hallways were cold and she just laid in the crib looking so tiny and fragile, without a clue as to what lay ahead of her.
I griped David’s hand as I walked as close to the isolate as possible. I fought back the tears. I felt as if I needed to be strong for her. I’m the mom, I couldn’t lose it now. I had to keep it together in this moment. The anxiety pounded in my chest and gut as walked through the doors of the surgery unit. I wanted to vomit as the respiratory therapist said it was time to say goodbye.
I leaned over to kiss her forehead, feeling wildly out of my own body as I caressed her little head. What in the world was even happening in that moment? It felt like a dream, a nightmare really, but it didn’t even feel like I was really there.
Her little eyes looked into mine as I whispered I loved her, and that I couldn’t go with her now, but Jesus could. That’s all I could manage in the millisecond I had before they wheeled her through the double doors.
Off she went.
It felt so unfair to walk away. To physically turn my own body around and walk out that door. Gut wrenching pain pierced me to my core as I walked back to the elevator. No words as David and I rode the elevator back down to our room. The first surgery had been hard enough to leave her for but this was bigger. This surgery was major open heart surgery. Machines would be keeping her alive as the large hole was patched and valves were made.
I wanted to be anywhere but where I stood in that very moment. I wanted to run out of the hospital and never look back. I wanted to pinch myself and wake up from the nightmare I had been living the past month and a half. I wanted to go back in time to the 20-week ultrasound and get the all clear.
That was not the story God had written for us. It was incredibly painful. And that very moment was what I had been preparing for since that 20-week ultrasound. The moment I would entrust her life to someone I didn’t know to repair her teeny tiny heart.
In the depths of my soul, I begged God to keep her safe. To use the surgeon to perform this great surgery on her heart and to come out of the surgery fully repaired. To make it through with little to no complications.
Her first surgery had gone perfectly, but her heart was worse off than expected. She was sick and was not able to go home. A reality I faced was the fact that her heart was not as strong as they hoped, she was not as big as they wanted, and her lungs were fragile.
That day was by far, the single most hardest day I have every been through. We attempted to keep ourselves busy, to preoccupy our minds. You know as well as I that never really works. Not when your infant is having open heart surgery. A surgery that lasted for several hours.
Hours and hours and hours passed slowly by and just when I had given up all I hope, I took matters into my own hands and marched up to the Cardiac Unit. I had a sinking feeling things were not going as expected and I had to find out for myself since the phone call never came.
We eventually located her and I simultaneously breathed a sigh of relief yet wanted to vomit at how awful she looked and the amount of high stress buzzing around her we walked into. Nurses running here and there, alarms sounding. She was in the critical post-op stage. The stage where you BEG God to bring her through and pray everything worked correctly. From our first experience, I knew how things could go differently than expected. This was the time to keep the pain meds and sedatives going as her body attempted to recover.
I couldn’t bare being in the room. The sedatives weren’t working, due to an IV infiltrate that was not discovered until hours later. She was waking up from the lack of meds and attempting to cry with the breathing tube in as she scanned the room. I’m certain looking for a familiar face, but also in terror of her surroundings. Those images are forever burned into my mind and they are painful to recall. My exhausted body cried myself to sleep that night as I prayed for God to intervene.
The next day was difficult, but they had figured out the meds weren’t actually getting to her properly due to the infiltrate and were able to fix it quickly. Finally, her road to recovery began, much differently than it had gone the first time around.
Ten days later, we went home. A moment I will always remember. The most joyous day I have yet to experience. Christmas music blasted in the car as I sat in the backseat with my sweet Bernadette, holding her tiny little hand, her body finally free of every tube and monitor lead (except her tiny feeding tube taped to her face).
All this to say, here we are. Two whole years later. I praise God we are through that part of her heart journey. Those were some of the darkest and hardest days of my life. And there is so much more than what I have written here. Things that are hard to remember emotionally, other things that are fuzzy in my own mind.
Either way, this day is a day I will remember always. When I look back and see how far we have come since that day two years ago and I sit here with my beautiful and spicy two year old, I can’t help the tears that come to my eyes. Seeing the strength that God has given both her and I to walk through those hard days. It truly is incredible.