Everyone told me I was strong. To stay strong. To be strong.
I did not feel strong.
I woke up Surgery Day desperate to tick the "no thank you" box. Internally, I was back-pedalling. Hard. The ground beneath my feet growing slicker and steeper by the second.
I woke up wanting to pull the covers over my head and hide. And not come out until her second surgery, her palate surgery, was already over. This is the hardest part, I told myself. The anticipation. Denying her hungry cries. The unknown.
When we pulled up to the hospital I wanted to turn around and take her somewhere else. Somewhere that she could eat and talk and be seen as beautiful just as she was. But I didn't know where to go. So I went in.
And then we were told there was an emergency occupying the OR and we might be bumped out of our spot. Her fasting time became longer. This is the hardest part, I told myself. The uncertainty.
Suddenly we were going to OR in five minutes. And I felt sick. Full of doubt, all I could think was, "she's already beautiful... what are we doing? She's already beautiful... she's so beautiful..." This is the hardest part, I told myself, following through.
In green scrubs, with her tied to my chest I bounced to keep her asleep. I took long, shaky breathes. I answered the same questions over and over. Her name. Her weight. Her allergies, medications, history. A busy nurse called to another, ""The Lip" is here - you ready for "The Lip"?" This is the hardest part, I told myself, the place where my heart and the clinical collide.
We said goodbye to her dad, and I walked her into the OR. With a tremor in my arms I held her close to me, bouncing, keeping her asleep. I spoke to the anesthetist. He was gentle and kind. I kept looking down at Lucy. I didn't want to see the team. I only wanted to see her. This is the hardest part, I told myself, watching her drift away.
He put the gas mask to her face and she squirmed away. I bounced. People talked to me and I heard nothing. I watched her sink into a deeper sleep. They told me to lay her on the table. I cried. Someone was rubbing my back. I bent to her sweet head and said,
"I love you, Lucy. You are already beautiful honey."
This is the hardest part, I told myself. Walking away.
And then I found her dad, and we sat together. We read every comment. I am so, so grateful for all of your words. Thank you. You carried us through an impossible time.
It was taking too long. Longer than they said. We inquired several times with the answer, "she's fine." This is the hardest part, I told myself. Waiting.
Finally, she was five minutes away. And I heard her crying long before I could see her.
When I saw her, "My baby." I said to myself, many times. "My baby." Trying to connect her face to my heart. Telling my mind to recognize her. This is the hardest part, I told myself. The disconnect.
This will sound melodramatic. But this is how I felt. I missed my baby. It felt as if a huge piece of her had died. There was an empty place in my heart as I approached her and she looked different. She smelled different. I couldn't hold her the same. She didn't recognize me. I could do nothing to soothe her. For many hours, nothing would soothe her. This is the hardest part, I told myself. Her pain.
Every time a person entered the room I would look up, half expecting them to hand me my real baby. The one who looked like herself, smelled like my girl, responded to my touch. I would catch myself glancing around unconsciously looking for her. This is the hardest part, I told myself. My grief.
This doesn't detract from my love. From my gratitude. My girl is beautiful, my heart just needs time to catch up. My girl is here, in my arms and my heart is overflowing.
This is hard. The hardest part was this whole step. Our first major step on this journey. I have been frantic for exit signs since her surgery was booked. I keep trying to find ways to duck out - to shield her from it all. To preserve an uncomplicated, uninterrupted family life. To escape this cleft in our life. This surgery forced more acceptance to settle into my consciousness. This really is our road. We are on it and I can't alter the course.
As time passes may reluctance turn to acceptance. May my fear become courage. May my grief always circle back to gratitude.
For now, I will help her, and us, recover from this first step. I will try to celebrate our first of many steps along this unchosen road.