My hands were wet with dish water, the baby gurgle-smiling up at me from the floor, when the phone rang. I dashed to answer it as an instinctive knot formed in my gut. With a glance at the call display I recognized the number of our surgeon's office. Instantly, I wanted to hurl the phone off of our deck.
I am not strong. This is not my thing. I have a lot of patience. I have an immense capacity to nurture. I can tough some shit out. But this. I feel like I can't do this. Except I have to. But I can only just do it, just barely. Kind of while closing my eyes and pretending I'm not really.
I can sit in the doctor's office and lift up my shirt and show her the breast tissue I have damaged while pumping nine times a day for months for my baby. I can just nod my head and say, yes, it hurts, it hurts very much, as she explains to me that pumping has caused trauma to my breasts... torn, bruised and blistered my skin. The sharp pain is caused by Raynauds, a circulation disorder that is exacerbated by the endless pumping. The intense discomfort and itching is caused by the psoriasis that is now tormenting my nipples. Also a result of pumping. I want to tear my breasts off of my body. They hurt when I sleep, they hurt when I bathe, they hurt when I hug my daughter, carry my baby... they hurt when I pump.
But I can do that when I'm committed to an idea. An idea like breast milk. Because it was something I could do for my baby. My only grasp on control. My unique gift for my distressed, always crying, always hungry, never sated, rarely calm baby. It was something I had to give. So I gave it. And I still do.
But there is so, so much I can't do. I can't answer that phone with any state of inner grace. She says things to me and my dish-water hands sweat as I scratch "surgery" onto our calendar. I bite back the tears until the phone is hung up and thrown across the room. I already forget all the details she has told me. I don't know what time to go that day, or how to prepare. All I can envision is handing her over. Again. And I begin to crumble. If the pores of my skin could vomit, they would. My whole body wants to reject this.
And so my inner battle begins. My urge to run away slams hard into the reality of nowhere to go. My building panic is mocked by my shame for panicking. I want to sink into overwhelm, but I am compelled to slap myself with reality and clarify my perspective.
Other mothers aren't given reprieves. We live in the reprieve. But I don't want it interrupted. We are blessed with an entire team of specialists that can provide Lucy with help at every turn. But I don't want them to cut her perfect skin. Other mothers have lived through the unthinkable. Surely, I can do this. But what if the unthinkable reaches into our lives and turns everything black? This is a routine surgery, the risk is minimal. Driving in the car every day is a risk and we choose it, every day. I can't stand to hear her cry that way again. I can't stand her pain. She will hurt. She will have exposed bone in her mouth as her tongue searches for familiar landmarks, as she tries to talk and eat and swallow with a foreign mouth. She will be disoriented in her own body, with no explanation, no control. She will sound different. We already had to give up her sweet smile, and now her voice. The voice that echoes in my heart whenever she quiets. She will hurt. I can't stand to see her writhe in pain and fear, fighting her morphine haze. I can't stand to be that close to her, to have her distress set my blood on fire and not be able to help her. But, she will stop crying. She will. She will be fine. She will say new sounds with her new mouth. She will, later, say thank you.
So thank you has become my new mantra. Every time my stomach leaps at the notice of the date drawing nearer, and fear walks like a giant through my mind... I say thank you. Thank you for life lived in the reprieve. Thank you for my sweet, healthy girl, with so many hands to help her. Thank you for all of the beautiful sounds that fill our life ever since her crying came to an end. Thank you for all of the new sounds to come.
Even though I can't do it, I will. I will carry her through it with all of my might and forgive myself the lack of grace. I will do it and challenge myself to say thank you with every step.
But my first, and my last thank you will always be for her. Thank you my Lucy June, for being mine. If ever, I had to do something so frightening, something so impossible, something I simply couldn't do. I would do it for you, sweet girl.