She was outside my body for only a few moments before someone was suctioning her throat. I was paralyzed on an operating table ten feet away and I could hear the sound of the suction tube interspersed with the sound of her newborn cries.
“Listen to her cry,” the midwife, at my side since the start of the c-section, said encouragingly. “That’s a solid cry. She’s strong.”
She was six weeks old when she had her first bronchoscopy, 13 months old when she went under general anesthesia for the first time, and fourteen months old the first time a doctor opened her body up and laid an expert hand on her tiny aorta.
She was four years old when she started having regular endoscopies. She was five years old when she started remembering the road to the hospital and asking me if today was a day she’d go to sleep there.
She was eight when, finally, they fixed what was wrong.
That first, solid cry was an excellent indication of my daughter Sammi’s resilience. She does not shut down, stay quiet, or accept with resignation the things that happen to her, nor does she waste time fighting off the things she cannot change. If anything, Sammi has sometimes mourned what wasn’t right about her world in the manner of someone much older than her, with more years of wisdom than she could possibly have had at four, five, or eight.
I, on the other hand, have had the blessing and curse of knowing what a child’s life should be. Sammi’s earliest years nearly broke me — never knowing whether she would be one of the children who somehow don’t survive anesthesia, angry that her diet was so often restricted, furious that her growth had been stunted, resentful of how much time we spent in doctors’ offices and hospitals. I knew I was running on a low simmer of indignation for years, revealing the crack through my heart. I was, for a long time, a little bit broken.
When a student in Sammi’s fourth grade class began teasing her, there was a part of me that took it personally. All of the time and prayer and energy and hope and cooking and driving to the doctor and working with the school on health plans — and now, after all that, one kid was trying to drive us into further suffering. I was, as always, most upset for Sammi, but a piece of me was also upset for myself. I was the one who spent nights trying to soothe her to sleep as she worried about what would happen the next day at school. I was the one who had to decide which offenses to report and which to let go, how to approach the teachers and administrators and, possibly, how to approach the other child’s parents.
I was tired. I didn’t want to have to fight for this hard for Sammi’s happiness anymore. I just wanted her to have a carefree, normal life now that she was healthy.
There was no relief in fourth grade and none in fifth grade. I was still fighting for Sammi, less for her body and more for her peace of mind, but still fighting. I had broken places from our previous battles, and the thin skin over them was brittle and cracking under the same kinds of compassion-less responses I’d received from her doctors years before, this time coming from teachers and administrators:
Her teacher’s statement that “Nine year olds don’t cry. Work it out amongst yourselves!” was a repeat of “Babies cry sometimes — you should know that.”
The administrator’s half-hearted “we’ll tell him to stop” was almost the same as the suggestion to try a new therapy for a disease she didn’t have.
In the end, as always, all Sammi and I really had as tools to fight our battles was each other. Her dad and I validated her feelings, gave her the best advice we could, offered her ways out, and, in the end, just held her and told her we loved her. I’d been teased as a child, too, and as I gave her the advice I wish I’d received, and held her the way I wish I’d been held, something in the cracked, brittle parts of my heart warmed a little.
When her sixth grade year started in a bigger school, separated from her bully by several corridors and an administrator who finally listened, I had tentative hopes. Perhaps something would shift for her. My awareness of those hard wounds was dampened by a layer of optimism. Sammi was growing, eating, moving with strength and purpose. She made new friends, loyal partners in giggling and hooting and imagining, and her tolerance for negativity became enhanced. Things rolled off her back. She slept better. She brushed aside taunts and chose her path with clarity and confidence.
And me? I learned to let her do all of that. I didn’t need to negotiate plans or manage her care or make requests of her teachers. My broken spots are softening. I’m feeling the new, pink skin underneath, skin with a scar that makes for a great story but offers plenty of distance for insight.
She’s been outside my body for almost twelve years. It’s time to close up the incision and move on.
This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post hosted by Kristi of FindingNinee.com. This week’s sentence is “I felt the most broken when…”