February is American Heart Month. My social media feed is currently split between political postings and photographs of babies and children with scars I recognize all too well — across the shoulder blade in back or right down the middle in front. Parents and grandparents I’ve met online through our shared journey are posting information about their children’s experiences, their families’ grief or triumph, and ways that their communities can contribute toward better outcomes for anyone born with a congenital heart defect, like my vibrant, finally-healthy daughter Sammi.
These images are unrelenting. They drag me back, every time, away from the image of the grinning, singing girl I kissed goodbye this morning and closer to the sick baby covered in wires and tubes. I negotiate the difference in leaps, then think back on what to say to the parents still in the thick of it. How will they make it to my present-day?
Of course, the other half of my social media feeds are the political posts — assaults on freedom and confusing conflicts everywhere I turn. Truth is under attack there just as it was when I fought for Sammi’s care. Out of the mess tangling over and over itself in the news, however, came a surprise rallying cry intended to shut down a woman’s resolute message. To anyone who has followed US politics, the censure of Senator Elizabeth Warren by Senator Mitch McConnell is likely memorized by now, but for emphasis and clarity, it’s worth repeating:
“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
It’s easy to turn this into a rallying cry for women, in general. So often, this is our only path to success, whether we’re discussing the fight for suffrage, land ownership, birth control, or just a seat at the board room table. What many women don’t know, however, is that infuriating as those indignities are, when what is at stake is our children’s lives, persisting is not a choice. It is an instinct. Continue Reading…
I said it to her pediatrician when she was just a few weeks old. He laughed at me, told me she was fine.
I said it in the emergency room when her chest and throat were retracting with her rapid breath. They gave her meds, watched her for a few days, sent her home with me.
I said it to her new pediatrician. She looked more closely, waited, told me to sleep-train her.
I said it again when everything failed, when she wouldn’t eat solid food, wouldn’t sleep through the night, couldn’t make it through a cold without hospitalization. And finally, finally, someone found the something. When they did, nobody said, “oops.” They fixed her congenital heart defect, the source of every problem.
When my daughter Sammi was just over a year old, she had surgery to repair a congenital heart defect. After the worst of it was over and she was nearly — but not quite — ready to go home, they moved us from the ICU to the general ward of the children’s hospital.
In the ICU, each child has her own tiny room — about twice as wide as a twin bed — with a glass partition at the end of it. On the other side of that partition sits the child’s personal nurse, up on a stool next to a computer that monitors a host of vital signs and other measurements. That nurse has no other patients. When shifts change, two nurses fill that tiny space for thirty minutes, conferring and learning so that the new nurse has all the information necessary to sit vigil for the next shift.
In the general wards, the supervision is quite different. So are the rooms. When we got to the door, I went in and dropped all our stuff unceremoniously on the nearest chair, then stopped in my tracks.
“There’s someone already in this room,” I whispered to the nurse, pointing at the curtain and then at the loud tv tuned to cartoons. Continue Reading…
Most of my adult life has been propelled, in one way or another, by compassion.
As someone who began making a career in internet technology during the dot-com boom, I was always uneasy with what on earth I was doing by pushing pixels across a screen for a living. Who did I help, making web sites to prop up the egos of CEOs and corporate shareholders? It took me years to press my way into service to something with more value to humanity. By 1999, I was using the pixel-pushing skills I’d learned to support the voices of non-profit organizations. Necessarily, the budgets and the ability to innovate came later to these organizations. I could not charge them money they did not have; it was not greed that motivated their protest. My prices as a freelancer changed to reflect this. I adjusted and leaned toward compassion.
Then, when my children were born in the early 2000s, my entire life became an exercise in compassionate listening. A baby cried, unable to manage her emotions or get her needs met in any other way, and I held her. I sang to her, I soothed her. It seemed unconscionable to behave any other way. Another baby was born, this time sick and in pain, and she cried even more and for far longer than the first one had. My compassion was called upon constantly, to weigh my own needs against hers and to ask myself whether she had any other means of expressing her misery, any reserves of patience or space in her brain to make the developmental leaps a child with a full stomach and no pain can make. She did not, much of the time, and I needed to dig deep to find my own untapped wells of compassion. She needed every drop I had. Continue Reading…
There’s a saying about becoming a mother that, for all its overuse and cliche, is as true as anything I’ve ever heard. It explains perfectly my own experience of mothering, one I’ve tried to capture and describe in other ways only to come back, finally, to this beautiful quote attributed to author Elizabeth Stone. In full, it reads:
Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.
Of course, it’s not exactly my heart that runs off each day with my children. Rather, it is an enormous portion of my emotional power, vulnerability, and grounding to the corporeal world that surrounds each of them when we part. There is a piece of my intention for each day that I lend to them, a chunk of my personal energy that I gladly give away in service to whatever they need. Shorthand: heart.
That floating bit of my spirit is something I trust to do what I can’t, shouldn’t, mustn’t in a world they need to learn for themselves. Like a blessing, I picture it keeping them safe. My promise to that end — the heart that goes walking around outside my body — is that the gift of it is irrevocable. I’ve told my daughters over and over that there is nothing they can do to make me stop loving them. They’ve sometimes tested me on this, asking what if I do this or what if I do that, but I always answer, “I will always love you, even if I don’t love the things you do.”
Even if I die? they have never asked, but I do know the answer. Yes, even if you die. Continue Reading…