Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Eight years

Yesterday was my daughter's eighth birthday. It is such an honor to be her mother and watch her grow. We celebrated with a special dinner and cupcakes, but I also took some time for myself. Yesterday marks the eighth anniversary of my near-death experience.

My daughter's entrance into this world was both the best and scariest thing that has ever happened to me. She entered the room quietly and wide-eyed, taking it all in. I looked at her wide-eyed (and teary-eyed), taking her all in. I was helplessly and forever in love.

Simultaneously, the worst thing was happening to me. I was introduced to an infection during her birth. My concerns during my hospital stay went mostly unaddressed; and after arriving home, I couldn't shake the feeling that something was amiss despite my doctor's efforts to calm me. Shortly thereafter, I had a rapid onset of various, puzzling symptoms, so I headed back to the hospital. When I should have been in the pediatrician's waiting room for my baby's first appointment, I was in the emergency room with my own mother. The infection had spread quickly and I was in septic shock.

My incredibly strong, single mother would later recall that moment as the worst in all her life. She powerlessly watched the monitors, my blood pressure plummeting and heart rate increasing. I lay before her so pale and swollen and bravely agreed to an emergency surgery intended to save my life.

I remember the operating room being so cold yet unable to alleviate the discomfort of my high fever. I lay on the table, now with numb fingers and toes in addition to my other symptoms. All around me, doctors and nurses were rapidly preparing the room. I looked up at the head doctor and told her how much I had longed to be a mother, how hard I fought through miscarriages to get there, and pleaded with her not to let me die. The room went eerily quiet. In that moment, I could vividly imagine my daughter motherless, wondering whether I had loved her. It broke me.

I woke up in intensive care in a quarantined room, my husband resting his head on the edge of my bed. I suddenly became aware of all that had happened. I was frightened, but motionless and trapped; my limbs heavy and my body broken and exhausted. I looked down at my legs and saw the once loose hospital socks were tight on my swollen ankles. I only spoke a few words to my husband, assuring him I was dying. I was certain if I closed my eyes, I would not wake up. I tried to stay awake, but dozed for a moment only to wake up gasping for air, again and again and again. As I closed my eyes, I heard my husband yelling for the nurse. I don’t know what death feels like, but I imagine it closely resembles this.

I spent a lot of time alone in my hospital room. Only immediate family was allowed but they were at my home, where I should have been, caring for my new baby. My husband visited intermittently, but was only able to stay for an hour at most. He held me as I cried. He told me about our baby. We talked about what it might be like when I could come home. All the things we ever disagreed or fought about were so unimportant now. We were fighting one war, and the stakes were high.

It was surreal to me when the doctors shared the statistics. How do you live after coming back from something only a handful in the entire country have survived?

In the weeks following, I slowly healed. The physical body came first. But there wasn't an antibiotic or a quick cure for the emotional one. First came anger, which was quickly replaced by sadness for all I had missed, followed by a crippling fear of hospitals and distrust of doctors. It was a long, difficult process, and still, on the anniversary of my daughter's birth, I take time to allow myself to feel the inevitable wave of emotion. What could have easily been the end of my life, became the beginning of a new one. A life that included an unwavering marital bond, a newfound respect for my own strength and power, and an undeniable trust in myself.

With such adversity and despair, we are forced to tap into an inconceivable bravery. The ability to access that bravery becomes such an influential part of our stories, and years later I continue to discover its strength.

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