BAM Family

BAM Family

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Surgery and Sacrifice: A reflection on motherhood and doubt

My baby was crying. Actually, he was screaming. I rocked and bounced, hushed and shhh'ed. Nothing worked. Benji kept wailing.

I had been a mother for 5 weeks and for two of those weeks, my twins had been in the NICU. Just when I was starting to feel the faintest glimmer of motherly confidence (ha!), I once again felt completely helpless.

"Sometimes babies just cry," said my mother, who was visiting from Kansas. She took Benji from me, walking and shhh'ing and patting his bottom.

My mom and Benji (5 weeks)
"It's true," said our friend Cathy, a college friend of my mom's who was visiting for the day. "Why don't you get out of the house for a bit? We'll take care of him."

So I went for a drive. I swam around in my post-partum hormonal soup, crying at every song on the radio. I came back to the house more high-strung than when I left.

Benji was still screaming. Something was not right. I knew it.

"Really, sometimes babies do this,"they reassured me. And of course, being mothers for 30+ years, they were right.

But something, something felt wrong to me. That day I experienced my baptism of "mother's intuition" by fire. While the older women visited in my living room, I took my baby, hid in my bedroom and quietly called the pediatrician.

"Yes, I think you should bring him in," the nurse told me. "Especially since he is so young and has been crying so long."

So my husband and I bundled Benji up and took him to the doctor on the November day, leaving Micah, his brother, at home with the grandparents.

The doctor confirmed what my intuition told me: something was not right. Benji had an inguinal hernia (testicular hernia) and needed immediate surgery. The doctor told us to go to UVA medical center an hour away. He called ahead to let the ER know we were coming.

Being parents for 5 weeks, we went into panic mode. We raced home, bundled up Micah, grabbed the pack n' play (did we need 2? who knows?) the breast pump and a walmart bag full of clean bottles, and bid a hasty goodbye to my parents.

Benji blessedly slept the whole way there (a miracle!) but I didn't fully appreciate that hour of peace had I known what was to transpire in the next 36 hours.

UVA is a teaching hospital so once we got to the ER, we were met with a parade of med students, interns, and residents. They all tried to "reduce" Benji's hernia. That's a fancy term for "push it back in."

Oh, my baby screamed and screamed and screamed!

It didn't work. Finally, when I had tears streaming down my face, the pediatric surgeon came in and was able to "reduce" it. That scream from my barely-five-pound baby reached a fevered pitch. All the med students, interns, and residents kept looking at me with worried glances.

"Are you ok?" they asked.

How old is this girl? I bet they were all wondering. Seventeen? Eighteen? I tried to muster up all the maturity I had earned in my 23 years on earth and pulled it together emotionally.

Benji needed surgery to repair the hernia but the OR was completely booked. We would have to wait until morning. They wanted to admit us to a room but there were no rooms available. We had to spend the night in the ER behind a curtain.

Looking back at all the long-nights I have experienced as a mother, that night in the ER was one of the longest.

The worst part was that Benji wasn't allowed eat. He had an IV to keep him hydrated but his poor little baby tummy just craved milk. He cried and cried and cried.

"Please, can I feed him?" I begged the ER attendants.

"No, I'm sorry," they said, giving me pitying looks.

Mentally, I understood why but my body was screaming to feed him. Every 2 hours I forgot that they said no and begged, "Please, please, can I feed him? Just help me! What can I do?"

Finally they gave me a sugar-water pacifier that I could dip into his mouth. I think it helped me more than it helped my baby.

Morning finally came. The surgery time was set. We waited. I really needed to pump again. Finally, I couldn't wait any more and I threw my nursing cover over myself.

"We are going to take him back now," the nurse said, five minutes later. "You can give him a little kiss if you'd like."

But I was attached to the breast pump and I couldn't move without untangling myself from the machine. I kissed him with all my heart and watched as they wheeled my preemie away.

The surgery went well but and I could finally feed him when he came out. But they wanted to keep him over night for observation.

"Will you be staying over night with him?" the nurse asked, clipboard in hand.

By this time we had been awake for almost 36 hours. I was so exhausted I was dizzy. Micah had been an angel of a five-week-old but he was still a premature infant who, I knew, was at risk of infection the longer he was in the hospital.
5 weeks of twin motherhood. See those dark circles?
So I made a hard, and probably questionable, mothering decision. I decided not to stay. We left Benji at the hospital to go stay with some friends nearby.

Years later, I still wonder if I made the right decision: should I have stayed? How could I leave my baby alone in the hospital by himself? Was I one of "those parents"?

I only knew that I did the best thing I knew to do at the time. I had to make a sacrifice: for Benji, for my other child who also needed me...and for myself.


It has been almost 6 years since Benji's hernia surgery. And wouldn't you know, being twins, Micah "decided" that he didn't want to be left out.

Yep. Same hernia. (same side, even!). Same surgery. Same doctor! (yes, he remembered us and Benji's surgery!). No emergency this time, though! Thank God!

Today Micah is at UVA...and I am not with him. I had to make another hard mothering decision.

Our boys have had 7 surgeries in the past 5 years so we are old pros by now. We know it can take a long time, even with an out-patient surgery like Micah is having today (no over-night stay for him!).

But now we have another little boy, a crawling, curious, into-everything-11 month old. Since I am still nursing him, I knew that if I went to Micah's surgery, I would have to take Silas with me. And my attention would be painfully divided--I would want to comfort Micah, hold his hand while he drinks the "sleeping medicine" (or goofy medicine!), rock his little body and "shhh" him into comfort when he comes out from anesthesia, crying and disoriented, and help distract him when they remove the "evil IV" from his arm.

But my baby would need me too. And, like Micah so many years ago, Silas would be at risk of infection if he crawled around the hospital--he would be unhappy confined all day to the stroller or sling.

So, I had to make a decision, caught between two children who need me.

I decided to stay home with Silas.

Micah is with his Daddy, who is more than capable of providing nurturing, soothing comfort to our son.

But Mommy isn't there. And that's hard.

The funny thing is, I think it is harder for me than it is for him, at least at the moment. Micah was doing fine this morning emotionally. Last night, before he went to bed, I drew a heart on his hand in pen and drew a matching heart on my hand.

"Whenever you miss mommy, you can look at your heart and know I am thinking of you!" I told him.
Me and my Micah-Man
This morning, while they were waiting in the Surgery Center, I texted a picture of myself signing "I love you!" to my husband and 30 seconds later I got a text with an identical picture from my brave almost-six-year-old.

"Micah is playing Angry Birds and is fine." My husband texted. "Distracted and fine."

And so I wait. The surgery is at 10:45am. Then more waiting. Then recovery for who knows how long. Then the drive home.

Waiting, waiting, waiting.

I can control so many outcomes for my child's life--good food, good schools, affection, attention, love--but so many of the hardest parts of motherhood are out of my control. I struggle, waiting, wondering--again--if I made the right decisions this time.

It is in these moments that I have to remember my Heavenly Father, the divine parent, who holds all my life--my worry, my doubt, my day, my child--in his hands.

He is there in the waiting. His hand are big enough to carry my worries, strong enough to shoulder my "am-I-a-good-mother" doubts. And he loves my son so much more than I ever could.

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