A few weeks ago, my 8-month old baby underwent major surgery. We knew from the moment we met her it would happen one day, but it was still a scary and difficult time in our lives. I shared some about what this looked like on social media but I wanted to wait until we were through the worst parts to write about it on the blog. Here we are, with life mostly back to normal, and there are so many things to share about what she went through and what I've learned because of it.
There's always a fine line between sharing Willow's story and not oversharing what she's been through, and in this case I am simply withholding what, exactly, her surgery was. I am happy to talk about the details in person because it's not a secret, but it's part of her story...and I never want to share more than she would want me to later in life.
That said, I can share that her surgery had to do with her mouth and, therefore, was mostly a challenge because it disrupted her feeding. But let me start on day one...
On Valentine's Day, which is also my birthday, I woke up twice during the night to make sure she was fed and hydrated before we had to stop all fluids prior to the surgery. We arrived at the hospital and checked in, only to wait an hour PAST her scheduled time, which meant we were there for 3 hours before she ever went back into the room. Despite her hunger and tiredness she was a trooper, and we spent many sweet moments with her before it all happened.
The surgery itself took about 1 1/2 hours, and we could track the whole thing on a screen to see her progress. Before that had even updated, though, the surgeon came in and told us everything went smoothly. I was so excited to see my baby I forgot that she would not look like herself in some ways...and seeing her tore me apart. Her face was swollen, she had stitches and gauze in very visible places, and she was clearly in a lot of pain. From the moment I saw her I think I cried for 30 minutes straight. Doctors came in and out, I carried her upstairs, and tears continued to flow down my cheeks. I knew this was the worst of it, but that didn't make it easy.
The day we spent in the hospital was incredibly difficult. Willow was in pain, not at home, and had to be checked on frequently. She was hooked up to an IV, monitors, etc. on top of her stitches, and the poor thing had a hard time getting to sleep and staying there. We had to feed her with a syringe, which she understandably hated. She slept best in our arms, and we held her often.
I stayed overnight with her while Nathan went home, and neither of us slept much. She was awake every 30-45 minutes, sometimes for a few minutes and sometimes for an hour. God gave me strength I didn't know I had, and somehow we both took a (somewhat) smiling picture the next morning as she sat contentedly in my lap.
Amazingly, we went home about 24 hours after surgery was finished. Again, the first few days were expectedly difficult. It was hard to get her to eat and she hated not having her bottle. She was in a lot of pain, which broke my heart into a million pieces every time I heard her cry - we could totally tell that it wasn't a normal fussiness. She did sleep very well the first two nights, which helped, but for about 10 days after surgery it felt like all we did while she was awake was to try and feed her. We wanted to keep her from losing weight or getting dehydrated, which thankfully we were able to do.
I'll be honest - I cried a lot during these weeks. I cried because I was sad for her. I cried because I was frustrated that she hated drinking so much. I cried because I was exhausted from getting up at night and taking care of her all day. But, when I really thought about it, I was incredibly thankful. Thankful that she could have this surgery at all when so many children around the world don't have that option. Thankful that we have an amazing hospital and surgeon who took care of us. Thankful for Nathan and his strength. Thankful for family who visited and friends who brought coffee and hugs when I was at my lowest moments.
I can happily say that Willow is back to drinking from her bottle and she has picked up on solids amazingly well. She never got dehydrated, her pain slowly improved over time, and I could see clearly that the Lord was gracious to us in so many ways, especially in that she went back to napping and sleeping decently well at night. We have no reason to believe she would need further surgeries at this time, and right now we are cherishing our back-to-happy little girl who lights up our world with her smile and has been through so much.
To all of you who prayed, texted (I know I didn't respond to everyone!), visited, brought a meal, or did anything to support us - THANK YOU! These seemingly small things helped bring joy during a difficult time, and I am so grateful for each one of you. Now to go snuggle my little girl with the best smile and the biggest heart I could imagine :)