Heart Surgery

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At 8 in the morning I felt the twinges. By 9 I called Nick home. By 10 I was pacing and breathing in, and out. By 2 we had left for the hospital, in and out of traffic, dropping the girls off with friends. By 3 I was lying in a hospital bed alone, Nick filling out our paperwork, the machine monitoring my contractions. Breathing in, and out. And that was when the bubbly midwife’s face grew solemn and she said to her colleague something like I don’t like that. 

The machine kept monitoring and I kept breathing and the contractions stretched me wider into unbending pain. I started to twist and writhe with each one but miraculously and somehow peacefully I kept breathing in, and out. 4 o’clock came and then 5 o’clock. My doctor was on holiday and so a new face was in charge – thankfully a kind and strong woman who gave him every chance she could to come naturally. His face was up, he was in distress. She would give him a little more time, she said. One more check. We prayed he would move in between the unyielding beating of my body, rhythmically every few seconds. His heart rate was dropping. There was no more time.
Wheeled in a trolley through to a room brightly lit, doctors everywhere working fast. An injection in my spine and I gazed up at them all, all these people around my body, and I was suddenly relieved of the rhythmic pain. A curtain was placed over my stomach and I never imagined this, but they opened my body, rather than me opening it for them. Strangely free of pain, I chatted with the doctor about Mozambique and her pretty engagement ring until they reached in and pulled him out, and then I placed my hands on his warm, wet, blue stomach and I wept.

I wanted to hold him of course but I couldn’t with my body half open, so they cleaned us both until we were ready. It was only when I had been stitched up and wheeled back, and the last nurse left the room, that I looked at Nick next to me, and the baby sleeping peacefully by my bed and thought what was that? 
There were two miracles that day and I could see them plainly. The first miracle was that I was surrounded by a place so equipped and people so skilled that they could reach my impossible-to-reach baby by surgery – a miracle that he could come out beautiful and healthy and guzzling milk. And the second miracle was me. I don’t know how, but from those twinges at 8 in the morning to his first gulp of air at 6 in the evening, I was carried in a river of peace. Swept along, strong and calm. Calm through the contractions, even though the pain left my hair matted with the writhing against my pillow. Calm through the process even when I threw up and couldn’t move, so swallowed it down again. Calm through the corridors, calm through his heart dropping, calm through the surgery. Utterly, breathtakingly miraculous that I could be that woman, at peace in a storm.
The following days were heavenly to me. I shall never forget them. I cuddled my sweet newborn in the dark all night and all day. There were no responsibilities, no washing to be hung, no porridge to be made, no phone calls to return. A couple of precious friends dropped by and sat my bed, holding my baby and holding my hand. I couldn’t move from the pain and I didn’t need to. I sat still, breathing him in, the scent of his hair and his face, so soft and warm. I fell asleep feeding him in my arms and listened to old worship music from twenty years ago, a balm to my soul. The mountains stood still outside my window and I drank lukewarm hospital tea. It was blissful.

We spoke with our doctor before we left the ward. She was back from our holiday and it was so valuable to debrief with her. She laughed at the size of his head – a big boy – and we talked over our options for the future. I’ve written before that God spoke to us about us giving Him permission to decide on our number of children. So in the back of my head I have always prepared myself for a big family. And post-surgery I was left with so many questions. It’s complicated now – to go natural again is a ‘severe risk’ for mother and baby, but if I take the c-section route I can only have two or three more little ones. Which is more than enough for the normal woman, I know that, but I felt God ask me to lay down the rest of my life, the rest of my womb. So I was left asking, I have laid down my rights, and now, what?

We drove back from the hospital and had a blistering fight about something small and irrelevant. Of course. Because we were processing such a traumatic birth and such an altering to what we felt God had led us to. And I stopped in at the mall for some food, and I walked slowly, the scar twinging at my stomach. Tears rolled down my cheeks and suddenly all I felt was gratitude. That what had felt like a sacrifice laid on the alter – yes God, as many children as you want – had grown into a desire. To hold them, to nourish them, to smell their holy baby breath. I had wrestled against the call of endless motherhood and thrashed against it and then, almost without me looking, it had blossomed into a blessing under my feet. I wanted it. I wanted them, all of them, all of the babies he had. They had taught me, these tiny ones, more about Jesus than I could ever have learned in a classroom or on a ‘mission field’. They carved Him right into my heart. They had hollowed me out, all my selfishness, all my ego, all my pride, and filled me with His beautiful light. Tears flowed down as I walked and Ijust felt this, thank you. Thank you sweet children for changing me. Thank you Jesus for knowing what’s best.

I am home now. I have waded back into the beauty and chaos of home. It is very jarring sometimes – too noisy, too demanding, too exhausting. I am unravelled by sleeplessness and my body feels like it rarely is given a break. I don’t know how to spread myself between all my tinies and I lean heavily on our parents to see us through the first few weeks. Leo needs to be held and rocked and comforted a lot. I feel like I might need that too. It’s partly the exhaustion, it’s partly the vulnerability of being new in a new place. Sometimes I want to walk cleanly away from the path we are so carefully carving out for ourselves in Manenberg. Sometimes I feel like I have given everything I have for these tiny people and I wonder how I will ever get any part of me back. I wonder how long I will feel this overwhelmed for. I need a lot ofcourage.
But I remember what I felt in the mall. Like I could see with my eyes that throughout the years these little ones have brought more of His glory and more of His light to my soul than anything ever did before them. So I ride it out. I smell his hair and I fill up my heart with faith. And I pray, and He answers, and hope swells up, my heart becomes swollen with his goodness. I step over my stumbling blocks. I believe for my place in our new area, I believe for my calling to these tiny ones. And I recall my former thoughts – These sweet children, they are changing me. Thank you Jesus, you know best. 


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