Cleft Journey

The Real Truth About Putting Your Baby Under Anesthesia // Surgery PART 1

“Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?””

– Luke 12:22-26 NIV

A small yet powerful cry pierced the night, shattering my sleep as it had many nights since I became a mother. My son fussed in his bed, crying for mommy to pick him up, to comfort him and – most importantly – to give him his nightly meal. I stumbled to his crib in the way one who has been deeply asleep and is suddenly not might do, and carefully, gently, lifted his tiny body – all flailing arms and legs – into my arms. He quieted a little, whimpering just enough to remind me he was hungry, and nuzzled his face into my neck. I cradled him against my chest as I picked my way over the dirty laundry I’d sorted that day, strewn haphazardly across the floor, making a mental note to leave a clear path for future nighttime treks.

I crawled back into bed, tucking my son – who now had his mouth open, tongue extended as he rooted for his milk – against my chest, lying stomach to stomach with him. Instantly, his body relaxed as he began to swallow his meal, his chubby cheeks moving with each suck and swallow. Many nights, I confess, I would doze as he nursed, waking only to either feed him on the other side or to carry him back to his crib.

But tonight, I just watched, mesmerized by the life happening before me while the rest of our sleepy town snoozed on. I observed the delicate flutter of my son’s long lashes as he sighed, a contented smile crossing his lips – those lips that had created so much concern and uncertainty during my pregnancy – and stifled a chuckle at the ever-present trail of milk making its way down his sweet chin. He was such a messy eater already.

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Savoring this sweet moment before everything changes.

I stared at his mouth, tracing the arc of his upper lip, following the cleft and trying to imagine his face without it. My ever-present companions of fear and worry curled around my mind and heart, tucking in for a nice, long night of unanswerable questions and imagining the worst. Our baby’s surgery was just two weeks away and I couldn’t hold them off any longer.

Those nights were the worst I’ve experienced in years. But one night stands out a bit more than the rest. I’d decided to scroll through my newsfeed, in an attempt to entertain my mind with anything other than the worst-case-scenarios that had been robbing me of sleep night after night. What I found, instead, was this article about one mother’s experience with anesthesia for her child.

My mind bellowed to my eyes, “Don’t you dare read that article! You know it will only make things worse!” Sadly, my eyes did not obey, and therefore I found myself struggling to suppress the sound of sobs as they wracked my body. Tears streamed down my face and I rolled onto my stomach so they would stop trailing into my mouth and ears. I buried my face into my pillow and cried and cried and cried because I was suddenly face-to-face with a reality I’d been avoiding since I learned of my son’s cleft lip. I could not protect him from this.

My husband woke, laying his hand on my back and confirming the source of the shaking that had startled him from slumber.

“Are you okay?” he whispered, concerned but not naïve to the source of my emotion.

“No!” I cried.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

I confessed what I’d foolishly read, and instead of getting angry, my kind husband wrapped me up in his arms with a soft chuckle. And he then said something that offered me a small comfort in that moment.

“I’m afraid, too.”

Three little words that had the power to make me feel a little less alone. But I wished they weren’t our reality. I wished I could be fearless in this. As I would for many nights to come, I laid there until the cool light of dawn peered through the curtains, praying God would take away the tightness in my chest and dry my tears with his gentleness and peace.

My prayers became an hourly routine, as I snuggled my son at his slightest fuss or cry. Those days were hard on our daughter, as mommy’s arms were a little less open to wrap her up in a hug and my attention was a little less free to watch her dance, read her a story, or listen to her sing. I begged God would help me balance it all and keep the chaos in control.

The night before our son’s big day arrived and I managed to grab a few hours of fitful sleep. He woke to nurse just in time, leaving us with another two hours to offer him water or Pedialyte, should he become fussy. I tried not to stress about whether or not he’d be hungry before his operation.

I needn’t have worried. Our sweet boy, as always, contented himself with sucking his thumb while my husband and I bustled about, gathering our belongings to head to the hospital. I silenced thoughts about how hard the coming weeks would be, when he couldn’t simply pop the tiny thing in his mouth for comfort. I stifled worry about whether we’d done everything right to prepare for the surgery. Tried not to contemplate what he was about to go through.

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Contenting himself with his thumb and his Cuddles for Clefts bear.

And each time worry managed to seep through the cracks of the barriers I’d erected in my mind, my phone would chime, buzz, or ring, and every time, it was a kind word, a written prayer, or an expression of love and support. It was as if God was reminding me that he was at work through each of his warriors, people I am so blessed to call friends and family. Well over fifty messages came to us through various media, which means that well over fifty times, I felt the creeping arms of worry inching across my heart and mind, and well over fifty times, God protected me from their influence.

When it came time for the nurses to take our son back, we each gave him a kiss and a cuddle, told him that he was so strong and he was going to do great, as if, at five months of age, he could understand our words. We both knew we were really saying it to reassure ourselves.

As the nurses wheeled our little boy away, the most unexpected thing happened. The ever-present tightness in my chest that had weighed me down for fourteen days suddenly abated. Warmth washed over me as God granted me peace. I sobbed out every bit of worry I’d felt over the past weeks, releasing the fear and embracing the trust.

I would spend the next two hours writing and would occasionally glance at the board to see where my baby boy was at in the surgical process, searching for that six-digit number that represented his living, breathing body as if my own life depended on it. And once I found it, I would exhale, and rest in my Father’s embrace.

My heart was still pounding. My palms were still sweaty. My mind still wanted to wander to the worst possible thing that could happen. But my soul was at peace. My God was in control.

When our baby boy arrived in recovery, a nurse came and fetched my husband and me from the waiting room and took us into a private area, where we met with the surgeon. He updated us on how the procedure had gone, grinning enthusiastically as he showed us pictures and explained the process in layman’s terms. I thanked God for a doctor who was so passionate about his work.

Just a few moments later, the nurse led us back to the recovery room, where another nurse was holding our baby in one of those awful, coarse, hospital blankets. His face was slack from the morphine they’d given him for his pain. My stomach churned and I felt as if I would vomit, but instead I swallowed and sat, taking the heavy bundle and staring at it, searching for my son. He was in there, buried in that heavily drugged slumber, but I wouldn’t see the personality I’d come to know and love for several days.

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Holding him for the first time in recovery.

My heart ached instead of being filled with the relief I’d been expecting. Perhaps it was because our journey was far from over and my heart knew it even as my mind hadn’t yet processed that truth. I stared at our son’s face, his eyes puffy and irritated from the tape they’d used to keep them shut, his nose and lip crusted brown with dried blood, stitches jutting out here and there down the lightning-bolt shaped line where his lip had been sown into the shape it “should” have been all along.

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Baby boy’s face at one hour post-op.

All the rest of that day, I stared at that little face. I watched it contort in pain and discomfort more times than I can count, each wince and wrinkle like a knife to my heart. I watched his eyelids flutter in restless sleep, listened to his hoarse cries, and rocked, bounced and cuddled with every bit of energy left in my body. All through the night, my husband and I stayed up with our son, working our way through Moana, twice.

We laughed tiredly as we watched our little one kick his IV line, his eyes growing wide with excitement as he realized that he was the mastermind behind the clacking sound it made against the cool metal of his hospital bed. We tried to distract him from the splints (called “no-nos”) wrapped firmly around his elbows (there to prevent him from sticking germy, bacteria-filled hands into his mouth) by showing him toys, reading him books, and singing him lullabies.

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My husband rocking our babe in a rare moment he wasn’t nursing.

We coaxed pain meds into his resistant mouth, changed every dirty diaper, and cheered over every wet one. We took turns rocking with him for hours at a time while fighting to keep our heavy lids open just one more hour so the other could get some rest. We listened to these piano lullabies on repeat.

And I nursed. Hours I spent with my son attached to one breast or the other as he used it to pacify himself. No pacifiers, no fingers, no hard toys for the coming weeks.

Somehow, we made it through that night. My husband and I each with perhaps two hours of sleep in our cache, our tanks running impossibly low, our bodies craving caffeine just to make it through to the glorious moment we could crawl into an actual bed and rest our weary limbs.

And even though neither of us knew what to expect in the coming weeks, we would make it through that too, somehow.

A little bit of coffee and a whole lot of Jesus, that’s how.

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Praying over my boy in the hospital.

“Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?””
– Luke 12:22-26 NIV

Here’s the real truth about putting your baby under anesthesia: We have no control over what happens to our kids. It’s a truth we all avoid reflecting on, but it’s the reality of being a parent.

We have no control when we decide to become parents.

We have no control when we bring that child into the world and into our lives.

And we definitely have no control when we send that child off into the world on their own.

And man, all those tears I cried, the prayers I prayed, did nothing to change that. But through every tear, fear, and challenging moment I’d faced, was facing, and would face as my son recovered from his surgery, God was showing me a much less terrifying reality: Someone is in control.

He is in control.

That verse from Luke is like God saying to me, “Sweet daughter, as much as you love your son, I love him so much more. Don’t worry about it; I see the big picture. I have a plan. I’m in control.”

And he does see the big picture. He does have a plan. He is in control. I see a word on a page in a novel. God sees the entire series that novel becomes. I’m not saying it won’t be hard the next time I’m forced to face the fact that I’ve got no power here, or the next time my family encounters a storm. I am saying that in the midst of that struggle, I’m looking up. I’m looking to the One who loves my children more than I can fathom.

Will you do the same?

I hope so. I love you!

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2 thoughts on “The Real Truth About Putting Your Baby Under Anesthesia // Surgery PART 1”

  1. Oh my, I don’t even know what to say. How difficult a time you and your husband must have had. I really don’t know what we’d do without God’s strength and love for us during such difficult situations. The only time I’ve had a child put under was when my oldest had her wisdom teeth taken out this past spring. It was super scary for me and she was eighteen at the time!! There’s something very intense about knowing they are unconscious. 😦
    But I’m so, so, so thankful for medical technology and doctors’ abilities, especially anesthesia and surgery.
    ((hugs)) mama and thank you for sharing your story. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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